DIY Kayak Rack

Outdoor sports are great family activities, especially during the warmer summer months. Unsurprisingly, many families invest in the equipment to partake of these sports, causing storage problems. While storing an inflatable beachball might not be much of a problem, the larger the item is, the more we struggle with finding a place to store it. When it comes to large items, like kayaks, it’s often useful to build some sort of special storage rack, especially when they have curved surfaces so that they don’t stack so well.

Although kayaks are outdoor sports equipment, they should really be stored indoors or at least where they have a roof over them. While rain won’t damage them, constant exposure to the sun can dry the plastic out that they are made of, eventually causing it to fail. For most of us, that means storing the kayak in the garage; but a porch with an overhanging roof will work as well.

As with any large items, how the kayaks will be oriented in the rack will depend a lot on the available space. In most cases, it makes more sense to store them horizontally, because there isn’t enough ceiling height to do otherwise. But situations may exist, where there is ample ceiling height, but windows and doorways make it impossible to store the kayaks horizontally. In that case, it might be better to store the kayaks vertically up against the wall. In either case, the rack to store the kayaks needs to be strong enough to hold the kayaks in place, even during a strong wind.

There are a large number of different ways of making a kayak rack; but in this case, it makes more sense to go for simplicity than anything else. This isn’t a display rack that we’re talking about; but rather a storage rack. Anything done to make it more attractive or any high-quality joinery probably won’t even be seen, let alone appreciated.

Kayaks can vary in size; but it seems that they will all fit into a rack that provides for a cross-section of 40” wide by 22” high. Two arms are required to hold each kayak, which should be spaced roughly 60”to 72” apart. The actual kayaks to be stored in the rack can be measured to determine if those dimensions can be brought down any, but as they are, they should accommodate even the larger kayaks. No padding should be required, unless there is metal in contact with the kayaks.

Making a Kayak Rack Out of 2”x 4”s

One of the simplest materials to make a kayak out of is 2”x 4” studs. Assuming an 8’ ceiling height, three kayaks should be able to be stored vertically. Fitting four vertically would require a 9’ ceiling height.

These wood racks can either be made to sit against the wall or be set in the middle of the floor, allowing space to store kayaks on both sides. It all depends on how much space is available. weight isn’t really an issue, as the heaviest kayaks, those used for fishing, only weight 120 pounds. Recreational kayaks run about 35 pounds for a single and 65 pounds for a double. Even so, I’d recommend using glue and screws to join the pieces together, as well as adding in angled support brackets, made out of scrap pieces of 2”x 4”, to provide extra strength. A pair of crosss will keep the racks aligned with each other and allow for a means of attaching the rack to the wall for extra support.

2x4 kayak rack, angled support, crossbars
Making a kayak rack out of 2”x4”s

Please note that the support bars for the kayaks (the shelves) are mounted at a slight upward angle (5 deg.) to help keep the kayaks from falling off. Since those support bars are mounted to the sides of the vertical supports, the angled support brackets must be attached to the side of the support bars (the back side) and mitered to sit on the face of the vertical supports. It would be harder to place the mitered edge on the bottom of the support bars, as they are at an angle. Be sure to anchor them well into the vertical supports. As it may only be possible to fit one fastener in this application, a 3” long or longer lag screw would be better than normal wood screws or drywall screws.

This design is intended to be mounted to the wall, although it could be free-standing. The main reason for mounting it is to keep it from moving, when loading and unloading the kayaks. The crossbars provide a convenient means of mounting. They can be attached to the studs in the garage wall with 3” to 3-1/4” screw.

A couple of options that can be done to this design:

  • The bottom horizontal support bar is also the foot, resting on the floor. Doubling this up, adding another section of 2”x 4” that is attached to the side of it, would allow that second piece of 2”x 4” to be installed at the same 5-degree angle as the upper horizontal supports. 
  • The vertical supports can be made of 4”x 4”s, rather than 2”x 4”s, allowing them to be dado cut for the horizontal support bars. Please note that this is not necessary for strength, with the support brackets, but would make the overall project look better.
  • The horizontal support bars can be doubled up, attaching them to both sides of the vertical supports. Here again, this is not necessary for strength, as the rack really doesn’t have to hold a lot of weight, but doing so would look good, making the overall impression of the rack appear more secure. The same angled bracket could be attached to both horizontal support bars, running screw in from both sides. A small block of 2”x 4” at the ends of the horizontal support bars would give it a more massive, solid appearance. 

,If the ceiling height allows, a fourth pair of horizontal supports could be added, either for the storage of another kayak or for storage of paddles.

Making a Kayak Rack Out of PVC Pipe

A lot of people like making storage racks out of PVC pipe, as it is quick and easy to work with. PVC has sufficient strength to hold recreational kayaks without any problem, but probably isn’t strong enough to support the heavier fishing kayaks. I’d recommend using 2” diameter PVC, more for stiffness than anything else.

