Building a Boat Rack
/ Sleeping Quarters for Your Pickup

Not all boaters use trailerable boats.   Even those of us who do have trailerable boats, at times we may like the ability to load a car-topper, then head out to some remote lake in the alpine country for some peace and solitude.  Some of my most enjoyable times I have had were many years ago when we were starting a family, building a house and working long hours.  But I managed to occasionally wedge in a day or two on a lake using a 9' pram, an old 1947  2.5hp Elgin outboard (explained in a restoration project HERE), all hauled in the back of my 1951 Ford 1/2 ton pickup.

Today, my main boat is a 18' aluminum 2005 North River boat with a 75hp Evinrude E-Tec main motor and Yamaha T8 trolling motor for most of my bay and ocean fishing.  Setting in the barn is a 1968 12' Columbia fiberglass tri-hull boat that fits the category of a car topper that seems to be saying, take me fishing.

Now that I am retired, on my bucket list was a week's camping/fishing trip with the wife to the Chillacoatin Country of British Columbia, Canada, (which we did and had a great time on in the early fall of 2012).  This little boat fitted right in with those plans.  And I traded for a 1985 6hp Johnson that did perform quite well attached to this boat for that purpose.  My 1997 Ford F150 4X4  short box, just needed a carrier rack built on it to accommodate this neat old boat. 

Special Requirements ;  There were a couple of special needs that I considered in the plans when making this unit.  I have been a machinist/welder about all of my life so making something strong and yet functional was just part of getting it done.   Much thought was given to how it needed to be built, and the design was changed numerous times, (sometimes in bed at 3AM in the morning).  (1) I do have a aluminum tool box mounted crosswise behind the cab that I want to keep in use when the carrier is being used.  To accommodate this, the front uprights needed to be moved out and forward as far as possible in order to allow the lids of the tool box open fully.  (2)  I also wanted to not have to have the whole rack installed all of the time, but retain the cab-guard most of the time.  (3) If this rack was built with some forethought, I could also use it as a framework to provide a shelter using a tarp to cover it, providing a waterproof sleeping area after arriving to my destination if for more than a day, without the need to bring along a tent.

It was made in 2 sections, the front and the rear.  The toolbox is bolted onto the top of the cab-guard base plate using the existing toolbox mounting bolts.  A 1/4" plate laying across the front and on the top of the bed sides welded to the sideplates, (which the uprights are welded to) is about 2" short of extending to the rear of the tool box mounted on top of it.  The joint of the rear section, when used) is tucked under the rear of the toolbox.  Doing it this way the front, (cab-guard section) can remain on most of the time and there is no extra metal showing behind the tool box.

Again a lot of thought went into designing and redesigning a method of using the existing stake pockets of the pickup bed as the basic part of anchoring to the bed for this rack.  The final and simplest design was to make a wooden insert that just fit loosely in the stake pocket with a 1" slot milled crosswise in the center section.  This accommodates a 3/4" X 1" metal threaded plate that serves as the anchor that clamps up under the inside edges of the pocket.  All the wood does is to hold the metal plate up in position and to keep it from twisting when the bolt is tightened, holding the metal framework to the bed.  The metal plate is longer that the crosswise hole, so it is tipped up, inserted in the wooden slot and under the outer pocket edge, then slid back centering the threaded hole.  The plate needed the outer lip milled lower because the top of the bed is not level, but tips down slightly on the outside.  This plate also needed to have the lower inner and outer bottoms milled off at an angle in order to allow it to be slid down and then into the stake pocket, then moved back centering the 3/8" threaded hole in the pocket opening.  The threaded hole was countersunk considerably to allow for self-alignment of the 3/8" retainer bolt on assembly.   In the LH photo below the actual wood is milled down more than double of the depth the plate is shown at.

One word of wisdom, when inserting this clamping plate into position, do so with the bolt slightly threaded into the hole, otherwise, since the stake-pocket hole has no outside edge other than the outer skin of the bed, you may just loose it down into no man's land.  If you are lucky, it may fall out the bottom. (Been there-done that).  When not using the rear section of this rack, these stake-pocket clamps units need to be removed, otherwise the clamp will likely disappear.

On this bed the upper portion was not level, side to side, with the inside higher, so you will notice the clamp has a lip milled off one end to match this angle keeping the bolt vertical.

After usage it became apparent that the thin metal lip if the bed sides that my clamp came up against, got deformed when the bolt was tightened down.  So it became important to make a 1/4" X 3/8" metal strip the thickness that these metal lips bend down, and epoxy this strip up to the underneath side of both sides of the pocket hole.

This pickup has a plastic bed-liner in stalled as seen in the RH photo below.

Stake-pocket clamp unit side view with the low side notch to the outside Here the clamp unit is inserted in the pocket

Material ;  The metal used here was 1 1/4" steel pipe arc welded together for the front and rear frame with 1" pipe bolted lengthwise near the top corners form rigidity.  The bottom plates are 1/4" X 2 1/2" steel plate.  There are 1/4" steel angled stiffening braces arc welded onto the uprights to the bottom plate.

