Kayak transportation in Italy

Thinking about driving in Italy with a kayak? Better rethink. Don’t even consider doing it in a rented vehicle.

This is the story of a very long and quite expensive journey from Venice to Civitavecchia, a distance of about 550 km of which over 400 km on highways. It shouldn’t be more than half a day, right? Wrong! We would rent the car on Thursday afternoon, pack in the evening, leave early, return the car in Civitavecchia before 16 o’clock and take the ferry at 18.30 for Cagliari.

Starting from Venice with two kayaks and a motorbike we set out to rent a car which Wendy would then drive to Civitavecchia with the two kayaks on the roof, while I followed on my motorbike. It sould be easy. Its just a car. First hurdle was finding a usable car. Of four car rental offices in Venice, only one had cars available, and the last had no cars with roof racks.

In the end we rented a Ford Focus Cmax from Hertz, and we went to Mestre to find the roof rack which we would buy ourselves. We found one shop and searched in vain for another, but no roof rack. Back at the camping the owner, Paolo, helped us find a shop with a roof rack for the Ford Focus Cmax, but we could only go there the next morning as they were closing.

The next morning we left early for Mestre, found the shop, bought the roof rack and spent some time mounting it. Then back to the camping to pack up and in the afternoon we were finally ready to leave. The kayaks were mounted and strapped down on the roof just as we have always done, both in Denmark and in Canada. We were quite confident that they would stay safely on roof for the duration of our little journey.

First obstacle was the ferry from the Lido to Venice. All the other times we just showed up, paid and borded the next ferry. This time the line was over a km long, and we only got on the third ferry to leave the Lido. It was dark when we arrived on the highway and after a few hundred km we stopped for night at Barberini di Mugello some 30 km north of Florence. We slept in the car until it was light again, but before we left we went for some breakfast at the restaurant

When we came out of the restaurant we were approached by a policeman from the Polizia Stradale from Bologna. He had a series of complaints about our car and the kayaks.

First of all, you have to carry a special cardboard sign on the end of the car if your gear on the roof extend over the end of the vehicle. We had no such sign, and that was rewarded with a fine of €74 to pay cash up front.

Second, the kayaks weren’t allowed to extend in front of the car, so we had to move them back on the roof. This meant they were no longer balanced on the racks and we had to strap them down quite hard.

Then the longer kayak, the Skim Distance which is 588cm long, extended too much on the back on the car, as was proved and documented by several measuring sessions. In Italy, we were explained, any single piece object carried on a car must not extend further over the back of the car than 30% of the cars length. Simple math will show that to transport a 588cm kayak on a car the car must be at least 454 cm long. The Ford Focus Cmax was only 437cm long. Way too short, and we were carefully explained that this transgression could carry a fine of up to €661, the loss of the driver’s license and the confiscation of the vehicle.

In short we were instructed to get a longer car. They would not let us continue in the Ford Focus Cmax, under threat of confiscation, not even to Florence airport where we could rent another car. As they explained, they were from the Bologna police and they had no authority to follow us to Florence, and Bologna was too far back on the highway. They ordered us to call Hertz to get another car, after which we should leave the Skim Distance behind, go to Florence airport to switch cars and at last come back to pick up the Skim Distance again.

That took a bit of discussion, explaining, arguing and several phone calls to Italian friends, and in the end it was agreed that we could follow them to a place where the Skim Distance could be left in safe hands while we organised a new car in Florence. They left us there once the Skim Distance was unloaded, and we were spared fine, loss of driver’s license and confiscation of the car, which certainly would not have pleased Hertz.

We weren’t exactly in the best of moods at that point. All our plans and intensions were null and void. We weren’t even better off that when we started. There at least we had a place to sleep.

After a while we decided to take the motorbike to Florence to see if it was even possible to rent something there. Our experience from Venice wasn’t exactly good.

Right we were. At the airport Hertz just told they didn’t have any cars with roof racks or even just large cars. They recommeded a company that rented full size vans, but Wendy’s licence wouldn’t cover it, so that was not an option. All the other rental offices had long lines, and it was clear it would take hours of waiting, arguing and explaining what we wanted and why it was necessary, at each of the offices with little hope of finding a useful car.

After wringing our brains a bit we started looking at the cars in the parking lot, and suddenly we spotted the parking lot for rental cars. We walked in and looked around, and in about 15 minutes we had located at least four suitable cars. At the point a guard came over because he found it suspicious that we walked around the parking lot taking pictures of rental cars but we explained the situation and were allowed to go to the rental office again.

With our new information we had a Chrysler Voyager of 480cm length rented in no time. It was way too late for the ferry the same day, and the Avis office in Civitavecchia isn’t open on sunday, so we would have to rent the car for two days, so we could return it on Monday. That is, the whole affair would cost us an additional two days delay.

It took us several round trips between Barberini and Florence airport to swap cars, and it was well into the afternoon before we were back on the road again.

Our plan had been to go the coast north of Civitavecchia to find a camping, in the area of Tarquinia, but after some time we decided to spend the extra day in Rome. I called some friends I have outside Rome and we were welcome to come by. We arrived there at nine in the evening and settled in, preparing for at day of mainstream tourism in Rome for the Sunday.

When we hopefully arrive in Civitavecchia on Monday morning, take the ferry on Monday afternoon and arrive in Cagliari on Tuesday, our journey can begin in earnest.

In the end it will have taken us from Friday afternoon to Monday morning to travel the 550 km from Venice to Civitavecchia with two kayaks, and it has cost us over €700 in car rental, gasoline and fines.


3 responses to “Kayak transportation in Italy”

  1. Alessandro avatar

    Believe me… I work as chemical engineer… there is no bigger nightmare than dealing with italian authorities.

    It is easier to paddle around new zealand than have a simple authorization.

    Italy is a “package deal” … you cannot separate several beautiful things about this country and the people from the unbelivable degree of madness and lack of organization.

    Hope you do not lose the joy of your trip…

    Farewell to you!

    Alessandro Cazzaniga
    An italian paddler

  2. Ignacio-Wenley Palacios avatar
    Ignacio-Wenley Palacios


    I thought that Spanish authorities were masters of their craft, but the Italians keep beating us! I have to admire such meticolousness. They are supreme.
    Just do no even think of asking the legal standards for paddling along the coast. They will ask for a yachtmaster licence, if you make an open crossing.

    Fair winds,


  3. An Italian kayaker…I know that italy could be strange but it’s our law that do not leave us carry boats bigger than 30% of the car thaen that u must have a sign on the river, but as u had seen Italy as too much car, little roads and most of drivers do not know anything about traffic rules.
    I am afraid by your bad events during Italian holidays, but those are our rules, anyway when a cop stops u in Italy u just have to say…yes, now I’ll do everything…then go away and let him fu++is self!!!
    Anyway any country as their laws…have u ever tried to paddle in french france? Do u know tha if u paddle more than 300m from the backs u must havve all the safety equipment like flares, first aid and bussols and all the rest? or it’s 150€ ticket and the boat can be requisited by gov….