The type of kayaking safety equipment you would need largely depends on the type of water you are paddling on and the weather conditions.
For instance, paddling on a calm lake on a sunny afternoon does not pose much risk compared to paddling in an open ocean or along a river course with a rapid current. In any case, kayak safety gear is crucial because it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Some safety essentials are mandatory for every kayaker while others are more appropriate for those embarking on long, high-risk expeditions. Below is a list of the most important safety equipment that every kayaker needs.
The Essential List of Kayak Safety Gear
A Life Jacket/PFD
The life jacket is arguably the most important must-have safety device for kayakers. You should never embark on the water without putting on a life jacket. Some paddlers may think they do not need a personal floating device (PFD) because they are paddling on a calm lake. Such people think that PFDs are only for those paddling on deep oceans and whitewater rapids. Others do own a life jacket but stash it away in the kayak storage without using it.
Well, all those notions are wrong. Because accidents, capsizing, and other mishaps happen at random, you have to be prepared at all times. For instance, a paddler can become unconscious from paddling fatigue or when caught in a current.
Wearing a life jacket can be the difference between life and death. That is why you should put one at all times while kayaking.
A Bilge Pump
This is a simple pump that you can use to remove water that flows on board while paddling. This little device is important, you should always have it stowed in the storage of your kayak.
Consider a scenario where the kayak tilted and got filled with water. It will be a terrible experience to paddle on a kayak that is filled with water. No matter how much you try to remove the water from your boat, there will still be puddles of water remaining inside. With a bilge pump, you can get all of the water out of the boat within a few minutes so you can start paddling comfortably again. This pump is recommended for longer trips, while paddling in rapids or when you feel your boat may capsize.
GPS/Map and Compass
Before the advent of electronic GPS devices, maps and compasses are commonly used by kayakers to find and stay on their route. So, a durable and waterproof GPS will be an excellent option for you since you will be using it on the water. Although the Map and GPS feature on your phone will be equally effective, these are not recommended for use on a kayak. You will likely destroy your phone during the trip, except you have a waterproof and floating model!
So, if you do not have a GPS, you could just stick with your map and compass. After rowing for a few hours, the entire aquatic environment may look the same, you’ll need the GPS to find your way back to the shore or your destination. The last thing you want to experience is getting lost on the water in the middle of nowhere.
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Flashlight, Flares, or Other Light
It is not recommended for you to go out paddling at night. You should always time your kayaking to return to the land before dusk. However, there are other times when you would need the light without paddling in the dead of night.
For instance, it might be getting dark, cloudy, or foggy. In such instances, you will need extra lighting to see your path and also to be seen by other paddlers. That is why you should hold a flashlight or some other form of lighting. The flashlight is also essential during emergencies when you need help. It can help you attract rescuers to your location when you are injured or lost.
A whistle is another vital tool that comes in handy during emergencies. However, the regular whistle may not be efficient in every scenario. You should buy a purpose-designed emergency whistle that can remain audible above the noise of the wind and water. Many of these models are quite handy and durable. In case you are in an emergency situation and want to call for help, blowing the whistle would attract potential helpers to your location.
A Tow Bag
It is important to have a tow bag when you are paddling with a partner. It takes the form of a long, strong rope curled inside a bag, also called towline or throw bag. It is useful for rescuing a kayaker in an emergency situation. For instance, it can be used to “tow” another kayak when the kayaker is tired of paddling. Simply use the rope to hook the front of a kayak to the back of another. After that, a single paddler can move the two boats.
The tow bag can also be used to rescue someone who capsized or get stranded in the water. The rescuer throws the bag into the water and uses it to pull the victim on board. The towlines have a small size, you can conveniently keep it in the back of your kayak or attach it to the hull.
First Aid Kit
It is recommended to always have a first aid kit anytime you are going for a paddle. However, you can leave some of the supplies in the vehicle if you are not paddling too far from the shore. Whichever way, your first aid kit must always be within reach.
It is not uncommon to experience accidents and all sorts of injuries while kayaking. Whether it’s going to be useful for you or a fellow kayaker, make sure you have basic medical supplies while kayaking.
The content of a basic first aid kit includes stuff like bandages, gauze, triangle, safety pins, disinfectant, rubber gloves, and tweezers, among others.
