Kayaking Safety Equipment

Updated on March 18, 2018
Susan Sears profile image

Susan has been fishing all of her life - ties flys and fishes for a variety of fish. She is passionate about fly fishing.

Enjoy Your Paddling and Kayak Safely

Personal photo of Author #kayaking
Personal photo of Author #kayaking

I'll give you ten essentials for safe paddling, plus a few more things to keep you safe as you enjoy the water in a paddle craft.

1. Life Jacket

The number one piece of safety equipment is your life jacket. When choosing a life jacket, look inside and read the label; make sure it is Coast Guard approved. There are many life jackets made for recreational use such as in a swimming pool. So make sure you choose an approved life jacket and wear it. A life jacket stowed away is of little assistance in an emergency. The United States Coast Guard requires every boater to carry an approved Personal Floatation Device (PFD).

Check inside the vest for Coast Guard approval.
Check inside the vest for Coast Guard approval.

Life Jacket

MTI Adventurewear Solaris PFD Life Jacket, Red/Gray, Large/X-Large
MTI Adventurewear Solaris PFD Life Jacket, Red/Gray, Large/X-Large
This is an updated version of the life jacket that I have it is USCG approved Type III, very comfortable and durable.

Life Jacket designs are also important to consider and can make them more comfortable to wear for whatever activity you are participating.

  1. For kayaking, choose a paddle style type III life jacket. This type of jacket has a mesh lower back and increased forward flotation. The backrest in the kayak can cause the life jacket to push upward, making it uncomfortable the mesh design alleviates this problem. A standard Type III works well in canoes and boats without a backrest or seatback.
  2. Inflatables are available in belt or vest types and come in ‘manual,' ‘automatic,' or a combination of both. The technology of the automatics has evolved from water-sensing to hydrostatic, which reads water pressure to activate the vest. You can still get wet and not activate your vest. Often more comfortable for a paddle board.

Mesh for comfort on the back of a kayaker's life jacket.
Mesh for comfort on the back of a kayaker's life jacket.

2. A Sound-Producing Device

A whistle is the most affordable sound producing device on the market (Amazon, $1.48). Some life jackets even include one. It is important to get a Marine-grade safety whistle that has no moving parts and can produce a sound audible up to one-half of a mile. The type of whistles with a little pea inside the device can fail to make a sound when wet. Another alternative is an air horn though they are considerable higher priced than a whistle. Air horns are available for one-time disposable use or refillable with a built-in pump.

3. A Visual Distress Signal

As most individuals paddle in daylight hours, a daytime visual distress signal can be a safety mirror or an orange/black visual distress flag. Both are acceptable. However, the safety mirror can be seen at a greater distance on a sunny day. If you paddle in the evening, an all-around white light or a headlamp will work (more on night lighting later in the article).

4. Water

Hydration is crucial when out on the water. There is nothing worse than sitting on a body of water and being thirsty. With all the water around us and none of it drinkable, we need to make sure we stay hydrated. A good estimate for water usage is 20 ounces for every 4 hours on the water.

5. Food

Depending on the length of your paddle your food supply would range from a snack to a sandwich or a full meal. Focus on things that do not require refrigeration and are high in protein.

6. A Dewatering Device

Waves, leaks, and rain, are just a few ways your boat can take on water. A means of getting that water out of your boat is important. A bilge or hand pump, or even a sponge, can make a significant difference.

7. Rope

A couple of pieces will be useful. The first piece should be approximately the length of the vessel and is used to secure your vessel to shore, or another vessel. The second piece, 30’-50’ in length, can be used in a tow or rescue.

8. First Aid Kit

As simple as bandages, pain reliever, and sting-bite cream, or complicated enought to include splints, scissors, tweezers, and respiratory equipment. Prescription medications are a very important item when making long trips through isolated areas. Make sure this kit is well labeled and stored in a waterproof container.

9. Spare Paddle

There is nothing worse than being stranded without a paddle. In kayaks or canoes a paddle can be lost or broken quickly when the vessel is rolled or swamped. A spare paddle secured to the vessel will still be there when the vessel is righted and drained.

10. A Throw Bag

Throw bags are available in several sizes: 30’, 50’, 75’, and 100’. The 50’ size is best suited for most paddle craft, lightweight and more compact than the 75’ or 100’ throw bags. A throw bag is most commonly used for assisted rescues of others, but it can be very handy for self-rescue in the event you are the one stranded. It is important that you know how to use one. The video along with practice can assist you in learning this skill.

