How the Hullavator works
Getting a kayak up onto a roof rack is pretty straightforward if you have two people. When I got my Eddyline Skylark kayak, I wasn't really thinking very hard about how I'd get it up onto the roof of my Subaru Forester all by myself. After all, it only weighs 41 pounds. That doesn't sound like a lot... until you try to lift it over your head while leaning forward past the curve of a car's side! I soon found out that I simply don't have the upper-body strength to do that.
I tried Yakima's side-loading BowDown kayak cradles, which have a ramp-like extension that's supposed to help you get the boat into the cradle. Nope. I just couldn't lift the kayak onto the ramp in the first place.
Then I tried Yakima's SweetRoll end-loading cradles. These are a more refined version of the old HullyRoller cradles; they have a roller at the rear end so that you can ease the boat up onto the rear cradle, then push it forward until it drops onto the front one. But I couldn't hoist the bow of the boat onto the rear cradle without scraping the sloping back end of my car. I even added a Thule Water Slide mat, which is intended to protect the car and let you slide the kayak on up... but to no avail.
The easy lift
So I bit the bullet and ordered Thule's Hullavator kayak cradle. It was expensive (nearly $500, plus another $300 or so for the Thule roof bars), but it has made solo kayaking possible for me. Using a clever mechanism and forty pounds of gas-strut assistance, it lets me load the kayak at waist level, then easily lift it to the roof.
Here's how it works, step by step. First I load the kayak into the J-shaped cradle—easy to do, since it's at waist level—and strap it in. Then I grab the handles underneath and gently lift, with the Hullavator's gas struts doing 90% of the work...
Unloading is the same procedure in reverse. With the kayak at waist level, it's easy to unstrap it and carry it to the water, supporting it with my shoulder inside the cockpit.
Keeping it quiet
Here's a tip for Hullavator owners: the crossbars that house the struts have deep channels in them, and when driving, they moan, whine and whistle. There's an easy solution: once you get the setup adjusted to suit your boat, tape over the exposed parts of the channels. I used two-inch-wide aluminum tape, the kind used to seal ductwork. It's impervious to sunlight, so it won't deteriorate from exposure; it looks good on the silver-painted bars... and best of all, it stops the noise!
It's no exaggeration to say that without the Hullavator, I wouldn't be kayaking. Yes, it was expensive... but for me, it was worth every penny!
(If you're curious, you can see a video of the Hullavator in action on YouTube.)