Kayak Carts: Do I Need One and What Kind Should I Get?
If you’re lucky enough to live on a lake or some other body of water, you may have gone your entire life without ever having needed or used a kayak cart. You either drag your kayak onshore, store it in a boathouse, or leave it on a dock. Putting in is just a matter of carrying it a few feet, grabbing your gear, and heading out for a paddle.
For the rest of us, however, transporting our kayaks, canoes, SUPs and surfboards isn’t quite so easy – at least not if we don’t have a helper along. It usually involves some combination of lugging them out of the garage, hoisting them onto a vehicle, finding a parking spot at a marina or park, unloading them, and hauling them to the water’s edge. And that’s just for starters. There’s also the effort required to gather up and transport rods and tackle, a cooler, a dry bag, safety gear and the variety of other paraphenalia we normally bring along.
A canoe or kayak cart doesn’t eliminate all of these steps, but it does make some of them a heck of a lot easier. We asked a group of avid kayakers why and how they use kayak and canoe carts. Their comments are noted in italics throughout this article.
Common Reasons for Using a Kayak Cart
Reducing Effort and Muscle Strain
The most common reason for using a kayak cart, or a kayak trolley or dolly as it’s sometimes called, is reducing the effort it takes to move your kayak from Point A to Point B while on dry land. Maybe you’ve got a bad back, a tender shoulder, the beginnings of arthritis, or just don’t have the strength or agility to carry it on your own. Or maybe you’re in perfect health but you simply don’t want to lug that awkwardly shaped vessel over uneven terrain and around a few obstacles and back again at the end of your trip.
Decreasing Trip Frequency
If you’re the type of person who labors to bring in all five bags of groceries at once just to avoid making a second trip to the car, then you’re probably also the type of person who wants to haul all of your equipment from the vehicle to the water in a one trip. By pulling your kayak on a cart, you can load up the cockpit with all your gear and tow it to your destination in a single trip.
"I love that my cart breaks down easily and is small enough to store in the hatch. It saves extra trips to and from the vehicle."
Depending on the type of cart you buy, you can fold or quickly disassemble it and store it in your hatch strap it to your deck. This saves a trip back to your vehicle, but also keeps the cart with you in the even you need to portage along your journey.
Rolling into the Water
Many paddlers, but not all, use their cart to roll the kayak and its contents directly into the water. For example, it can be difficult to move a kayak or canoe that’s filled with a week’s worth of food and camping gear. Rolling it into the water and then removing the cart eliminates the need to lift a heavy kayak.
“I push my 17+ ft sea kayak into knee deep water, loosen the C-Tug strap, remove (the) cart and voila, all done!”
Similar to the reason above, adaptive paddling programs often use heavy duty carts – those capable of lifting 200 pounds or more – to transport paddlers who are already seated in the kayak into the water. Once there, they remove the cart.
This technique has many practical advantages. Paddlers who have paralysis or limited mobility of their upper and/or lower extremeties may need to use a device or assistance to get properly seated in the kayak. This assistance, whether it’s a Hoyer lift, other paddlers or a transfer bench, are obviously much easier to execute on dry land. With the paddler now in the kayak, the weight of the kayak has just increased considerably, making it both difficult and potentially unsafe to manually carry the kayak to the water.
Also, once the paddler is in the kayak, he or she may require related modifications, for example, the addition of cushions or other adaptive equipment. It can be extremely challenging to make these kinds of adjustments when the paddler and the kayak are already on the water.
With the right type of heavy duty kayak cart, paddlers in these scenarios can be rolled directly into the water until the kayak becomes buoyant. The straps can then be removed and the cart either brought to shore or secured to the kayak. See this video for an example of the two C-Tug carts and a double up bar being used in an adaptive kayaking program.
Types of Kayak Trolleys
Depending on how you group them, there are about half a dozen types of different styles of trolleys and carts.
Sit-on-Top (SOT) Scupper Hole Carts
These carts feature two wheels and two upright bars that feed through the scupper holes of many SOT kayaks. They won’t work for other types of kayaks, but their simple design can’t be beat. One complaint we heard is that they can be difficult to remove if you roll the kayak into the water since you have to be deep enough for the bars to disengage.
"I have a sit on top and the cart goes through the scupper holes. I absolutely love it."
