Bow and Stern Lines: Care & Feeding

The Long &… Er, the Front & the Back of It

Bow and stern lines are very important to safely transport your kayaks. They help reduce oscillation caused by the airflow around the kayaks at freeway speeds. The bow and stern lines will also keep your kayaks with your car if any part of your rack fails. It’s best to not turn your kayaks into unguided missiles rocketing down the road. In the State of Washington, you can even get an unsecured load ticket if you don’t have them.

Unforeseen Consequences

Unfortunately, there are also dangers to this safety feature. If either end of the line comes loose and gets under the tire while you’re driving, it can do a lot of damage to your kayak… and even your car. I’ve seen kayaks folded over the rack and onto the hood of a car, in some cases denting the car itself while breaking the kayak where it bends across the roof rack. This happens most commonly with bow lines, but can also happen with a stern line. Because these straps aren’t in front of you it is easy to miss that they aren’t secure. The damage happens as easily in Reverse as it does in Drive.

Kinder, Safer Bow and Stern Lines

I have never personally had a bow or stern line go under my tires. I heard about it happening and it scared me enough to find ways to prevent it.┬áMy solution was simple: I made my bow and stern lines too short to go under the tires. At first, I used Yakima Hood Anchors for both bow and stern lines. I still use these for stern lines, there aren’t a lot of places on my old car to attach stern lines. I now use Sherpak Hood Loops for the bowlines. On my car, they were very easy to install. I use the short end with the cam buckle on the bottom, and attach the longer end to the kayak. My straps didn’t need to be trimmed; they are not long enough to reach the ground. If they did need to be trimmed, it would be fairly easy using the technique in this video to prevent fraying.

Twisting the lines reduces buzzing as you drive down the highway

Your Mileage May Vary

Depending on your car, you may need to make other modifications. It may be impossible to ensure that the bow and stern lines can’t get under the tire on your car. There are so many different cars and trucks out there that I can’t say this will work for everyone. But if it will work for you, it might just save your kayak.


GlennFebruary 16, 2021

Another concern is not to pull the bow and stern lines to tight. Too Tight and you can break the bulkhead seal. This is quite common on rotomoulded kayaks.

Bill SauerFebruary 16, 2021

You can't use bow lines below THE top of the windshield on my 2019 Subaru Ascent. They actually interfer with the eyesight sensor system. I double strap my boats around the front SADDLES(2 seperate straps). I tie the bow straps to the rack forward of the cross bars. Not ideal but my brakes don't AUTOMATICALLY apply due to vibration of the lines. I use stern lines. THE stern lines must be disconnected before opening the Rear hatch door. On long trips I add a strap in the center of my boats to the factory rack.

Travis GoldmanFebruary 17, 2021

I hadn't even thought about modern driving aids and the bowlines' effect on them. My car is 28 years old, its only driving aid is anti-lock brakes.

Leave a comment

Your comment will be revised by the site if needed.