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Items for kayak safety.. and some you may not have thought about

Being prepared for your next water adventure and packing the right items for the uncertainty can be overwhelming. Ideally, what you bring along should reflect upon your paddle destination and the ability to understand and demonstrate proper usage.

In today’s blog we will explain to you some items which aid us during our travels – and might get you out of a sticky situation.

The PFD with safety items

The PFD: The ideal personal safety device. The ideal kayak PFD should fit well, and fit comfortably on the user. The arms and armpit area should have enough room to rotate without rubbing against your body. They should have a label within which reads USCG approved. Majority of recreational and sea kayakers use a type III, as these have the proper buoyancy and keeps one’s head above the water when floating. PFD’s with CO2 canisters are an option – however need manual operation to inflate the vest (kinda difficult to do this when not physically able to preform this task).

Here are a few ideas to keep inside your PFD while you paddle. 1)Whistle-one needs some form of signaling device when on open waters. It can be used to alert others of danger, or a means to get another’s attention. 2)Compass-great for getting directional guidance, especially when used in conjunction with a navigational chart. I had chosen one with a mirror attached, as I can then reflect the sun light if needed (only good during sunny days). 3)GPS-can be used to track your travels, offer navigation assistance, and positional data (really useful during rescues, or when one can not read a navigation chart). 4)VHF-your means to communicate to others while on the big waters, and get the rescue aid you, or others may need. 5)Light-this is a strobe light which can provide the ability for others to see you at night. 6)Personal Locator Beacon-when the worst-case scenario happens and you need help. When activated, it provides your GPS location to the search and rescue authorities, downside it is a one-way communication device (and they can’t talk to you). 7)Knife-sometimes you need to cut something, or someone free of a dangerous situation (think entrapment). 8)Grease pen-great for writing on laminated surfaces (like a chart), waterproof and never needs sharpening. 9)Nose plugs-for those who hate having water going up their nose when rolling. 10)Food and water-never know when you might need a little nourishment either for yourself, or others. (Not pictured – a laminated card with your name, blood type, allergies, and emergency contact information)

Navigation chart: Very useful item to plan your trip. One can see hazards, water depth, measure the distance, plan for alternate take outs, and verify your position using references – just to name a few. Laminate it, use the grease pencil to mark your trip,and tuck it under your shock cords.

Navigation chart

Paddle float: Used in conjunction with self-rescues, this aids the paddler to get back into the kayak. Place on the blade, inflate, secure and rescue yourself. They come as either inflatable (as pictured) or rigid. Store this in the same place on your kayak each time for quick access.

Paddle float

Bilge pump: Useful for getting large amounts of water out of your kayak, especially after a wet exit. Like the paddle float, store it on your kayak in the same location for easy access.

Bilge pump

Sponge: For getting those last drops of water out of the cockpit (or hatches), scooping up wet sand and dirt inside the cockpit, or cleaning off the deck/hull from water scum accumulation.

kayak sponge

Dry bag: Don’t want to get certain items wet…like clothes, electronics, or cookies? Place your items within, fold over the top a few times and secure the clips.

dry bag

Dry box: Totally waterproof and floats. Great place to keep your car keys, wallet, and phone safe and sound.

dry box

Dry bag with extra clothing: In the cooler months, I will bring along this bag in case I, or others get totally wet/cold and need something warm and dry to wear. It is packed with a fleece top, fleece lined/nylon running pants, wool socks, gloves, and a few pairs of hats -not shown is a microfiber towel. I leave the cotton at home.

dry bag with clothes

First Aid kit: One can put together a kit with simple items, band-aids, splints, bandages, electrical tape (waterproof tape), tweezers, ointments, CPR mask, gloves, or anything else which may come to mind. Never know when someone needs to stop a bleeder.

first aid kit

Stirrup Strap: Basically, a nylon webbing about an inch wide. Used in conjunction with or without a paddle/paddle float to aid the paddler to get back into the kayak after a wet exit. One end is placed on the far side of the paddle, slipped under the yak, and circled around the paddle shaft. The end with the loop dangles in the water, a foot slips into the loop. The paddler uses majority of their leg muscle strength to lift themselves into the cockpit.

stirrup strap

Tow Belt/rope: A device used to help assist an injured or tired paddler during the journey, get a kayak or the kayak and paddler out of a dangerous environment, or tow an empty kayak. The belt is fitted around the rescuer, and the clip on the other end is slipped under the deck line nearest the bow of the kayak being assisted. There is usually a quick release located on the rescuer’s waist to disconnect from the other kayak. Rope lengths vary in length, but are usually 50 feet – but can be daisy chained to make them shorter (as pictured).

tow belt

Contact tow: Aids a rescuer to maintain a closer connection to one who needs assistance (cockpit to cockpit). Can be used in conjunction with another rescuer who may be towing a second rescuer and victim. Or, used as a clip and get the person out of the danger area quickly. Typical length is less than 4 feet.

contact tow

Signal bag: Hand held flares, a mirror, and an air horn. Great tools to have on the water for both visual and audible signaling.

signal bag

Laser flare: When turned on, flashes S-O-S and has a visible range of about 3 miles at nighttime. Nice feature about these, they never burn your hands and stays lit until the batteries dies.

laser flare

Repair kit: Packed inside a water bottle are items to make simple temporary fixes to a kayak. Included is a 4 foot long semi-rigid twist tie, zip strips, a sheet of plastic, duct tape (wrapped around a marker), multi-tool, narrow shock cord (with fasteners), and a fiberglass repair kit.

repair kit

Bothy bag: These are great to use as a personal shelter from the elements. Once opened up, it creates a small dome-like tent. They protect you from the winds, rain, snow and the inside heats up rather quickly (especially great for a cold rain, or a mild case of hypothermia).

bothy bag


What items do you carry on your usual paddle trips? Are you prepared to rescue yourself, or others who may need your assistance? Take a class and learn how to use some of these items.


