Thule Hullavator Demo and Review

I guess the Thule Hullavator is like an elevator, only for your hull (of your kayak). I've used the Hullavator for a few years now -- overall it's a nice piece of gear and lets me schlep my kayak around solo. But it does have a few drawbacks as well. Here's what I think, with a video demo.

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I’ve used the Thule Hullavator for a few years now — I was fortunate to find mine used as they are pricey. Here’s a Thule Hullavator review that also discusses some Thule Hullavator problems. It includes a Hullavator demo video (give me a break, I’m experimenting!) Watching this may assure you that I can schlep my kayak around by myself in case you see me out there and want to help (just keep your dog out of the way!) It may also convince you that you can transport a kayak on your own.

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I was fortunate to purchase two Thule Hullavators (if you need clarification, that’s two pairs of Hullavators — it takes a pair to lift a kayak) used a few years ago. From what I can see, there’s little difference between my Hullavators and the Hullavator Pro model that’s currently being sold. Some of the issues I’ve had with my Hullavators may stem from them being older, but it gives you a general idea of some of the problems you may face over time. After all, if you’re spending in the $500-$600 range just to lift one kayak, you want to make sure the product you’re purchasing is durable. Mine has just a bit of rust, but they’ve been repeatedly exposed to the elements, and except for the occasional episode of finding one unit is not locked down fully when I go to lift the kayak off, they’re still working pretty good after years of use.

How it Works

The Hullavator is a side-loading kayak lift that has a gas-assist mechanism that assists with lifting up to 40 lbs of the weight of your boat. It’s easy to strap the kayak onto the rack once it’s on there using the provided straps and the tie-downs are easy to use as well. The downside is that you need to get that kayak up on the rack before the Hullavator helps you lift it overhead. On my Subaru Outback, that’s about waist-high for me — it was even more so when I was using the Hullavator atop a minivan. I’m able to do so with my 44lb kayak, but don’t take my preferred 16′ kayak out by myself because, for me, the weight is prohibitive. I’ve tried sliding the kayak onto the Hullavator from the back, but I find that there’s some wiggle, I find it challenging and awkward, and I worry about doing damage to the Hullavator. So I end up doing a deadlift onto the rack.

Thule Hullavator Review: Hullavator Joys and Thule Hullavator Problems

What We Like:

  • Provides substantial assist with lifting the kayak onto the roof.
  • Comes with easy-to-use straps and tie-downs; securely fastens the kayak to the car roof.
  • Sideloading. This means I can park on the street at my favorite launching spot and, if someone parks behind me, I can still get the kayak back on the car.
  • It has a high profile, but this helps me to locate my car in busy parking lots. This may beg the question if I should even be kayaking if I can’t find my own car. We refer to this as “wearing the horns” and bow to other passing vehicles also proudly sporting them.

What We Don’t Like:

  • The Hullavator asks me to deadlift the entire kayak to get it onto the lowered Hullavator bars — easier if you are putting it onto a low car, but harder if you have a high roof.
  • Due to the extra height, many parking garages are off-limits.
  • I’ve had some trouble with one of the Hullavator units that do not consistently want to lock down, likely an issue as my Hullavators are older. I’ve learned from awkward experiences getting my kayak off the rack that I need to double-check this unit carefully before I attempt to remove the kayak.
  • Though I’ve read it’s “easy to install,” we didn’t consider installing it that easy, and I so proudly carry my “horns” atop my car for most of the season.

Installation

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Click here for the product manual/installation instructions from Thule. If you’re wondering how it installs, here’s a video from Thule:

Specifications:

Here are some things I’ve learned by experimenting with the Hullavator on racks over the years:

  • Works with Thule square bars.
  • I can confirm by experience that the Thule Hullavator works with Yakima Round Bars. Lately, I’ve been using mine on a 2019 Subaru Outback with Skyline Towers. For this setup, you also need Yakima Landing Pad 15 and the SL Round Bar Adapters. I was a bit worried at first as this setup seemed to be less stable than the square bars, but it’s been doing just fine with safely towing my kayaks around.NIt does NOT work with Yakima aero style bars. My video may be slightly incorrect in saying it does not work with ANY aero bars (that was my husband’s impression). I’ve heard of them being used with aero-style Thule bars with modifications.
  • The bars you use must extend out from the car a bit — it will not work, for instance, with the integrated Subaru Outback bars. On my Subaru with Yakima bars, the 58″ bars do the trick!
  • If you have a tall vehicle and you’re short (or just a wimp, like me), you might need to bring a step-stool!

Brief Instructions:

I said this would be a “how-to,” and a Thule Hullavator review. If you want installation instructions, it’s best to watch the video above and actually read the directions that come with your Hullavator. But as far as using it once it’s on your vehicle, here are the steps. It’s pretty easy:

  1. Remove the pins! I can tell you that on a bad day, I’ve failed to remove a pin and then wondered why my Hullavator wouldn’t release.
  2. Squeeze the handles on both Hullavators and pull them out and down until they lock into place.
  3. Put your kayak on the Hullavator. It should be evenly centered. I think it’s best if it’s positioned so the straps aren’t going over the cockpit, but on some kayaks, this is unavoidable to some degree.
  4. Thread the provided straps through the big loops at the top and bottom of the Hullavator. Then thread the end of the strap through the cam buckle and pull tight. The Hullavator has a pocket where you can tuck in the loose end of the strap.
  5. Squeeze both handles at once and the Hullavator will assist you in lifting your kayak STRAIGHT UP. When I’ve allowed people to use my Hullavator, I’ve found that often they expect it to just flip the kayak right up onto my car and try to force it to do so. No! This is a two-step process. The kayak goes straight up and then stops there.
  6. Now it’s time to flip the kayak onto the top of the car. Squeeze the handles again and rotate them to get the kayak to flip down onto the top of your car. Make sure the Hullavator has locked into place.
  7. Replace the pins. This is a very important step!
  8. Now you can use the tie downs. They have a locking pulley to make it easy to tighten them. Make sure you find a secure location on your kayak and a metal, not plastic, location under your car. On one car I had, I couldn’t do this so I fashioned a rope loop that went through a metal hole under the hood then came out through the hood when I needed it. This was a perfect location to tie down the kayak in front.

Thule Hullavator Review Summary:

Would I recommend the Thule Hullavator? In one word: YES! If mine broke, I think I’d repurchase one. I haven’t tried all of the other kayak racks out on the market (and there are other side-assist racks out there), but I suspect that the Hullavator, with its gas-assist mechanism, beats them all.

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Review Summary

I had to re-edit this post after revising the website and write new ratings for this post. However, my overall review stays the same: the Hullavator, I think, remains one of the best ways for those of us who have difficulty lifting our kayak the ability to easily get the thing atop the car. You'll note that I rated the durability down just a bit. Overall, it's held up well, but I do notice my old Hullavator getting a hint of rust and there's a tendency for the hinge to not be fully locked down now if I'm not extremely careful.

Review Overview

Does what it's supposed to do: let weaklings like me wrastle the kayak atop the car.
Durability
Installation
Cheryl
Cherylhttps://www.pnwbeyond.com
Cheryl writes Pacific Northwest and Beyond and several other blogs. Right now, she's undergoing home renovations and renovating her blogs as well. She's also the proud new owner of an e-bike. Her skinny wheel days may be over but she's seriously into rockin' those grocery shopping trips these days on her funky looking bike with her sporty mask! However, she's also planning on getting on the trail again and resuming writing posts on this blog about the PNW! She's also wrapping her head around finally writing that series about the North Coast 500 route she's been putting off. Life's been different this year of COVID-19, but I'm finally not letting it derail all plans!

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