Cradle Style Carts with Straps
By far the most common cart, the cradle style with straps is usually some variation of aluminum tubing, connected by a short strap, that cradles your kayak, usually in the middle. Additional straps attach to the cart itself and wrap around your kayak. Some come with a double- or single-leg kickstand, some with padding, and most are foldable. They tend to be light weight and, as a result, have smaller load capacity. While many swear by them, others complain about their tendency to fold up when you’re not expecting it.
"I bought (an aluminum) one like this. I really like it. There are more expensive ones, but this works great for me."
“I bought a (folding aluminum cart) for my Ascend D 10, and it's an exercise in frustration. That damn thing CONSTANTLY folds up on me, especially if I have to turn or hit a bump.”
In recent years a new form of cradle cart, the RailBlaza C-Tug cart, has taken this category by storm. Instead of using an aluminum frame, it uses adjustable platform pads that conform to the shape of most hulls. Instead of folding, it can be quickly disassembled in about 20 seconds. It’s made of non-corrosive polymers that withstand the environment well and don’t rust.
Double Rail Carts
In a slight variation from the cradle style cart are these double rail, or padded bunk, carts. They tend to be more durable than the traditional cradle carts, and feature two adjustable horizontal support posts that straddle the keel and help prevent it from twisting or flipping sideways. They also work by strapping the kayak to the cart, though they are generally built for larger or heavier craft than a cradle cart.
Heavy Duty and Adaptive Kayak Carts
In another variation of carts are the heavy duty trolley. Defined by their ability to hold 250 pounds or more, these carts are relied upon by paddlers and programs that need to move heavy loads. That might be a large angling kayak loaded to the gills with rods, an anchor, live bait tanks, crates and more. They are also the only type of cart suited for adaptive paddling programs, when paddlers must be transported in a kayak to the water.
Not dissimilar to a cradle cart, and end cart slips on to the stern end of the kayak. It holds the weight of the kayak and you simply pull it by the kayak handle on the bow. One benefit of this cart style is that it doesn’t require any straps. On the downside, it doesn’t fit all kayak models – especially the wider ones – and can tend to slip off during transport.
"I use this one and I love it, very secure. It works by wedging the boat into the opening, then it's one bungee to secure it. It swivels flat without taking the wheels off or undoing any screws, and slides easily either down into the nose of the kayak or under the rigging."
Do It Yourself (DIY)
Not everyone wants to shell out cash for something they can make on their own. There are dozens of blueprints available online for making your own kayak cart.
"I use a simple one that I made from PVC. Makes a long haul so much easier."
There are other types of carts available including dolly styles, four-wheeled and more, but we’ve touched on the most common. Across all these categories, there are other features to look for, including:
Wheel Type: Sand vs Rocky vs All Terrain
Salt vs Fresh Water
Ability to Fold or Disassemble
Height & Width Adjustability
A Word About Wheels
Kayak cart wheels are arguably as important as the type of cart itself. There many different types, from airless to air-filled to balloon wheels. Consider what your typical terrain will be. Is it rocky and uneven? A harder, narrower wheel may work well. Is it sandy and flat? A balloon wheel or track-style wheel may be a better choice.
We’ve already covered a lot of territory about the types of carts available and how they are used, so by now you should have a pretty good idea what type of features to look for. Another major consideration is price. Carts range from around $50 for the simple folding aluminum ones to as much as $750 for an adaptive cart, and everything in between. When choosing a cart be sure to take note of the following:
Ability to Fold or Disassemble
Available Accessories (kickstand, padding)
Performance & Reviews
Our Pick: The C-Tug Kayak Cart
Depending on your unique needs – how far you’re pulling your kayak, what the terrain is, your budget – you’ll no doubt find what’s right for you. All other things considered, our enthusiastic recommendation is to check out the C-Tug Kayak & Canoe Cart by RailBlaza, which is also available with its innovative Sandtrakz wheels. The C-Tug was, by far, the most frequently cited (and highly praised) kayak cart among the hundreds of paddlers we asked.
“C Tug!! I've known several friends to waste their money on those aluminum things that fold up on you in the middle of trying to use them. Then they try my C Tug, and next thing you know they have bought one, too!”
"(I have the) C-Tug with the SandtrakZ wheels. Can't beat it in soft sand."
Angle Oar LLC's mission is getting people with limited strength or mobility kayaking for the first time and keeping experienced paddlers there longer! We provide adaptive paddles, outriggers and other equipment to people with shoulder problems, physical disabilities or limited upper body strength due to age, injury or ability.