For the Paddler Within

The paddle float rescue

Every kayaker who spends any amount of time in their boat will at some point end up flipping over in their kayak. It’s just a part of the sport really. There are many ways to remedy the situation, namely getting the kayak back upright with the paddler in the kayak. Kayakers can learn to roll their kayaks, do assisted or “buddy” rolls, or wet-exit and have to make their way back into their kayak. There are rescues such as the T-Rescue where another kayaker assists in getting the flipped kayaker back into their kayak. And then there are the rescues that employ the use of a paddle float. While all of these safety techniques are important to know and practice, it is always essential that each kayaker know how to get back into his or her kayak on their own (Self Rescue). It is for this reason that the paddle float was invented.

There are two different styles of paddle floats, a rigid and an inflatable. They both preform the same function when preforming a rescue. It is paddler’s preference in which style one prefers.

rigid paddle float     inflatable paddle float


After a capsize, maintain contact of both your paddle and kayak. Your kayak will be deck down. Using hand over hand technique, grip onto the deck lines and position yourself near the cockpit. Once in position, locate your paddle float (I keep mine on the front deck at all times, so I do not have to look for it when needed). Once this has been obtained, slip your leg inside the cockpit to maintain further contact and control of the kayak. Slip on the inflatable float onto a blade, secure this to the shaft, and fully inflate the chamber(s).

Right the kayak, and maintain contact. Locate the deck line behind the cockpit, slide the blade under the line – power face down. This secures the one end of the paddle to the boat. The paddle should be perpendicular to the kayak so it acts much like an outrigger.

paddle float rescue

You are now ready to begin getting back into the kayak. You should be behind the kayak paddle. Depending on the side you are on, take the closest hand to the kayak cockpit and grab the kayak cockpit and the kayak paddle in that hand. Place the closest foot on the kayak paddle shaft just above the paddle float. Push with your foot on the kayak paddle and pull your chest up onto the stern of the kayak with your hand. Maintain the kayak paddle position with the paddle float on the surface of the water and the other end placing pressure on the kayak.

At this point you have pulled your body onto the kayak and have one foot on the kayak paddle, just above the kayak paddle float. You will need to get the other foot on the kayak paddle shaft because during the next step you will remove the first leg from the shaft to place it in the kayak and you’ll need the support of the other leg. Bring the other foot into the place where the first foot is on the kayak paddle shaft. Slide the first foot up to make room.

You are now ready to enter the kayak from the water by leveraging your weight on the kayak paddle float. While supporting yourself on the back deck of the kayak and on the kayak paddle blade, remove the closest leg from the kayak paddle shaft. Bring the knee toward the kayak and place your foot and leg inside of the kayak cockpit.

To get into the kayak from this position, simply place the other leg inside of the kayak. You will still be applying pressure to the kayak paddle float by the pressure you are placing on the kayak paddle shaft. In this position, the kayak paddle is acting like an outrigger with the paddle float preventing the kayak from tipping over. Once your body is in the kayak, it might feel awkward because both legs will probably be in one leg hole of the kayak cockpit. That’s ok, the main goal is to get in and to adjust your body once in the kayak. Make sure that the kayak back rest is upright and out of the way before the next step.

At this point you will probably be face down in your kayak and on the back deck. You will need to roll over and into the kayak seat. This can be tricky because there will probably still be water in the kayak which will make it “tippy.” Keeping two hands on the kayak paddle shaft begin to reposition your legs and roll over and toward from the kayak paddle float. Once half way over, remove your closest hand from the kayak shaft and bring it across your body and onto the other side of the kayak paddle, keeping pressure on it against the kayak. Once you are in the seat the kayak paddle will be behind you but you will still have a hand on both sides of the paddle. One will be keeping pressure on the paddle against the boat and one will keep pressure on the paddle float against the water.

Now, secure the spray skirt back on the combing. The paddle float is still in place and may be used for additional stability. If needed (and in calm water), the excess water may be removed from the kayak by creating a small opening on the side of the spray skirt and inserting the bilge pump.  Once water has been removed, remove the paddle from the deck line behind you, deflate the paddle float and secure.

Paddle float rescues are a useful tool to incorporate when other self-rescue techniques fail. Practicing and improving your technique for any self-rescue limits your exposure to the elements, and lets one resume to the enjoyment of paddling. Like any rescues, practice in a calm body of water, perfect your technique, and then attempt variations.

For the paddler within……