Monday, April 05, 2010

Canoe on a Shelf

How to Build a Shelf-Style Canoe Rack


An easy way to store your canoe is to build a canoe shelf on an empty wall either inside or outside the garage, tool shed or other handy structure. It takes just a few simple tools, some shelf brackets, padding and a pair of two by fours. A canoe shelf keeps your boat up off the ground and allows you to store the boat without a lot of bending of your back and knees.


2 large metal shelf brackets at least 18 inches wide
2 pressure-treated two by fours, 4 feet long
A bag of 2 inch galvanized screws
2 pieces of thick pile carpet 8 inches wide by 28 inches
Drill and bits
Stapler and 1-1/2 inch staples

Step 1
Find a wall with cleared space long enough for your canoe.  If you have an 18-foot canoe, you’ll need a wall with at least 22 linear feet of open space. Remember you need room for the folks carrying the canoe to get around the ends to hoist it up onto the rack.

Step 2. 
Find two wall studs to screw into. They should be about a third of the length of the canoe from either end. If you have an 18-foot long canoe, position the shelf brackets about 4 to 6 feet from the ends (no less than 4 feet).  If the shelf is on an outside wall this keeps the sun from heating a composite or plastic boat and making it sag in the middle.

Step 3
Screw the shelf brackets to the wall so the top of the bracket is 3 ½ inches below where you want the gunwales of the canoe to rest.  Back the screw heads with washers. Use 3 ½ inch galvanized screws and predrill the holes.  You can make the rack high so the boat will be up out of your way – if it’s, say, inside a garage or shed.  Just remember, you’ll have to lift the boat up onto the shelf.  Don’t make it so high so that racking the boat is difficult. You can make the shelf waist height and avoid lifting altogether. This is great for an outside rack and saves on the old bones if you’re not 22 anymore.

Step 4
 Measure the beam of the canoe amidships.  This is the width from gunwale to gunwale at the center.  Add two or three inches to this measure and cut your two by fours this length.

Step 5
Set the two by four’s on edge on top of the shelf brackets.  Predrill the holes from underneath and up through the shelf brackets.  Use 2 inch galvanized screws backed with washers and screw the boards into place.

Step 6
Cut out the carpet pieces so they are 8 inches wide and about two inches shorter than the two by fours are long. Lay the carpet strips over the top of the two by fours and staple them into place.

Step 7
Screw large eyelet screws (1 inch or more wide across the eye) into the ends of the two by fours.  Screw a second pair of eyes in the face of the two by fours on the sides of the boards facing the bow and stern of the canoe (away from the center of the rack).  Place those two up close to the wall.  This gives you a pair of handy hook up points to which you can attach bungee cords or tie-down straps.  You’ll thank me later. 


  • Don’t paint pressure treated lumber.  Leave it the natural color. 
  • If you can get plastic astro-turf style carpet, use that.  Regular carpet will eventually rot. Artificial grass will last longer, tolerates being wet and protects just as well.
  • Keep metal brackets and screw heads painted to reduce rusting and this setup will last nearly forever.
  • You can bungee lifejackets and paddles up underneath the canoe for easy storage and transport, so that everything is together.

  • If you forget to tie your boat down, a good windstorm can leave your boat in the branches of a nearby tree or you can push it off onto the garage floor when you’re dragging tools around the garage. A friend of mine dented his aluminum canoe while trying to pull an electric cord loose.
  • Make sure you have plenty of room for loading and unloading your canoe safely from the rack. Keep obstructions out from under foot.  Dropping a boat on your toe can be painful.
Rogelio Hernandez of Kennesaw, Georgia sent me the picture below of the canoe shelf that he built.  He could only find an 18 inch wide shelf bracket, but the weight limit was more than adequate, so he re-engineered the design a bit.  He screwed the 2x4s to the top of the shelf bracket, making them long enough to support the width of his very nice-looking Mad River canoe and then added a 2x4 brace out to the end of the support arms. The shelf brackets each have a 600 pound weight limit which would support the canoe fine even with the leverage on it from the extended support arms, but like me Rogelio is more comfortable over-engineering stuff.  Frankly, if I had a nice Mad River like his, I'd do the same.  It's a neat way to support the overhanging arms and, as a bonus, you can screw hooks to the wooden supports for hanging lifejackets and other canoe equipment.

Note how the shelf allows room for the cars to park up close to the back garage wall AND places the canoe at a perfect height for lifting.  No bending over to hoist the canoe up off the floor. Allows you to keep your back straight while loading and unloading the boat.  Also, there are no dark places underneath the boat where rats, cats and the odd chihuahua can hide or collect things.  Crisp, clean and neat. Good job Rogelio and thanks for sending the picture.

