How To Carry Kayak In a Short Bed Truck

If you have a short bed truck, you may be wondering if there is a way to carry your kayak. 

Fortunately, different methods of transporting a kayak in a short truck bed exist. You can do it with the tailgate up or down or buy a truck bed extender or rack. But what you choose depends on the size of your truck bed and kayak and whether or not you want other cargo to carry.

Read on as we focus on the five best ways to safely transport a kayak in a short truck bed, including everything you should know before hitting the road.

What Is The Maximum Size Kayak You Can Transport In a Truck Bed?

This depends on the size of your truck bed and the kayak’s length. A short truck bed is about 5 feet long, but an average truck bed would be about 6.5 feet long. If you are lucky to have a long truck bed, you can have an 8-foot-long truck bed space for your kayak.

Also, transporting your kayak with the tailgate down adds 2 feet of space to support your kayak.

The golden rule is to have about 70% of the kayak’s weight or at least two-thirds of its length inside the truck bed. So, the maximum kayak size you can transport in the truck bed depends on your kayak.

A recreational kayak’s length ranges from 8 feet to 13 feet. And for touring kayaks, the size can be 14-18 feet. As you can see, even a long truck bed does not fit half the length of a touring kayak. A truck bed extender or a truck utility rack is best in such a case.

5 Ways To Carry Kayak In a Short Bed Truck

Short truck beds are limited in space and cannot fit most kayaks without extending them with a truck bed extender. Fortunately, different methods exist for transporting kayaks of varying lengths on short truck beds.

Suppose you have a small recreational kayak, foldable or inflatable kayak. In that case, your short truck bed is large enough to carry it. All you need include a truck bed liner, a durable rubber mat, and foam blocks for padding. No additional equipment to purchase.

But if your kayak is relatively long and can’t fit in your short truck bed, consider some of the methods outlined below.

For Tailgate Down

The best way to transport your kayak in your pickup is with the tailgate down. You get additional 2 feet from the tailgate panel to support the extra length of your kayak. If you have an 8-foot-long kayak, it should fit in a 6 feet truck bed with a tailgate down.

Use the following steps to load, secure, and transport the kayak in your shot truck bed to the destination or paddling location:

  1. Pull the tailgate down by unlocking the latches and slide in the kayak in bow first.
  2. Strap your kayak in the truck bed. Most kayaks have grab handles or anchor points which you can use to secure them on the truck bed.
  3. Run a cam strap through the anchor points on the floor or bed rails of your pickup truck bed and pass it through the bow of your kayak. You don’t want your kayak to slide behind you when behind the wheels. Cam straps are preferred over ratchet straps because the latter can damage your kayak. If you must use them, be careful and don’t over-fasten them.
  4. Run another cam strap from the truck bed floor’s anchor point to the stern’s mounting point. Ensure the cam strap makes a V, which firmly holds the kayak down.
  5. Attach a red flag to the end of a kayak when it sticks four feet out of the truck bed. You are required by law to do that to warn other drivers about your oversize load.

When using this method, ensure to load the kayak onto the truck bed with the cockpit facing up. If it is upside down, the seat back becomes more susceptible to damage.

– Does not require additional equipment or other aftermarket upgrades
– An affordable option for transporting a kayak
– Convenient and straightforward even for beginners
– Ideal for more than one kayak
– You may need a cable lock or lockable straps to prevent kayak theft.

AUGO Ratchet Tie Down Straps

For Tailgate Up

If your truck bed does not have a tonneau cover or anything covering it, you can also transport your kayak in it when the tailgate is up. But you should ensure the kayak is placed at an angle and lies diagonally in the truck bed.

Use the following steps to load and strap your kayak in the truck bed with the tailgate up:

  1. Lower the tailgate and clean the truck bed before sliding your boat into it.
  2. Put the tailgate up, raising any overhang up in the air. The angle can be steep and above the hood of most cars.
  3. Attach a red flag at the end if you have more than 4 feet overhang to alert other road users about your oversize load.
  4. Position the kayak inside the truck bed, so the stern is at the front left corner of the truck bed. The bow to the tailgate is at the opposite corner.
  5. Secure the boat to the truck bed using cam straps. Run the first cam strap across the top of the kayak and attach it to the pickup truck’s anchor points and through the D-ring or mounting points on the kayak. Pull the strap to fasten them, but don’t make them too tight.
  6. Run a second strap from the tow loop back to your bed anchor and tighten it to pull the kayak forward into the rear truck bed wall.

In this method, you may use the seat back in the cockpit as an anchor point to avoid side-to-side movements when on the road. Load your kayak inside the truck bed with the cockpit facing up. It also becomes more convenient when unloading it.

– Does not require additional equipment or other aftermarket upgrades
– An affordable option for transporting a kayak
– Convenient and straightforward even for beginners
– Not suitable for kayaks longer than 11 feet

Using a Bed Extender

A bed extender gives you an extra truck bed length to support your kayak. It attaches to the hitch receiver and offers additional 2 feet or more onto the back of your pickup truck. That makes them ideal for carrying even a long touring kayak.

As mentioned, the truck bed should support at least 70% of your kayak’s weight. If that’s not the case, you will need a truck bed extender. These are available in various designs and sizes, but the most appropriate one should be adjustable. It allows you to increase or decrease the height and length to fit your kayak.