To make the corners more rounded, 1 1/4" weldable handrail elbows were used.  The boat clamps were salvaged off an original boat carrier and the eyes opened up to accommodate the larger pipe.

Extra upright support 1/2" X 1" steel was welded from the lower front 1/4" plate up to the front cab-guard pipe.  These were positioned in line with the dividers for the rear slider window.

As for rollers on the top pipe, 14" sections of 1 1/2" IPS 200 PSI schedule 20 PVC pipe was slid on before the 2nd elbow was welded on.  But after the initial test run, it became obvious that the PVC rollers were rather slippery, so a wrap of scrap paper pulp plant drier felt was contact cemented on to the rollers.

Bolts holding the sides of the rack metal  to the top of the bed were 3/8" NC.  The short ones that go thru the bed are only 1" long and use nuts underneath.   The 4 corner bolts that go into the stake-pocket attachments are 2 1/2" long as are the 4 that attach the upper 1" side pipes.  All this metal was painted black.

The 1" pipe was fitted to the radius of the upright pipes for a good fit.  Then inside the ends of these pipes a metal slug was lathe turned to press fit inside, drilled and tapped to 3/8" X 16 TPI NC threads.  The threaded hole was deeply countersunk, for better self-alignment on assembly.   Before the slugs were inserted, a 3/8" hole was drilled crosswise in the end of the pipe in a location about centered where the slug would later be driven into.  Then this hole was arc welded up, securing the threaded attachment slug to the pipe.  Once fitted and all bolted together the ends were stamped to identify just which went where in case of any slight differences.

The 1" pipe ends showing the method of attachment Here is a close-up of the boat clamps & the chain link for strapping if needed

A afterthought was to weld a single chain link on top about 2" form the ends of these side pipes.  This now gives an additional chance to use a ratchet strap if needed.

In the photos below, you will notice that the clamps are positioned UNDER the top crossbars.  This is so I can drive into my garage with the rack on without hitting my overhead door frame when the door is up.  That is how close they are to my upper door frame.  And I have to deflate my air overload bags to 25#.

One word of advise, when you screw the 3/8" bolts into the lengthwise pipes be sure to apply some chassis grease on the threads, as I had one seize inside to the point I had to hacksaw the bolt off under the head, remove the pipe, then work the galled bolt out, and re-tap the hole.

Boat rack mounted on the pickup Closer view of cab-guard & tool box

Modification Needed After Trial Run ;  It was found that a slight modification was needed when loading/unloading the boat.  Since I had made these upper corners rounded from Elbow pipe fittings so the tarp top would fit without poking holes in it or leaking, this was fine, BUT it really needed a slight upright extension off these corners to help guide the boat during the loading process.  Since it was all finished, I then fashioned a extension of 1 1/2"aluminum  pipe that wrapped partially around the upright and bolted under the bolt head that retained the horizontal 1" pipes.

it might just be prudent to use a ratchet strap, both on the rear and front over the boat and attached to the welded on chain links of the horizontal pipe as a safety measure as seen in the photo below . 

Here you can see the fish shaped clamp screw down & clamped on the gunwale, the felt roller, the ratchet strap and the afterthought pipe extensions


Boat Hardware ;  Note the wheels on the rear of the boat in the photo below.  These make life a lot easier for one person to load, and or roll to the water's edge.  These wheels can be pivoted and rotated 180 degrees so the boat can be used like a wheelbarrow either upside down as shown, or right side up for moving from the parking area to into the water.  They can then be rotated back up while under way like shown below, or totally removed.

Here is the finished product about ready to roll


Sleeping Quarters :  Now to accommodate this third requirement, 2 additional longitudinal 3/4" thin-wall conduit pipes were made in the same manner as the 1" side pipes.  These were positioned so that they were spaced approximately equalizing the top distance into thirds to give more support to the tarp cover.  They were held on using 1/4" X 2 1/2" bolts thru holes drilled in the upper cross bars.

Now while at it, it appeared prudent to make provisions for a rear overhang in case of inclement weather.  These were made of left over 3/4" conduit.  Two extending in line from the forward center conduit pipes and 2 more using the rear side pipe 3/8" attachment bolts.  All 4 of these extend about 38" rearward (the length of the left over conduit).  The center rear attachments were made of steel tubing, drilled out to 15/16" to allow the 3/4 conduit to slip inside.  The front of these adapters was again fitted to the diameter of the 1 1/4" top bow, along with another but non threaded slug was brazed inside the adapter to accommodate the conduit.  This slug has a 1/4" hole in it.  So if and when I want to use the canopy, the rear retaining bolt for the lengthwise top conduit is inserted into the adapter hole, then tightened down onto the matching top conduit using a 7/16" socket with a short extension.  Now the 38" section of conduit can be inserted into the adapter and secured by a 3/16" set screw. 

