Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thule Hullavator Madness

The Thule Hullavator is an interesting product. Designed to assist in the lifting of your kayak onto the roof of your vehicle, it is a beautifully designed item, particularly if you are a smaller paddler. If you aren't familiar with it, here is how it works.

Each cradle - which is sort of a modified J type cradle - is connected to a gas assist arm. In the up position, it sits flat on the roof of your vehicle. In the down position, it pulls out to and lowers to the side of your vehicle. Meaning you can put the cradle down, put your kayak in it, and secure it, and then the lift assist will help you get it on the roof of your car or truck. You don't have to lift the kayak above shoulder height. Here is a video showing how it works:

This essentially removes 40 pounds of weight, as you lift the kayak. So in this video, he uses no effort because it is a small boat, for me, it would be the equivalent of lifting a 12 pound boat onto the roof. This is a great thing? Right? Particularly if you are a short paddler like me, or you have a tall vehicle. But there are a couple of problems with it. First is the price - $600. Though I did see it is marked down a bunch of places when I was researching this post - the second is the weight. It weighs 44 pounds. I will get back to why that is important in a minute.

despite how awesome this thing looks, I had never seen one in the wild. Meaning on an actual paddlers car. The only place I ever saw them was at trade shows on display cars. But about two weeks ago, I saw five Hullavators in 3 days. I couldn't believe it.

I saw these two when I was putting in my boat. I never saw the paddlers, I was very curious what they were paddling. The day before this I saw another hullavator on a different vehicle. But then the day after this I saw the ultimate.

It is a little hard to tell in this photo, but that is two hullavators on one vehicle. Now I remember a Thule Rep telling me you couldn't - or shouldn't - do this. But as I peruse several sites I don't see any mention of that. In fact, when I googled it I found a lot of people are doing double Hullavators - which I feel I should point out would be $1200 before the cost of the base rack (which is at least $300) and all of a sudden you are at the cost of a pretty nice kayak!

But here is the problem with the Hullavator - and particularly the double set up above - it goes back to the weight. 44 pounds per Hullavator. Most car racks will support a max weight of 165 pounds. Really, it isn't the car rack that is the problem, it is the roof of the car - Now, We all know that number is designed to be low, and I have had WAY over 165 pounds on the roof of my yaris, going to Alaska I had 150 pounds of boat alone! But still, you have to be safe... Right? So, 44 pounds, plus the weight of the base rack, another 15 or so and you are right at 60 pounds. That leaves you 100 pounds for gear on the roof. My seventeen  and sixteen weigh 102 pounds combined. Now add on that second Hullavator in the picture above. Keep the math simple, two 40 pound Hullavators, and two 40 pound kayaks and you are above the weight of the roof before adding in the base rack. I can see using one, but two seems a little risky to me.

I have to say, I have used just about every kayak hauling device made by Thule and Yakima. I am currently using a Thule Base system, and love it. Though I prefer Yakima round bars, as they flex less. I have always preferred the Thule Glide N Set over the Yakima Mako Saddles and Hully rollers - if you are interested in why, let me know. For the most part J style cradles - which are what I am currently using, are pretty interchangeable. Though the current Thule Hullaports have a slightly different design that I like less than the old ones.

But Thule has something that I think looks really nice, and as soon as I come up with a reason to purchase it, and sell a set of J cradles I will. It is this.

This makes it easier to load, while keeping the boat flat, which makes for a better ride in the car. All of this seems like a lot of obsessing over something that shouldn't matter that much, but really does. If you load your kayak on and off your boat all year, you will learn what works and what doesn't. Like anything else it is easy to see when a product is designed by paddlers who have used it a lot, versus designed by a committee. I like the look of this product a lot. I look forward to trying it out.


  1. Can this be used with a paddle board?

  2. I think a paddle board would be too wide. But you may want to check the specs at just to be sure.