The procedure for transporting a kayak using a truck bed extender:

  1. Attach the bed extender to the tow bar. Adjust it to the height and length of your kayak to ensure the entire kayak weight is supported. But if the kayak is too long, you can let part of it hang out.
  2. Load the kayak onto the truck bed with the bed extender attached, ensuring the cockpit is facing up.
  3. Secure the kayak using cam straps. Use the anchor points on the truck bed and D-ring or mounting grab points on the kayak to pass the cam strap through and fasten to firmly hold the kayak. Keep it from moving back and forth or sideways.
  4. Attach a reg flag at the rear end to warn other drivers about your extended truck bed and load.

This method is best for transporting only one kayak, and the cockpit should be facing up. Consider other ways of transporting a kayak in a short truck bed if you have multiple boats.

– Straightforward
– No modification or permanent installations
– Provides more length for short truck beds  
– It may be illegal in some states, depending on the overhang

MaxxHaul 70231 Hitch Mount Pick Up Truck Bed Extender

Using Kayak Truck Rack System

Consider the truck rack system if you want to carry other cargo or gear in the truck bed. It is attached to the truck bed sides to extend the base for your kayak. And if your kayak is long, some of its parts can rest on the cab, and others overhang the truck bed.

However, you may need help loading a kayak onto the truck bed rack because of the kayak’s weight. Once you manage to hang it up, you can secure it using cam straps the way you would on a roof rack. Consider the following steps:

  1. Install the truck rack according to the manufacturer’s instructions or call a technician to help you.
  2. Load the kayak onto the truck rack as you would on a roof rack.
  3. Use cam straps to tie down the kayak on the truck rack. Get two cam straps: one used at the front crossbar and the last at the rear cross bar. You can mass the cam straps through your boat’s scupper holes or D-rings to hold them more firmly.
  4. Attach a red flag if the overhang behind the truck bed is more than 4 feet.
– Multiple kayaks can be transported at the same time
– Higher load capacity than a roof rack
– Easy to secure kayak on the truck rack system
– Expensive to install, sometimes requiring permanent modifications
– Leaves your truck bed exposed because you can’t use the Tonneau cover

AA-Racks X31 Truck Rack

Combined Method

You can combine two of the methods described above to transport your kayak. For instance, you can use a truck bed rack system with a truck bed with a tailgate down. That allows you to carry multiple kayaks.

The steps to use the specific methods do not change. So, we will not repeat them here. Just ensure you load the kayaks onto the truck bed and rack and use the steps described earlier.

– More space for carrying multiple kayaks
– Ideal for kayaks of different lengths
– It may be complicated for a beginner
– Permanent installations may be required
– Expensive compared to other methods

Kanulock Lockable Reinforced Stainless Steel Tie Down Straps 11 Foot

Safety Rules When Transporting Your Kayak In a Truck (No Matter What Truck Size Is)

Consider the following tips to safely transport your kayak in a truck bed, regardless of the size.

Note about Overhang

How Far Can A Kayak Hang Out of A Truck? As mentioned, two-thirds of the kayak’s length should be inside the truck bed or bed extender.

An excess overhang makes the whole process unsafe, and your kayak can get damaged or slide out of the truck bed. If you have a short truck bed, consider extending it using a bed extender or installing a truck utility rack.

Flagging your kayak to alert other drivers

Whether you transport your kayak with a tailgate down or up or on a truck rack, the kayak will still stick out of the truck bed. Most states require you to alert other drivers about your unusual load by hanging a red flag at the rear of your kayak. Never assume this, even if your kayak is brightly colored or is already red.

VULCAN Safety Flag with Wire Loop – Bright Red

Note on choosing anchor points

Do not strap your kayak on the truck bed at any other point. Most truck beds have D-rings on the floor for securing any load. The same applies to your kayak. Ensure to pass the cam straps through the mounting point or grab handles. Some even have D-rings, but you can use scupper holes if you have a sit-on-top kayak.

Be sure not to over-tighten the straps

The cam straps are for securing a kayak onto the truck bed. However, over-tightening them can cause dents or damage the hull. Use enough force to hold the boat in place but not too much to cause damage.


How do you transport a kayak in a small truck?

You can transport a kayak in a truck bed with the tailgate up or down. Alternatively, you can install a truck bed extender or rack if you want to use the space in the truck bed for carrying other cargo.

How far can a kayak stick out of a truck bed?

Carrying a kayak in the truck bed follows the -3-4-4 rule. This law states that any cargo should not overhang a vehicle by more than 3 feet at the front, 4 feet at the back, and 4 inches by the sides.

Should a kayak be transported upside down?

No. Loading a kayak upside down is appropriate when you consider it to prevent possible sliding when driving. But it may make the seatback susceptible to damage, and it does not give you any advantage if you strap the boat firmly in the truck bed.

Wrapping Up

A pickup truck makes it easier to transport a kayak without buying extra equipment or permanent installations. You can load the boat into the truck bed and secure it. But if you want to transport other cargo in the truck bed, you can opt for a truck bed rack or a utility truck rack. This gives you more space for transporting your kayak.

Thank you for your time at Windpaddle. We appreciate your time reading this article and believe you can safely transport your kayak on your pickup truck bed. Kindly share this article with other kayakers to pass on the information.