Roof Top Tinny; everything you need to know

We know exactly how good it is to have a boat with you when exploring this great country. There’s some of the most pristine and amazing places in the world to fish, dive and relax from, and with good weather you can take even a small roof top tinny out well and truly far enough to have an amazing time. 

However, there’s no free lunch and there are plenty of reasons many choose not to put a roof top tinny on. In this post, we cover absolutely everything that you need to know about taking a roof top tinny with you.

200 Series off road
A roof top tinny can be an amazing addition to your travel setup

What is a roof top tinny?

Put simply, a roof top tinny is a small boat that you store on top of your vehicle. These are generally loaded up and down using a roof top boat loader, although some are light enough to be lifted on and off with a couple of people each time. 

Boat loader tinny
A small, light weight boat you can load on the roof of a vehicle

Are they only for 4WD’s?

No, roof top boats are not only for 4WD’s. You can put them on any vehicle with a roof rating, and roof rack rating that is suitable, or a lot of people also run them on camper trailers and caravans.

If you have them on a caravan or camper though, you will need a way of getting them from your camp down to the water, and that usually involves carrying a portable boat trailer as well.

Why would you want a boat?

If you’ve owned a boat before, you’ll know the answer to this. There’s a reason people keep buying them, despite the acronym being ‘Bring Out Another Thousand’!. 

It’s a comfortable and safe way to explore

We’ve been into fishing and spearfishing for longer than I can recall, and we started off swimming out from the shore, and swimming back in. Eventually we progressed to kayaks, and would kayak out for miles, get some fish and kayak back in again. 

It was fun, but we were dead, and we did get dumped a few times by waves. Moving to our small boat was a game changer; it was simple, easy to use, comfortable and safe, and even when we pushed the boat well beyond its limits we had an amazing time.

Bush Bay Boating
A boat allows you to explore new areas easily and safely

Amazing adventures

I lost count of the amount of fun we had in our small tinny. From catching mackerel one after another at Steep Point to a huge Cobia in Horrocks, diving the Ningaloo Reef to towing a biscuit or knee board around Lake Kepwari your level of adventure increases significantly with a boat.

A huge cobia
We’ve had plenty of great adventures with a tinny

Your fishing game goes through the roof

If you are into fishing, you’ll know exactly why a boat is so valued. When we had the kayaks we longed to be able to go a bit further out, or get to that spectacular island or bay around the corner and a boat allows you to do exactly this.

With an echo sounder and a bit of luck you can increase your fishing ability by 10 fold, and you can comfortably get some serious fish in even a small boat.

We’ve caught Cobia that we struggled to lift into the boat, plenty of Mackerel and a heap of nice fish bottom bouncing and you’d have no hope of getting them without the boat.

Mackerel from our tinny
A big Mackerel I shot near Port Gregory

Before you buy a roof top boat and accessories

Check the roof load rating

Every single vehicle comes with a maximum load rating for the roof itself. This is the maximum amount of weight you can put on the roof, and includes the weight of your roof racks.

Even if your roof racks can carry more, they do not increase the roof load limit. Some vehicles (like the MUX) can only carry 60kg on their roof, which means the chances of you legally carrying a roof top boat are basically ruled out from the get go.

Check the roof rack load rating

Once you know the limit of your roof, its time to move to the roof racks. These too will have a load rating, and you need to ensure they are capable of carrying your boat, and a roof top boat loader setup (if that’s what you choose).

Make sure you consider the on road and off road rating too, as it will be heavily reduced the moment you head off the bitumen road.

If you want more information about roof racks, we have a hugely comprehensive post here; roof racks buying guide.

Boat loader roof racks
What are your roof racks rated for?

Think about what’s involved in using it

The idea of a boat on the roof is magic, but have you actually though through what is involved in putting all the gear into, and on top of the car, and then getting it out for use? Its not a 5 second (or easy) job to do, and you need to be aware of this.

Understand that you will be at the mercy of the weather in a small boat, and there will be a significant number of days where there will be too much swell, or too much wind for you to use the boat, and it will have to stay on the roof of your vehicle.

We cover a list of the downsides below, and I’m all for making an accurate assessment before you commit to anything!

Roof top tinny on a cruiser
A roof top boat always looks nice, but they take a lot of effort to use too

Find something nice and light weight

Please, please find a boat that is light weight, and actually weighs what its advertised as. A lot of people get stung here and get something that ends up far heavier than what they were told, and if you are heading north of 120kg you are really starting to push the friendship.