Besides keeping yourself safe while paddling, you also do not want to lose your precious belongings. That is why you need a dry bag to keep all kinds of personal stuff like your smartphones, clothes, and other valuables.
These bags are designed to be thick and waterproof to keep your possessions free from moisture. They work just like the conventional dry box but are more portable.
The options are wide. There are small ones you can use for your keys, mobile phones, and other smaller electronics. You can use larger ones to store clothes, lunch, and other things you need.
You can store your dry bags easily inside the hatches of your kayak or behind the cockpit so the bag is always within reach.
Many people confuse float bags with dry bags, but they are quite different and serve separate purposes. These “bags” have an attached tube that can be used to inflate or deflate the bag as the needs arise.
The inflated bags are kept in the empty space behind the seat and they give the kayak extra buoyancy, thereby keeping the boat afloat in case it capsizes. The water cannot overwhelm such a kayak if it capsizes because the float bag has occupied much of the empty space.
Therefore, the paddler will find it easier to reenter the boat. Float bags are useful accessories for people paddling whitewater kayaks or other parallel models. It is not useful for sit-on-top kayaks.
Holding an extra paddle along with your kayak might look burdensome, but it becomes indispensable if your main paddle gets damaged. It is wise to hold an extra paddle if you plan to paddle in rough waters.
Although the kayak paddles are made from resilient materials, they can break or get damaged in certain circumstances. In some cases, the paddle may slip from your wand and get washed away in the river. In such scenarios, you won’t get stranded because you have an extra paddle. If the bulk of the paddle gives you concern, you can buy the portable models that can be taken apart for storage and assembled together when you need to use it.
You should always wear a helmet while padding, especially when you are kayaking in rough waters or streams with fast currents. The helmet can be a lifesaver, do not attempt to paddle in rapids without wearing one.
The usefulness of the helmet is not limited to protecting you when your kayak capsizes. It also keeps you safe when you or your fellow kayaker bash your head with a paddle accidentally. There are many helmets in the market. Make sure you choose the model that is designed for kayaking. The helmets made for kayakers are lightweight and made with materials that won’t degrade when soaked in water.
The spray skirt is designed to cover the cockpit of the kayak, preventing water from passing inside the cockpit of the boat. Although it is not meant to be a safety item, it serves a protective purpose when you are paddling in rapids.
While paddling in rough waters without a spray skirt, the cockpit might get overwhelmed with water, increasing the risk of capsizing the boat. In an aquatic environment where there are rapids, waves, and strong currents, it would be smart to have a spray skirt in place. You can always remove the spry skirt when you are paddling in calmer waters.
Although most of the items mentioned earlier serve some sort of safety purposes, there are other essential pieces of equipment that you need that are not safety-oriented. All the same, they are necessary for you to have a hitch-free kayaking experience. You should not leave your home without these things:
- Food and Drinks: Kayaking takes a toll on your energy; you may have to paddle continuously for hours in the sun. That is why you should hold different types of snacks, beverages, and water. Carry as much as you can, it’s better to have too much supply than to end up starving or thirsty because you have too little. Some of the food materials you may carry include granola bars, nuts, and dried fruit packs. These can give you lots of energy while kayaking.
- Sunglasses and Sunscreen: Always wear sunscreen and long-sleeved paddling clothes when you are kayaking. Going by my experience, you can still get sunburn even on a cloudy day. So, don’t forget to hold your sunglasses and sunscreen, keep them permanently inside your kayaking kit bag. Those two items are crucial mitigating the risk of sunburn while paddling.
- Extra towel and Clothes: It does no harm holding one or two change of clothing, even if you think your kayaking would be a day event. Supposing your kayak tipped and you got completely soaked on a chilly day. It could lead to health complications if you could not change to dry clothes quickly. So, make sure you stuff a sweater, towel and change of clothes inside your dry bag. You can keep them inside your car or handy in the hatches of your kayak.
All kinds of sports carry an element of risk. Kayaking is no different, but you can mitigate the risks by following the list of recommendations in this article. Things like emergency light, helmet, extra water, or change of clothing might look trivial. However, these little things play a crucial role in keeping you safe, making your kayaking experience enjoyable.
There is no hard-fast rule. You can modify the list to include the essential things based on your unique kayaking needs. Make sure you are well prepared to handle contingencies during your kayaking trip. It’s better to be safe than sorry.