Not sure how to get your canoe, paddleboard or kayak to the water? We'll help you figure out which rack option is the best for your car, and your budget! Just about all of the options below require your car to have a base roof rack with crossbars. There are hitch-mounted options, but these are very limited.
A simple way to carry kayaks (one per pair of cradles), these work well for molded plastic kayaks. Because the J-Cradle keeps the boat mostly vertical, your crossbar real-estate is maximized, allowing up to 2 kayaks on most factory bars and 3 - 6 (depending on crossbar size) with racks from Yakima, Thule and other brands. In contrast to stackers, J-Cradles are also very easy to tie down, as the kayaks are held vertically by the mount. J-Cradles requires the boats to be resting on their sides, so this option is not recommended for wood frame or fiberglass boats.
Stackers are great for getting multiple boats strapped up on one car, at an affordable price. These work well for molded plastic kayaks, and are best with smaller whitewater kayaks. A kayak stacker is basically a vertical pole that is mounted to the vehicle crossbar - the kayak is laid on its side and tied up against the pole. The downside is the learning curve with mounting kayaks - the boats are vertical, with nothing to hold them in place as you tie them down.
Stackers leave the kayak resting on its side against the roof rack, so you should not use this type of kayak rack with a wood or fiberglass water craft.
Kayak Saddles & Rollers
Saddles are easy to load and unload - especially when used with a roller system - and allow easy tie-downs as the kayak is resting down on the saddles. However saddles occupy the largest footprint on crossbars, meaning you will have less room to mount multiple kayaks or other gear. With non-factory crossbars at least 2 kayaks should be able to be mounted, with more possible on longer crossbars. Rollers are stand-alone or integrated into saddles, and allow you kayak to "roll" along them, greatly reducing the strain and weight of loading and unloading kayaks. Saddles and Rollers are the best option for fiberglass, wood/skin boats such as sea kayaks.
In addition to rollers there are other options for load assistance that work with Stackers, J-Cradles, Saddles and even Surf/SUP boards. These products are usually designed to work for a narrow range of mounts/bar styles made by the manufacturer. Load assist mounts are helpful in reducing overhead weight/stress and should be a serious consideration for anyone with shoulder or upper back issues, or for those will taller vehicles.
Racks for canoes are also called Gunwale Brackets and Gunnel Brackets. They allow for easy and secure mounting of a canoe, or small water craft. Canoe mounts work by providing an "L-Shaped" padded stop on which to rest the boat's gunnel. The brackets prevent side-to-side motion, which can cause issues when driving at high speed or on bumpy roads. Be sure to check your roof rack manufacturer for weight restrictions.
SUP/Surf Board Mounts & Pads
There are a lot of options for mounting boards to roof crossbars. Starting with simple (and cheap!) pads and straps, all the way to padded mounts with locking straps and the ability to hold multiple boards. Always remember that boards should be stacked - NEVER put multiple boards side by side on a car roof. Board mounts come in a wide price range as well.