Water Sports

What is your Favorite Water Sport?

See results

Additional Safety Items

Here are other items that are useful to have:

Helmet: A helmet is essential in whitewater kayaking or any water condition such as swift, shallow, rocky waters that a kayaker is at risk for being thrown from the kayak. It should have a strap to hold it on and fit comfortably.

Compass: Most useful on open water – such as a large lake or ocean. It is very handy to maintain the desired direction when you are unable to maintain your destination in sight. Electronic compasses, or compass apps on your smartphone, all run on batteries and can leave you lost when your batteries die. A basic magnetic compass requires no power source and works incessantly.

Cellphone: Several apps are available for smartphones that contain weather, river, and lake, information. The Coast Guard has an app that contains all the information you need for a safe paddle, even a Float Plan form you can fill out and send to someone. The only problem with this is service areas and waterproofing the device.

Float Plan: Document your itinerary with a friend or family member so if you are late they will contact the authorities. A post on social media or a text to a friend may suffice. Just make sure someone knows where you are going; when you are going and a projected return time.

Light: In the event, you are paddling late you can use the light to illuminate yourself in the darkness if you hear a power craft in the area. A simple flashlight can be used or a headlamp that is worn by the kayaker. A three-way light is helpful especially if you are with other kayakers. The light can be switched to red and is not blinding to other kayakers. The light can be used as a nighttime distress signal.

Chart / Map: Use charts to plot courses and identify navigational aids. For uncharted rivers and inland lakes, you can print from Google Maps to have an aerial view of the area your paddling.

Radio: Your VHF portable should be waterproof or water resistant. It should be stored in a watertight container when not in use. Battery-operated is preferred over rechargeable, because dead batteries can be replaced while underway, but a rechargeable unit needs to have additional power packs or a means of being recharged. Monitor channel 16 while underway if the radio is operational.

GPS: The best way to find your way to where you want to be, and to find your way back. Battery operated is preferred over rechargeable. Dead batteries can be replaced while underway. Rechargeable needs to have additional power packs or a means of being recharged. Take your GPS with you wherever you go for a while and play with the setting to get used to it, so you will be ready to us it when you need it.

PLB: A Personal Locating Beacon is truly a life-saving device. Be sure to read the instructions and register it properly. Most have long life batteries and need to be tested regularly to be sure they will power up and have a signal.

Kayaking in the Fog

Personal Photo of Author
Personal Photo of Author

Questions & Answers

  • Is it necessary or dangerous to tie a four-year-old child to a kayak?

    Yes, it is very dangerous. You should put a great PFD (life jacket) designed for a four-year-old. If your kayak were to get swamped or pulled under something your child would go with it if they were tied to the kayak. It would be better to have your child bobbing down the river and catch him then to have them pulled under something with the kayak. I have seen people do this also with their pet also, another dangerous practice.

    Additionally, make sure you wear a PFD too - it is an excellent choice for a child, and puts you in a position to save them if you should be in a threatening situation.

  • What kind of life jackets do kayakers use?

    There are Kayak specific life jackets that have a shorter back with mesh on the bottom area. These help the life jacket not push up on your shoulders when the kayak seat hits them. The most important part though when you buy a life jacket is to make sure that it is US Coast Guard approved. It will be stamped on the inside of the life jacket followed by a series of numbers. There is a picture of a Kayak Life Jacket in this article.

© 2017 Susan Sears


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Susan Sears profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Sears 

      3 years ago

      Yes, Billy,

      You are like a lot of people and at times this turns into a regret. Thankfully, they have created a lot of options that make a life vest comfortable. Kayak specific life vests are one option. They also makes very thin inflatables - both are comfortable options to keep a person safe.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I really hate to admit this, but there are several times I have gone out without a life vest. I know, I know, very dangerous, but the vest can be very restricting and I was just wild, young, and reckless. I'm certainly not suggesting it to anyone. :)

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Helpful article, I've tipped kayaking and the kayak quickly filled with water. Pump dewatering device would have been very helpful. Thanks for sharing the above safety tips.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Great Article!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      The Throw Bag video was very helpful.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Very informative article regarding water safety.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, skyaboveus.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)