© 2013 by Rogelio Hernandes, Kennesaw, Georgia
used by permission


  1. Interesting... I was searching this info for my uncle. He will be happy for such a great info. Thanks for sharing...

  2. Im going to try this this week.


  3. Send me a picture if you build it and I'll post it on the blog.


  4. Hi, I really like your design....where did you find the metal brackets you used?


  5. Home Depot or Lowe's or any hardware/lumber company carries large heavy duty screw up shelf brackets. Good luck with the project, Frank.

  6. How much weight can this support? I have a 65 pound cedar strip canoe. Design looks great. Thanks.

  7. How much it will support rather depends on how heavy the shelf brackets you buy are. If you're worried, you can always add a third bracket so you have an extra support. This is a flexible design in that way.

  8. I built mine. Reinforced it with 2 x 4's underneath.

  9. Yes Tom, but I'm usure of how to get it to you. Howdy I Send it?
    Also, instead of astro turf like material I used water pipe insulation (real cheap).

  10. Rogelio, I sent you an email about where to email the pic. I look forward to posting it here. Another padding you can use is old fire hose. Some volunteer fire stations sell it or give it away. If you know somebody there, catch them when they are upgrading their hoses. Old fire hoses are very useful for bumpers and pads for things.

  11. Posted the picture. Very nice job. I love the over-engineering, because you know some kid is going to want to swing from the ends....

    Also, another good padding material for the support arms is the amazingly useful swim noodle - those long foam deals kids play with in the pool. I like to buy them up cheap at the end of the season. The ones with the hollow centers can be split and used to pad all sorts of things - even for car-topping your canoe. They can be used to cover the gunwales of the canoe so the car roof doesn't get scratched. Check it out here...

  12. Nice job. I think I'm going to try this in my garage if I can find a wall long enough. Is there any reason to use pressure treated lumber if you are building indoors?

    In my book, a guy with a canoe, a garage, and the skills to build this rack *is* wealthy.


  13. I go with the pressure treated wood for outside stuff. Unless your garage is exposed to the weather, you don't need to spend the extra for treated lumber. Have fun!


  14. Love the idea! Worked great for my garage, thank you!!!

  15. Appreciated all your suggestions--thanks!
    From Canoein' in Minnesota

  16. Thanks for the ideas on how to make a canoe shelf. My shelf turned out great. From Amy in Tennessee

    1. Send me a picture at if you'd like and I'll post it on the blog. I'd love to see it.

  17. Very nice job guys.
    I can find a fre e wall long enough I'm going to try this for my kayak in my garage.thanks for posting … great idea! more ideas i found here

  18. Tom, and Rogelio -- thank you so much for posting this. With Talic bunks starting at over $400 I thought there must be a better way. I'm not all that handy but I think even I could manage this. I think I would need to go with the reinforced extension like Rogelio used, as my kayak is >42" amidships and I need to be able to slide it off the racks from the end. My questions: should the 2x4 braces be screwed into the wall studs at the bottom? Also -- how do you go about cutting the ends at of the braces at the correct angle so they sit flush up against the horizontal beams at the top and against the wall? I don't have any fancy equipment -- just a jigsaw. Thanks!

    1. Great! I'm not handy at all so to me this was something to be proud of. And yes the 2x4 are screwed to the wall at the bottom. As far as the angles for it, if I remember correctly, I cut a likely angle and used it for the bottom. I then marked the upper angle against the 2x4 on the bracket. I hope that makes sense. No fancy equipment used other than a drill.


    2. Unknown - I use a skill saw or table saw set at 45 degrees or a steeper angle depending on how wide you make it. Might call for some of that geometry you thought you'd never use, though. Like Rogelio says, If you cut the same 45 degree angle top and bottom it will work. If you figure that the support to top beam to wall relationship is a right triangle, then affix the top beam, find where you want the bottom of the support board, attach a string and run it to the outside of the top beam. Measure the angle with a carpenter's square ($1 at the dollar store if you don't mind plastic). The angles total 180 degrees. Add 90 degrees for the wall angle to the angle for the support at the end and subtract it from 180 degrees (the angles of a right triangle total 180 degrees). The carpenter square will allow you to measure and mark the angles. Measure and cut the top angle first. Measure from the inside edge of the top support to the spot on the wall you marked. Cut the inside of the lower angle starting where you measured. To get the angles right when you cut you can adjust your jigsaw or circular saw to match the angle you measured and cut it to size. That's the hard way. Actually Rogelio's way (above) is the simple way and no measuring. And it worked really well for him (see the picture above).

  19. I unfortunately threw out the canoe holder that my late husband built when I got a new fence. Now I am working from scratch. Love your idea! I have 2 canoes and the rack we had, held the two canoes. I remember it looking similar to yours. Any ideas for umphing your rack up to hold 2 Coleman canoes?

    1. If you have a wall or fence high enough, you could build one shelf above the other allowing enough height above the bottom one for clearance. Sort of a canoe bunk bed....

      You could make the shelf wider and nest the canoes, but I wouldn't do that. It would probably be too much on the screws holding the shelf up.

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