How to Make a Kayak Portage Yoke

Updated on May 15, 2018
jimmar profile image

Jim is a retired software/electrical engineer who enjoys the outdoors. He likes to challenge himself with creative projects at home.

When I carry my kayak from my car top to the lake I can usually just rest the lip of the cockpit on my shoulder with my head inside and carry it the short distance. But when I did my first solo kayak camping trip in the Quetico Provincial Park of Canada, I needed something to help with the long portages. I improvised a clamp-on yoke made by shortening a removable canoe portage yoke to fit my kayak. It worked for the trip but kept slipping, causing me to set down the kayak and make adjustments. Each time I had to tighten the clamps more and more, digging into the wood of the cockpit lip.

I cannot remember who gave me this idea, a fellow kayaker no doubt, but it is a simple homemade yoke that is inexpensive and easy to construct. It works well with no slippage and is quick and easy to attach.

It slides onto the lip of the cockpit, trapping the lip between the yoke and the lipped spacer. It is then held in place with a bungii cord.

List of Materials

  • ¾ in. plywood (6 in. X 21in.) for yoke
  • 2 hardwood blocks (3/4 X 1-1/4 X 8) for spacers
  • 2 – ½ in. plywood blocks (1-3/4 X 8) for spacer lips
  • 2 – ½ in. plywood blocks (3 X 3-1/2) for padding base
  • 2 blocks (3 X 3-1/2 X 2-1/2)of high density foam
  • 2 pieces of vinyl fabric
  • A length of bungi cord
  • 2 short pieces of parachute cord
  • 16 – 1-1/4” #8 flathead screws

The dimensions are approximate. You will want to customize the yoke to best fit your kayak. The thickness of the spacer will probably vary for your kayak, but you want a fairly tight fit.

I found the balance point of the kayak over the cockpit and planned for the yoke to mount just aft of that. You want to have the weight slightly biased toward your rear when you carry it.

I cut the shape of the yoke from the ¾ in. plywood, making it sort of a shallow “C” shape to fit around my neck. I mounted the spacer lip blocks and spacers together with glue and screws then placed them on kayak where I wanted them positioned. I then placed the yoke on top the spacer and marked it to indicate where the spacers should attach. After attaching the spacers to the yoke with countersunk flat head screws, I checked the fit to the cockpit lip. Some adjustments may be necessary.

Next I glued the foam blocks to the plywood bases with contact cement and covered them entirely with vinyl fabric. I stapled the fabric into place.

The blocks are screwed to the yoke in a position such that they would rest on your shoulders. I found the keeping them closer to the middle of the shoulder is more comfortable than towards the ends. You’ll have to play with the yoke by positioning it on your shoulders to determine the exact mounting positions you like.

I attached loops of parachute chord through holes drilled at the end of the spacers. A length of bungii cord is tied to the para-cord loops at each end. This cord is stretched to fit under the lip and around the opposite end of the cockpit to hold the assembly in place.

Once I was happy with the fit, I took everything apart and routed smooth the edges. After a little sanding I sealed all the wood with a 50/50 mix of Helmsman exterior varnish and paint thinner. Once the parts were tacky dry, I re-assembled them all and covered with two more coats of varnish. Once the rig was dry, using contact cement, I glued a few patches of vinyl on the yoke where it comes in contact with the cockpit lip.

Not the prettiest thing in the world, but it works well, and is lightweight, easy to attach, and inexpensive.


During a recent solo kayak camping trip I used this portage yoke. Although it was adequate enough, it was not as comfortable as I wished. I will likely make a few improvements:

  1. Make the yoke pads adjustable to fit the more comfortable "sweet" spot on your shoulders. It will probably require some short slots for mounting screws with wing nuts.
  2. Use softer foam or add a layer of less dense foam that will compress around the bony parts of my shoulders.
  3. Sculpture the foam into a slightly concave shape.
  4. Improve the bungii cord attachment to the wood. It works as is, but I think I could come up with something that looks a little better.

Overall, not too bad for something put together on a whim!


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    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      7 years ago from Planet Earth

      I like your clear instructions and photos! I don't know if I would ever need to make one of these, but I learned a lot from reading this. Good job!


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