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Racking Your Shell Up Right



There are not enough rewards in life so fulfilling as sculling and rowing. With this reward comes the necessity for some rowers to transport their shell on top of their vehicle every time they head to water. It is no small wonder that ancient tortures made use of the rack! The shell racking experience can be a time drain and safety problem if not done right. However if done properly, it can be safe with minimal time and energy expenditure.

If you had your driver’s license prior to 1990, you may remember that most automobiles, foreign and domestic, had rain gutters over the doors. These rain gutters made using roof top racks fairly simple and very secure. Today’s cars have lost those universal-fit rain gutters and usually requires a custom fit.

Fortunately, there are a handful of companies helping boaters (rowers included), bikers, skiers and other active individuals fit their vehicles with high quality racks to carry their recreational gear. Neither the car or rack makers knew much about rower’s racking needs. This is not a reflection on rowers or their sport. The financial rewards to the company are limited since rowers purchase racks in minuscule numbers compared to canoers, kayakers, and cyclists.

Most rowers are racking racing or open water shells. The sweep 4’s and 8’s are always transported on a very long trailer. Scullers are quick to figure out that it doesn’t matter if you drive a two-door compact car, a four-door luxury car, a station wagon, van or SUV, all vehicles may have a very short roof line. A short roof line in racking terms is defined by the maximum spread between your front cross bar and your rear cross bar. A car rack system has one pair of bars that lie (usually after being attached to the car via towers) across the roof of the car. The roof lines of many cars only allow for a maximum of 28” to 32” spread between the bars, whereas a wagon, van or SUV may have 28″ – 48″ or longer. This span is hardly enough to support a single shell over 20′ adequately, let alone transport it. Many scullers are forced to improvise on their own or purchase a shell rack to allow a safer transport of their single or double shell.

The largest companies of car racks are Yakima (a US company) and Thule (a European company). Both companies compete heavily with each other in the US and both make excellent rack systems. There are a few smaller companies in the US that make good racks too, but they are not offered as widely as Yakima and Thule. Choices of racks are a subjective experience, but consulting a rack expert is a smart step to take.

Once a choice of the basic car rack system has been made, the sculler is faced with the decision whether or not a rack designed to carry shells is also needed to be added to the basic rack system. There are many variables, but a good rule to follow is if your roof line is short and you have a single shell between 20’ and 28’ long, a shell rack is advisable if you are traveling more than a mile or two on good roads at slow speed. The anonymity of being a sculler may pay off in this regard: most shells on small cars are, by most Department of Motor Vehicle laws, illegal to car top because the shells extend over four feet beyond each bumper.

That much advised, if you are attempting to safely transport your shell, then apply the following rule of three to which strives to maintain a good ratio of boat length to support structure on your car rack and / or shell rack. For every three feet of boat make one foot of shell rack support. This is not always possible given our roof lines, which are small and sloped. If your car has such a roof line, than you can change the bar span to a 1:4 ratio. (1 foot of shell rack per 4 feet of shell) but use caution when using this ratio, since your shell has less support than a 1:3 ratio.

Contact points, or support points, are extremely important in securing and creating a safe transport for your shell. This is true for all the different shell carriers available. There should be a contoured cushion between the shell and the support structure. Even if your support structure is a strap or sling there should be a cushion between the shell’s hull and the support. Our repair shop has done many repairs on shell’s hulls and decks because they haven’t had good cushioning. The best rack systems contour to the hull, almost fitting the shell to form. Strapping your shell is also very important. Distributing the tension by double strapping the same strap is the best way to secure the shell.  Basically, double strapping involves throwing the strap over the shell, under the bar on one side of the vehicle and throwing the strap back back over the shell so the strap lies parallel to itself. Then you tie it down to the side you originally started on. This allows you to place the buckle where you need it (away from the shell) and you can check it easily as needed during transportation.

Quality of straps varies but we believe we have the best straps available. These straps have safely racked thousands of shells through the decades and never had a shell damaged. Making or buying the best quality shell rack and straps is well worth the cost as safeguarding your shell is paramount in transporting it.

If you would like information born of experience regarding racking, car racks, shell racks and a bias toward rower’s needs, call or email Pete or Karen. Although not every shell can go on every car, your shell can have the best options made available to you through the experts at Adirondack Rowing. We really enjoy helping rowers get the best selection and the best pricing on the best equipment.

If you have a heavier shell or boat you need to transport, consider a trailer. Trailex Trailers makes great trailers we use for our own transportation.

Please take a look at the Shell Rack we offer for recreational shells and at the Vee Rack we offer for racing shells.

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Or Call Us! 518-745-7699 (ROWW)