How to Build a Kayak Trailer -
Step by Step DIY Guide

diy kayak trailer with kayak loaded

People love kayaking but are often hesitant about investing in them. Why? Because being in the water is one thing, but what happens when you’re finished paddling for the day? 

You’ll need a way to transport your kayaks, and if you are a kayaker you know how cumbersome they can be. When it comes to transport, many people are fans of kayak trailers. The only problem is that they’re expensive.

Luckily, you don’t need to break the bank to be able to have your very own trailer. One of the most cost-effective solutions is to build one yourself. 

Don’t worry, you don’t need a bunch of tooling experience, but you will need the right instructions and guidance. With our step-by-step guide, we’re going to teach you how to build your ready-to-go kayak trailer.

When it comes to transporting your kayak or canoe, the two main options are kayak racks and trailers. Racks are installed onto your vehicle roof, while trailers are attached to a rear hitch and pulled. 

So the first question is should you opt for a trailer or rack. It’s not an easy decision to make. If you’re unsure what to pick, here’s an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of both.

 

 

Advantages

Disadvantages

Kayak Racks

● Less expensive than trailers.

● Easy to store when not in use.

● Less road presence as the kayaks are stacked on top of the vehicle.

● Clearance issues with covered parking.

● Loading and securing the kayaks can be dangerous if you don’t know the proper techniques.

Kayak Trailers

● Extremely easy to load as the trailer sits low.

● Increased storage space for multiple kayaks, paddles, and equipment.

● Increased weight capacity. Trailers can hold 1,000 lbs+.

● Trailers can be expensive, unless you DIY.

● An increase in travel needs – parking, storage, etc.

● Driver must have knowledge of how to drive with a trailer.

 

In other words, if you don’t have storage space, and don’t mind loading your kayaks on top of your car’s roof, then opt for a rack. If you’re looking for a way to transport multiple kayaks with less hassle, choose the trailer.

DIY Kayak Trailer Building Guide

The following instructions are on how to build a DIY kayak trailer. Before starting, make sure you have the space and tools to start the project. If you have someone with experience in building trailers, they will come in handy.

Tools and Equipment You’ll Need

Here are the basic tools you’ll need to start your DIY project. You can find these items at any hardware store to build your own trailer at a fraction of the cost.

  • Flat base trailer – new or used
  • 16 mm and 17 mm combination wrench
  • One sheet of plywood or industrial plastic
  • Eye bolts
  • Lock nuts
  • Power drill
  • Eight to ten 2×4 lumber
  • Hex bolts
  • L brackets
  • Screws
  • Three to four pool noodles or pip insulator
  • Six zip strips
  • 25 inch PVC pipe
  • Self-tapping fasteners
  • Kayak rack (needed for the upper rack – optional)

Building the Base Trailer

First of all, you’ll need a base for your trailer. We recommend purchasing an inexpensive base trailer, as kayaks are lightweight compared to other loads. It can be new or used, what’s important is the condition it’s in. Many people enjoy the Harbor Freight trailer. It’s a solid steel base and very easy to customize. For a more budget-friendly trailer, you can opt for a look-a-like such as Ironton’s Utility Trailer Kit.

If you purchased a used trailer, it will probably come already assembled. If, on the other hand, you opt for a brand-new trailer, you’ll need to assemble it yourself. Here’s what you need to do to build your base trailer.

  1. Assemble the two decks and the tongue of the trailer. It’s quite heavy to assemble, so you may need some help.
  2. Then, attach the decks with a hinge on each side. You’re going to fold the trailer over, so make sure you have enough headspace.
  3. The suspension and axles need to be attached and tightened down.
  4. Attach the wheels to the trailer, flip it over and tighten the two decks of the bed.

With the harbor freight trailer, you have the option to fold the trailer up to save space. If you’re wanting to have that feature, then remove the vertical set of casters which are behind the wheels.

