Kayaking is not only a wonderful and exciting activity, but also a safe and user-friendly venture. You can almost always be sure of an easy, trouble-free day in the water. But like all recreational activities, things can go wrong. And the fact that you are on water means that situations can change very quickly and there is always the risk of injury or even death. That’s why you need to know and understand the hazards and risks that come with kayaking. You must have a safety conscious attitude when making paddling decisions.
What are the safety rules you should follow when kayaking?
- Use common sense and abide by all safety rules throughout your time on the water.
- Always adhere to boating and safety rules that apply to the area where you are paddling.
- Don’t go on a paddling trip after drinking alcohol or using drugs (whether prescription or non-prescription).
- Make sure to learn proper kayaking techniques, basic first aid and water safety rules from a skilled, qualified and experienced instructor before you venture out on water.
- Always wear your life jacket when on water and don’t take it off simply because you feel uncomfortable paddling with it on. You should invest in a kayaking specific life jacket, which has been designed to be unrestricting and comfortable when paddling or sitting in a kayak.
- Always wear clothing that is ideal for your kayaking climate. While a sit-inside kayak can shield you from the elements, a sit-on-top kayak will leave you exposed. So dress for the day and give yourself the necessary protection.
- Cold water is one of the biggest kayaking hazards because immersion in very cold water can result in hypothermia. So if you are kayaking in cold water, you need to be conservative with most of your decisions, restrict your activities to calm areas, close to the shore and never go out alone. Also carry a dry suit or wet suit to keep you warm and comfortable.
- Choose a paddling location that suits your skill level. Ideally you should go to a place with protection from waves and wind, good access points for easy launching and landing, minimal traffic of motorized boats, and lots of areas to go ashore. It is advisable to always look for quiet lakes, calm bays or tranquil rivers with no obvious currents.
- Be aware of both the water temperature and the weather condition of your kayaking destination. Make the necessary preparation for any weather changes and have plans for dealing with the possibility that your boat may capsize. For instance, if you expect a lot of sunshine, a long-sleeved shirt may be necessary for sun protection.
- If you are paddling in a new location, make sure to check with locals about shoreline conditions, weather patterns, tides and currents. Then plan for an “escape” route, which you can use to get off the water when environmental conditions dictate that you use an alternative place. Whether you are paddling for a single afternoon or a multi-day excursion, knowing the prevailing conditions can help you to plan for and have a safer and more efficient trip. One way of effectively monitoring sea conditions is using the National Marine Forecast via www.weather.gov/om/marine/home.htm.
- Kayaking in rivers and surf zones can be dangerous. Wear a helmet when paddling in these locations. Also beware of any offshore winds that may make it harder for you to return to the shore.
- Brush up on your self-rescue skills in all conditions, beginning in calm, shallow, warm water and then in more extreme conditions.
- Bring food and plenty of water, and make sure to always stay hydrated when paddling.
- Never exceed your boat’s weight capacity. Also make sure to check your kayaking equipment for wear and tear prior to setting out on a paddling venture.
- Don’t keep your paddling plan to yourself — tell someone. Share information on your destination, the activities you plan to do, length of time you’ll take and the number of people going with you. And once you have shared your plan, stick to it so you can easily be traced in case of any eventualities.
What equipment should you have for a safe paddling trip?
Depending on the type of trip you are making, you’ll need various equipment on your trip. And while you can’t do without certain accessories such as a paddle and PFD, others are not mandatory for every trip though they can improve your safety and make it more enjoyable. For instance, dry bags can help store your gear, scupper stoppers can dry up the self-bailing cockpit, and a backrest can make paddling more comfortable. Accessories for diving, fishing, navigating and more may be crucial if you intend to engage in such activities, while a hard rack system is great if you plan to take your kayak on a car top regularly.
Here are the most common equipment and accessories you will need:
1. For Rec/Touring:
- a. PFD/life jacket
- b. Dry bags
- c. Compass
- d. Tidal charts and maps
- e. Water and extra food
- f. Boat sponge
- g. Bilge pump
- h. Paddle boat
- i. Paddle leash or spare paddle
- j. Marine radio
- k. Spray skirt (if necessary)
- l. Tow line
- m. Safety whistle
- n. Signaling device/flares
- o. Sunscreen
- p. First aid kit
- a. Bow line
- b. Paddle clips/rod
- c. Hummingbird fish finder
- d. Hummingbird transducer
- e. Rod holders
- f. Anchor trolley system
- a. Sunglasses
- b. Base layer top
- c. Paddle jacket
- d. Sunhat/cap
4. Cold weather
- a. Dry pants
- b. Dry top
- c. Dry or wet suit
- d. Pogies or gloves
Finally, as a paddler, you need to know your limits, appreciate the limits of your boat, know the local rules and regulations on boating, and take steps to reduce your risk of hypothermia. You also should embark on a kayaking trip only when you are aware of the currents, tides and potential weather changes in your destination.
As a rule, dress for submersion, wear your personal flotation device (PFD) and carry the right safety gear. By following the rules listed above and always applying common sense, you’ll make your kayaking adventure safer, fun and more memorable. For more information on kayaks, kayak rentals, prices and paddling tips, visit the “Captain Mike’s Kayak Academy” site.
- Ocean Kayak. (2016). Basic Safety Tips for Kayaking. Retrieved from https://www.oceankayak.com/blog/article/basic-safety-tips-kayaking