DIY: Build Good looking Canoe or Kayak Racks For Under $40.

kayak racks 1
from the Sportsman Store

Build your own kayak racks!

With the purchase of a new command vehicle for WildIndiana, came a new problem: no kayak racks.

As avid kayak anglers, we enjoy taking my sit-on-top (SOT) plastic boats all over the state and country. Our new (for us) vehicle, a 2005 Honda Pilot, had all the features necessary for a great outdoor vehicle including a roof luggage rack.

Unfortunately, the rack did not include the cross-rails necessary to hold a kayak or any other long object. After pricing factory racks, it was apparent that a DIY home-brew solution would be necessary.

from the Sportsman Store

We began searching the internet and found various ideas but most of them looked quite ‘rustic’. We’re not against a little backwoods engineering but we wanted the racks to look good enough that we wouldn’t be embarrassed to leave them in place on our vehicle the majority of the year.

On the other hand, they needed to remove easily if necessary. They also needed to be stout so that a 12-hour trip to fish the panhandle bays of northern Florida wouldn’t cause undue concern.

After much research and a few false starts, our racks are finished and have been thoroughly tested. We believe the result met all our requirements, including good ‘factory’ looks, and the whole shooting match cost less than $40. As an added benefit, we’ve devised a lashing system that holds the boat securely and can be ready for travel in under 3 minutes.

The key was the use of conduit rack. A 20’ foot section was purchased for under $20 at a local Menards home improvement store along with the second important piece, a ¼” conduit hanger clamp. A few other incidentals completed the build and nothing used was so exotic that it couldn’t be found in most large home improvement or hardware stores.

Below is a visual step-by-step guide to building a conduit-hanger kayak rack for a 2005 Honda Pilot. You probably don’t have the same vehicle but the concepts should apply to any vehicle with a factory luggage rack.

kayak racks 2Conduit hanger

Conduit hanger typically comes in 20-foot lengths in several different sizes.  This section was pre-painted forest green but we painted ours matte black to match the factory luggage rack

kayak racks 3Conduit hanger, close-up

The conduit hanger is perforated, making for easy connection with hardware and quick tie-up of boats on the finished rack.

kayak racks 4Conduit hanger, end view

Our local home improvement store sold another size that was the same width but was lighter gauge steel and was shallower from top to bottom but it seemed too flexible and wouldn’t support heavy loads.

 kayak racks 5 Conduit Clamp

This is the key item to clamp the new cross-bars to the factory rack.  There are different sizes that should fit virtually any factory rack track.

 conduit clamp closeup Conduit Clamp Close-up

The conduit clamp is threaded on all legs and comes with a 1/4-20 set screw.  Installed, the clamp is actually used counter-clockwise 90 degrees and the set screw moved to horizontal.  The longest leg (shown here on the right) provides a steady base for the conduit hanger rack.

 rack measurement Measure

We chose a 52″ inch length for the cross-bars based on our vehicle width.

 cutting Cutting

The conduit hanger can be cut with a hack saw, but it will require a bit of elbow grease.  A miter box keeps the cuts straight.


 dremel Cutting Wheel

We used a Dremel tool and reinforced cutting wheel to make a clean, quick cut on the conduit hanger

 washers Washers

1/4″ x 1 1/4″ fender washers are used to keep a 1/4″x20 machine screw from pulling through the oval openings in the conduit hanger

 cut washer Filed washer

If you look closely, the washer needed approximately 1/4″ filed off one edge to slide into the conduit hanger channel.

 sliding washer Sliding washer

The filed washer slides into the conduit hanger.  It will be used to anchor the head of a 1/4×20 bolt that goes into the conduit hanger bracket

 rack Close-up attached to factory rack

This is a close-up of the conduit clamp fastened in the factory rack track.  The 1/4″ x 20 screw then goes down through the conduit hanger, washer and into the upward-facing hole in the clamp.  You might need to file off some of the machine screw if it hits the factory rack. Note the gap- we address that next.

 filling the gap Adjusting the angle

Most racks have some type of angle so it doesn’t meet perfectly with the horizontal conduit rack.  This gap can be filled with plastic shims sold for flooring installation.  A 1/4″ hole through the middle allows one or several to sit on top of the conduit clamp to make a horizontal mating service.

DSC01124 (Large) Finished rack in action
The rack is solid as a rock and looks good after a coat of matte black paint.  Our lashing system is a long nylon strap with spring-loaded clamp.  This is run through carabiners that clip to the oblong holes on the end the rack.  Tighten up the spring clamp on both lines and the boat is ready to go!

This worked for our 2005 Honda Pilot but the ideas/concepts would probably work for many other vehicles. Leave a comment and let us your ideas.

from the Sportsman Store


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