How else can you take boat?

We’ve actually written a comprehensive post that covers this, which you can read here – How to take your boat when travelling Australia.

Ultimately though, you either tow it on a trailer, or you put it on racks on your 4WD, camper trailer or caravan. You can get portable boats that can be stored elsewhere, but your options are limited.

This becomes a predicament, and is often why so many people end up with a roof top boat. You can’t tow your accommodation and a boat, so which takes priority?

Yes, I’ve seen some people in 250k + boats pull out a tent and sleep next to their boat at night, but most people will opt to tow the caravan and fit the boat in somewhere else.

Off road boat trailer
Our off road boat trailer, that a mate or brother used to tow around

What’s the downsides of a Roof Top Boat?

Extra weight

It’s already challenging enough to build a setup that complies with the 7 weights. When weighing exercises are done, anywhere from 40 – 70% of people pulled up are not legal in one way or another, and adding a tinny into the mix isn’t going to do you any favours.

Before you buy a roof top boat, you really need to be confident that you are perfectly fine in the GVM, axle weights and GCM departments, or you might end up having to get rid of it anyway!

It can hurt your fuel economy

In general, when you put something on your roof its going to hurt your fuel economy. Roof top boats are not exactly small (and some people also run them the right way up which is even worse for economy!), and they can make you use a LOT of extra fuel.

However, if you are towing a big van that already sits up considerably behind your 4WD there are times when a roof top boat will actually improve your economy, as it deflects the air around the van better.

Boat loader
You are guaranteed to use a lot more fuel with a setup like this

They aren’t cheap

You pay a serious chunk of money for a roof top boat package. By the time you buy the boat loader, boat, motor, safety gear and fuel tank you can comfortably be looking at 10 – 15k, and then extra if you need a portable boat trailer. 

Your handling will get worse

You can’t add a big chunk of weight to the roof of your 4WD without having its handling affected badly. There’s a reason you have roof limits, and why putting light weight items on the roof is advised.

It’s not going to make you roll your vehicle around the first corner, but it will greatly increase the chance if you are into serious 4WDing.

There’s more setup involved in getting ready each time

Unlike a boat on a trailer, there’s a fair bit of setup involved in getting the boat ready to head out. This isn’t the end of the world, but I’ve seen a lot of people who think they can have the boat in the water 2 minutes after they start, and its a long way off that!

Undo boat, and lift or lower it onto the ground

Undo support for outboard and lift it onto the boat

Move the fuel tank and safety gear into the boat

Load up what you want to take in the boat

Carry or drag the boat to the water

Salt water on your roof

I hate salt water, and there’s no worse place for it to end up than on your 4WD’s roof.

You can avoid most of this if you let your setup dry before you put it back on the roof racks, but who’s going to be diligent enough to do that each time?

It can hurt your solar badly

A lot of people have solar panels mounted to their 4WD, camper trailer or caravan today. If you put a boat on top, your solar isn’t going to do anything.

I’ve actually seen people build slides on their 4WD or caravan to either move the boat, or the solar so you can still have charge going in with the boat on top.

It’s not reasonable to remove your boat every single day just to get solar charge going in!

Roof top solar
It’s really hard to put a roof top boat on and have solar that works

Its another thing to take care of

There’s something to be said for the KISS principle – keep it simple stupid. The more gear you have, the more things you have to take care of.

With a boat on the roof you need to ensure its in good condition, nothing has come loose, and then you have the general boat maintenance that goes along with it. 

Not having a boat means you don’t have to deal with any of that, but you also miss out on plenty of opportunities to enjoy yourself too!

Should you take a boat on your lap of Australia?

This is where things start to get a bit personal, and it really comes down to your individual circumstances. If you love the ocean and plan on spending a lot of time there, have older kids (or none at all) and can take one without being overloaded, then its probably a no brainer.

However, if you have young kids, are already pushing the weights and want to take one just in case, maybe not so much.

We aren’t taking one with us because we have no weight left, but also I firmly believe the kids are too young to really enjoy it.

We actually sold our off-road boat trailer before we left, and used that extensively up until our departure date. We had a heap of fun, but even on its own trailer its not a small task to get the boat ready, into the water and having fun.

Our kids have just as much fun on the edge of the water, and maybe on another lap we’ll take a boat, but not for now.

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