How to Build the Kayak Rack

Assuming you have the base trailer already built, the next step is making it kayak-friendly. Your base now needs to be customized. This is where the real work comes into play. The good thing is the harbor freight trailer is designed to be customized.

To make the base trailer usable for kayaks, you’ll go through three building stages. The three components to building the rack are: attaching the deck, building the bottom rack, building the top rack. Let’s get started!

1. Attaching the Deck

  1. You’ll want to attach a solid deck on top of your trailer. This will help protect your kayaks from damage during transportation. It doesn’t have to be fancy, a half inch plywood board is sufficient.
  1. Now is a good time to install parts of kayak straps, as you can easily access the frame. There are existing holes on the back and side of the frames. Eye bolts and lock nuts will work perfectly to create kayak straps.
  1. Make sure your deck lays flat against the frame. Each corner of the frame has a hex bolt. Cut the corners of the deck to expose the hex bolt, ensuring your deck lays flat. Then, mount the deck to the frame.
  1. On the front and back of the frame, you’ll find three sets of holes. These holes will bolt the three, eight-foot 2×4’s which will serve as support for the racks. Secure the 2×4’s with 2 ½ inches, 5/16 hex bolts with lock nuts. If you do this, your trailer is ready for the racks.

 

 

2. Building the Bottom Rack

 

You’re going to have to decide what you need in terms of carrying space. If you only have two kayaks, you’ll only need one rack. However, if you have four or five kayaks, you’ll need the upper rack as well. We’re going to show you how to build a rack for up to five kayaks.

  1. You’re going to lay two, 6 foot 2×4’s horizontal across the three support beams. These are the crossbars. Attach them to the three support beams – this will support the kayaks on the bottom rack. Secure them with L brackets and screws.

  2. Add a swimming pool noodle or pipe insulation over the two crossbars to protect your kayak from damage. To keep the piping insulation or swimming pool noodles in place, use zip strips and wrap them around each end of the crossbars.

  3. If you only have two kayaks to transport, your trailer is complete. You can now load them up, strap them down, and you’re ready to go. If you have more than two kayaks, you’ll need an upper rack.

3. Building the Top Rack (optional)

  1. The upper rack of the kayak will be supported by the center beam on the base trailer. Put your kayaks on the bottom rack to see how much space you have. Leave a solid 30 inches of space in between the two kayaks as well.
  2. The next step is to measure a 2×4 to the height you need between the bottom and top rack. You may need less or more, it depends on the size of your kayaks. However, 28-30 inches is typical.
  3. With an L-bracket, attach the 2×4 to the center of the supporting lower beam and crossbar.
  4. Attach another beam, the same size as the beam used in step 3, to the front beam and crossbar.
  5. Connect the two beams with a 2×4 at the top of them. This will solidify the structure.
  6. Attach the upper rack crossbars. 1.25 inch PVC pipes are the best material. Cut them so they measure six feet.
  7. Drill two holes right in the center of the pipe. Make sure it’s large enough for self-tapping fasteners heads to fit through.
  8. Place the pipes horizontally, parallel to the crossbars on the trailer’s base. Drill the fasteners through the pipe, right into the posts.
  9. Now, you need to build the upper racks of your DIY trailer. This means you’ll need to attach the outer support beams. Cut four 2×4’s to the height of the center post. That way, the PVC pipes will sit level. The outer support posts need to sit on the lower rack crossbar. Attach them with L-brackets on both sides of the post.
  10. Finally, fasten your PVC crossbar to the outer support posts. You can drill a pilot hole through the PVC piping and secure it with a fastener.
  11. You can now attach your steel kayak carriers to the top rack.

Not everyone has the ability to transport their kayaks on the top of their car roof. Putting up and taking down kayaks from your car roof can be a huge hassle. 

With a DIY kayak trailer, you can easily transport your kayaks with ease. You can customize your trailer to carry as many kayaks as you wish all in one go and save yourself hundreds of dollars.

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