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Everything You Need to Know About Setting Up a Canoe or Kayak Shuttle

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Honda Element with Kayak and Canoe on Roof

At the Put-In...

Photo © by George E. Sayour

The discussions that surround the best way to set up a shuttle for a canoe or kayak trip are very comical indeed. Be careful, though, as they often lead to disputes over the most efficient method of executing the shuttle. Let’s put first things first. When paddling down a river, whitewater or not, paddlers typically don’t finish in the same place as they started. It is in these cases in which the paddlers need to setup what is known as a “shuttle” to ensure that they, their canoes and kayaks, and even their vehicles are picked up at the end of the day.

Shuttles can actually be a tricky undertaking as they rely on a number of factors. The usual scenario involves having more than one vehicle for a group of paddlers. This is by far the most common way to run a shuttle in paddling today. The bottom line is that 1 car is left at the bottom (take-out) and another car is left at the top (put-in). Sounds simple, right? Well it’s not. There are often discussions about which vehicle the boats should be on, at what point boats should be taken off of one car and put on another, how to tie the boats onto the vehicles, what to leave in the car at the bottom, and where to leave the cars. All of the aforementioned factors are really a matter of preference.

Assuming there is more than one car involved in setting up the paddling shuttle, you will use one of these three methods.

1) 2 Vehicles are Involved and Either Vehicle can carry all of the boats.
This is the best scenario. Both cars drive to the bottom and drop off the vehicle that doesn’t have any boats on it at the take-out. If boats are on both cars, put them all on one car at this point. Then everyone gets into the car with the boats, drives to the put-in, unloads, and paddles. At the end of the trip all of the boats are tied to the car at the bottom, everyone gets in, and drives to pick up the car at the put-in.

2) 2 Vehicles are involved but all of the boats are not able to be carried by one of the vehicles.
This will make the whole shuttle procedure twice as long. In this scenario, you will need to drive to the put-in and the take-out at least twice. You should drive to the put-in first and unload the boats and gear. It is best to leave a person with the equipment but this isn’t always possible. Then both vehicles drive down to the take-out and leave a car there that can carry boats. Everyone piles in the remaining car and drives back to the put-in to paddle. At the end of the day the kayak or canoes are tied to the car at the bottom and drive back to the top. If boats were left at the bottom because they didn’t fit then you must make the trip again to pick up the remaining boat(s) at the bottom.

3) There are more than 2 Vehicles involved
This scenario looks a lot like the first one described above unless the vehicles have boat carrying limitations that can’t be foreseen or addressed here. Ideally, all cars should drive to the bottom (the take-out) and drop off the vehicle(s) that don’t have any boats on them. If boats are on multiple cars, put them all on as few cars as they will fit at this point. The point is to leave as many cars at the take-out as you can while still being able to drive everyone back to the put-in. Then everyone gets into the cars with the boats, drives to the put-in, unloads, and paddles. At the end of the trip all of the boats are tied to the cars at the bottom, everyone gets in, and drives to pick up the car at the put-in.

Tips

  • Always leave the car or cars at the bottom that you want to put the boats on.
  • If you must drop gear off while running the shuttle, try to leave someone with it.
  • Use common sense. If the put-in is closer to where you will arrive, then you may want to go to the put-in first and drop things off.
  • Make sure that the vehicles at the take-out have enough straps to secure the canoes or kayaks at the end of the day. If you don’t have extra straps to leave in the cars, you may have to carry the straps in your boats.
  • Leave a towel, warm clothes, shoes, food and drink in the cars at the take-out.
  • Don’t leave your car keys in a vehicle at the put-in.

For more information on running canoe and kayak shuttles read Setting up a Paddling Shuttle with Only One Car.

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