Cartopping

How to transport your Sunfish on top of your car or SUV.

  1. Bradley
    Every so often someone poses the question whether or not the Sunfish can be transported on top of their car. Frequently an underlying question is, can one person car-top a Sunfish alone? The answer to the general question is, sure. With regard to doing it solo, one has to ask oneís self, can he or she lift a bulky object measuring about 14í long, 4í wide and weighing around 130 pounds head high and place it gently on his or her roof.

    In the name of preserving both boat and transport vehicle, car topping a Sunfish is largely considered a two person endeavor. Thatís not to say solo loading and unloading canít be done. Some industrious sailors have devised helper apparatus that work fine for them, but for a majority of Sunfish owners the least problematic method is to enlist the assistance of another person.

    Carrying arrangements run the gamut from temporary carpet rolls or partially inflated inner tubes for single trip transport to specialty sports rack systems. For repeated trips a roof rack tailored by the owner for the task is the usual setup. Depending some on the vehicleís ability to accommodate rack positioning and the owners desire to invest time and/or money into carrying features, the hull can travel right-side up or
    upside down.

    Important criteria for successful car topping are: choosing or constructing a rack that is sturdy enough to carry the weight; securely affixing the rack to the vehicle; distributing the weight evenly across the hull contact area and/or placing support at the strongest points of the hull; securing the hull to both the rack and the vehicle in such a way as to resist wind induced twist or lift.

    Singled-Handed Lifting Methods
    With caution, these method can be used to lift a Sunfish single-handedly on top of your vehicle. More discussion on this can be found in this thread.

    The Ladder Method
    Firmly tie one end of an extension ladder to your rear cartop carrier. Place the other end on the ground behind your car. This will make a "ramp" from the ground to your cartop carrier.
    Then place the bow of the Sunfish on the ladder. The boat should be lengthwise behind the car with the bow resting on the bottom of the ladder. Lift the stern slightly and push the Sunfish up the ladder and onto the cartop carriers. Make sure to protect the bottom of the boat so the ladder doesn't scratch the boat.

    It is a good idea to have a helper as the boat will have a tendency to skew to one side of the ladder and and can easily topple off the ladder. This method is effective but dangerous. Make sure to use proper padding to protect your Sunfish.

    Pipe Technique
    This is a variation of the ladder technique. If your cartop carrier bars are round and hollow, you can insert a piece of pipe inside the front carrier bar and leave about 3 to 4 feet sticking out of the carrier. You will need a piece of pipe about 7 to 8 feet long. Place the boat along side and parallel to the car about 3 to 4 feet from the car. Lift the bow up (it will be heavy) so it is supported by the pipe. Important !! - Make sure the stern end is anchored some way so it doesn't start to slide when you lift the bow. Now lift the stern and put it on the rear cartop carrier. Be careful, the boat will tend to slide backward when you lift the stern. Then slide the bow over onto the front carrier. Finally, remove the pipe and tie it to your carriers. Reverse the process when you unload the boat.

    The Gravity Method
    This method was originally designed for the Laser and transformed to the Sunfish. Let me know your success.
    1. Roll the hull on itís dolley to a position abeam or perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of your car with the transom maybe 1.5 to 2 meters (that's roughly 5 to 7 feet) away from the side of your car and next to the cross bars of your roof rack (from above hull and car will look like a T with a gap between the two lines).
    2. Lift the hull by the bow until it is standing vertically on itís transom. If you do it on grass, you shouldnít necessarily need a cushion under the transom unless you want to keep it clean. If you use one however, it should not be slippery one. Once the hull is vertical it may be a little tricky to hold it in balance, especially if the ground is not perfectly level. Itís probably a good idea to be quick with transitioning to step no. 3 and not light up a cigarette, answer a phone call, or go for walk.
    3. Walk around the hull and lower it past vertical until it leans on the ends of the crossbars of your roof rack. The ends should be cushioned well. They will be the pivoting points or bearings of the seesaw you just build.
    4. Lift the hull by the transom ñ this will require some strength initially, however part of the weight should already rest on the crossbars so you should be lifting less than the weight of your hull - and tilt it until it rests completely on the crossbars, still perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of your car.
    5. Turn it on the rack by 90 degrees and slide it around by alternately lifting bow and stern until it is aligned with the longitudinal axis of the car and in the desired position to be fastened. Be careful not to damage the cleats on the deck and the roof of your car while doing this. It might be a good idea to use a blanket to protect the paint.
    Of course your cross bars should be cushioned well, using tubing insulation for instance. Unload in reverse order.

    Gravity is your friend here because the boat will always rest partially on the ground or the car so you should be lifting considerably less than itís weight. Choosing the pivoting points well will make a big difference. Itís probably a good idea to practice this with a friend.


    Racks

    Choosing a rack is chiefly a matter of matching up weight carrying capacity. The typical working rack consists of uprights and crossbars designed to handle cargo. This might be something as simple as a secondhand ski rack found at Goodwill, so long as itís sturdy enough to handle the load.

    Some brands come as one-piece and must be matched to the vehicle model, others provide a choice of tower styles and crossbars in a mix-&-match system approach. A couple provide accessory pieces such
    as cradle-like pads, however, be aware these are usually geared toward supporting lighter weight canoes and kayaks.

    One make, ìQuick-n-Easyî, leaves the crossbar selection entirely up to the user. 2 x 4s, 2 x 6s or 1î pipe are common choices. This brand doesnít look as slick as the ìsystemî racks, but does provide the option for constructing something way stronger and more tailored to the Sunfish hull while keeping the cash outlay under $100. The drawback is, this company only makes uprights for those vehicles still sporting rain gutters.

    Some factory ìluggage racksî can be more ornamental than functional. Such pseudo-racks can fall short of supporting the weight of our boat so the vehicle ownerís manual should be consulted before relying on the automotive factory variety. In addition, auto factory racks often have a roof contoured curve opposite the shape needed to nestle the deck of a Sunfish.

    Padding

    The most uncomplicated arrangement is to simply cover a straight crossbar with thick padding, carry the hull in the upside down position, and let the hull crown form itís own contour in the padding.

    Crossbar padding has been seen to encompasses everything from egg crate foam loosely wrapped with duct tape, to carpet pad or camping pad upholstered with I/O carpet, to pipe insulation, to the Swim Noodle, reaching up to system rack pads sporting designer labeled nylon covers.

    The Noodle seems to combine a good mix of the desirable characteristics: foam density, thickness, economy, and some durability. A homemade nylon sleeve-type cover increases durability considerably.

    Tie-downs

    Ratchet straps of differing sizes from 1î to 3î are commonly found. A four pack of these ratcheting straps can be found at Big Box retails for about US$25. A favorite with whitewater rafters and kayakers for quickly securing loads is the cam strap. Using the same webbing found in ratchet straps, the cam type is less costly, easier to handle, and quicker to secure without as much risk of over tightening on a hollow hull style boat.

    Article contributions by Wayne Carney/Sunfish_Sailor, Ludwig Brinkmann, and Ksjudson.
    Thomas Wilson likes this.