One thing lacking on a PVC kayak rack is the “foot” on the wood one. This type of rack is more of a temporary storage, used outdoors during the months that the kayaks are in use. When colder weather appears and it is clear that the kayaks aren’t going to be used any more that year, they should be moved indoors for the winter.

kayak rack, PVC elbow, PVC pipe
Making a kayak rack out of PVC pipe

The dimensions marked on the drawing are cut dimensions for the pipe, including the 30” pieces that stick out the elbows. Take care while assembling each side of the rack that the elbows and Ts are installed at 90 degrees to each other, so that the whole rack will go together.

PVC is somewhat susceptible to damage from prolonged exposure to the sun. While it doesn’t affect PVC’s tensile strength, it can affect its impact strength, meaning that a blow could cause it to crack. painting the PVC kayak rack will help protect it from UV rays, helping it to last longer.

This rack is designed to lean against the wall, although it can just as well be mounted to the wall. If it is leaned against the wall, make sure that the feet are a good 18” away from the wall, so that the rack can properly support the weight of the kayaks. To mount it to the wall, all that’s required is normal pipe hangers.

Making a Vertical Kayak Rack

Storing kayaks vertically can be a bit challenging, as most garages don’t have enough ceiling height. But if there is sufficient ceiling height, perhaps because of an open attic area or the garage really being a pole barn, then storing kayaks vertically can save a considerable amount of floor space. It’s also much easier to make racks to store kayaks vertically, than it is to make racks to store them horizontally.

All that’s needed for a vertical kayak rack is a piece of 2”x 4” about 2’ long and a couple of pieces of ½” or ¾” steel pipe with flanges. The pipe and flanges are mounted to the 2”x 4” base, at both ends. Once secure, cover the pipe with a cut-off piece of pool noodle, to keep the pipe from scratching up the kayak. A piece of the same pool noodle or a piece of thick foam rubber can be attached to the 2”x 4” for the same reason.

vertical kayak rack, pool noodle, wall plate, padding, steel pipe, pipe flange
Making a vertical kayak rack

This should be mounted to the wall, screw through the 2”x 4” into the studs in the wall, high enough so that it will be holding one end of the kayak in place. Ideally, the pointed end of the kayak should fit between the pool noodle covered pipes with no more than 1” to spare, but not snugly. The other end of the kayak can sit in a wood, metal or plastic box or bin, with an old pillow or foam rubber to protect it from damage.

In addition to the rack, some screw eyes will need to be installed in the wall, roughly at the mid-height of the kayak and far enough apart so that they are wider apart than the kayak to be stored. Make sure they are anchored into a stud and not just the drywall, even if that requires mounting a horizontal piece of 2”x 4” or 1”x 4” for them to mount into. These screw eyes are for bungee cords to hold the kayak in place.

Hanging a Kayak from the Garage Ceiling

There are several different ways of hanging a kayak from a ceiling, including building racks for them. The big problem with any sort of rack is that the kayak has to be lifted over one’s head to slide it into the rack. While that may be possible, especially with the lighter recreational kayaks, I certainly wouldn’t want to try doing it with the heavier fishing kayaks.

One way around dealing with this weight issue is to just put one end of the kayak into a rectangular or “C” shaped bracket, mounted to the ceiling. Just make sure that it is big enough for the kayak to fit into and that it is mounted to the ceiling joists. For the other end, a simple pulley arrangement can be used to lift the kayak quite easily. I’ve never done this with a kayak myself, but I have hung long extension ladders in this manner, which weigh more than the kayak would.

kayak, garage ceiling, pulley, eye screw, cleat, wood C bracket
Hanging a kayak from the garage ceiling

In this case, once the first end of the kayak is inserted into the bracket, one pulley can be used to pull the kayak up to the ceiling and it can be tied off at a cleat on the wall. Light rope is sufficient, as this isn’t a lot of weight. Even with a fishing kayak, a ¼” nylon line or paracord is sufficient. Avoid stiff rope or natural ropes that have a lot of threads hanging out that can get caught up in the pulley.

The rope that is running through that pulley will need to be attached to the ceiling in some way, such as with an eye screw. A loop is made in the rope, between that eye screw and the pulley. This loop hangs down and is what is attached to the kayak. Most kayaks, especially the heavier ones, have rubber and nylon strap handles on both ends which can be used for attaching. However, if the handle doesn’t lend itself to running the rope through or around, use another pulley with a carabiner that can attach to the handle. Once the rope passes through the pulley, it goes to a cleat mounted to a stud in the wall to be tied off.

It is easy to tie rope of this type off to a cleat, using a simple figure-8. The last couple of loops of the rope should be flipped backwards, so that the loose end gets captured by the loop. Friction in the rope will be sufficient to keep the rope from coming loose.

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