The side corner conduit is also bolted onto in the basic manner using the 1" side pipe retaining bolt, however these are permanently welded to the adapter base.   I wanted these a little higher than the side pipes, so a short section of 1 1/2" pipe was used fitting over the 1 1/4" uprights.  To accommodate the bend of the elbow, a section on the inside corner had to be removed to clear the inside of the elbow bend.  Not seen in the RH photo below is the 3/8" attachment hole midway in this plate.

Here are the 2 center supports with the rear adapters Here are the rear extensions with adapters

In use, a Nylon/Fiberglas 10 mil silver tarp 12' X 16' was used.  What I found is that these tarps are made in different thicknesses, the green or brown are 3 mil thick, the blue is 5 mil, while the silver is 10 mil.  This 16' length is a couple of feet to long, as they do not make 12' X 14', so the front will be just hang down between the cab and front of the bed, or simply be cut off as I did.    

I have found an upholsterer who has done some of my boat work who agreed to do the sewing if I do the fitting (cutting/stapling/taping) he sewed the front together basically fitting the front of the framework which then has a plastic window in in the front, in line with the rear sliding cab window.  I also made a rear section and had him sew a rear tarp flap that uses Velcro attached around the rear top bow and sides then has a zippered door upright in the middle.

To hold this tarp cover in place, bungee cords are used to attach to the existing side eye grommets and down to the bottom side of the bed or into the fender wells.  This will more than likely not be good to drive down the road with this tarp top on (except for very short distances or slow speeds), but for a overnight stay, it works great, as I have used similar units before, (not quite as elaborate as this, but functional).  This will not only be used for fishing, but hunting as well, especially with the price of gasoline climbing.

The photos below illustrate this unit in use in Montana on a recent (2014) deer hunt, nothing fancy, but quite comfortable.

Here a side view of the finished camper in use for a overnight hunting stay

In the photo below you can see an air mattress and sleeping bag.  The one drawback here, was since the toolbox is still in place there is not a lot of foot room under it with this mattress in place.  Later, I plan on using a old carpet as a matt and then a body length mattress will be used, allowing more foot room.

Here a rear view of the finished camper being set up for the night, but before supper.
Here the camp is set up for the night Campfire after dark

The one thing we found was that you need to consider where you park the vehicle so the wind (if any) would be coming toward the vehicle from the front.  A few slight additions are forthcoming, but by and large I am happy with how this unit came out, nothing fancy or pretty, but functional.  And the grandson who shared this with me was skeptical at first, but by the next morning, he even approved.  And it may be used for both hunting or fishing.

Since I have written this article, there have been a couple of readers who are interested in something similar, but just for camping in.  This same principle of the framework could be applied to being made from PVC pipe.  By not cementing the couplers, this could be totally collapsible for storage.  The anchors would not have to be made of metal, but simply a tapered wooden wedge into the stake pockets should suffice.  This would not sustain being used for driving down the road, but as a stationary shelter when you get there, it should function fine.

Used for Hunting :  Now an added bonus.   Not to let my eyesight become out of focus, when returning from a Montana deer hunt in 2013, on the freeway a vehicle passed me, which I noticed something that got my attention and now has been added to my rack. 

This is a 2,500# 12 volt electric ATV winch that is wireless remote controlled, from Harbor Freight that they had on a coupon special sale for $49.99.  It is mounted onto a horizontal plate welded onto the top front pipe frame with the winch on the underside to clear my garage door opening, and has the drum facing rearward and mounted so the wire spools off the top of the spool.  On the rear frame a 1/4" X 2" pulley can be attached by means of 2 welded on chain links.  The 12 volt power is supplied off a 7 prong RV plug-in that was wired into the front drivers side of the pickup bed that was used to power my previous slide in camper.

I try to go to Montana deer hunting with my grandson every year.  He however seems to never have enough accrued vacation time for all the time that I am there, so some of my days are me hunting solo.

I am not that young anymore, ((78) and with a shoulder and lung problem, when loading a deer into the pickup bed could pose a problem if being alone, even if I got permission to drive out to retrieve the animal if a higher bank was not readily available and in the right location.  An elk could also be a chore for oven two hunters. 

In use, the winch cable will go to the upper rear pipe frame, through a removable 2" pulley there and then can be used to lift a animal up onto the pickup bed tailgate.  A  2" X 12" plank is used to slide the animal up onto the tailgate, as my model Ford F150 does not have a readily removable tailgate.  But once the animal is up near or on the tailgate, repositioning it farther forward would not be a problem with tension being applied by this winch.  Or even use the cable to raise the deer up where you can skin and quarter the meat.

Here is the view showing the winch mounted on the front pickup rack



Copyright 2011 - 2016  LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved 

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Originally started  04-25-2011, Last Updated 09-09-2016
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