Are you heading to the lake or the ocean for your first kayaking experience? You have the boat and the gear, but do you have an understanding of kayak safety? It might seem that there’s not much to kayaking. Just launch the boat and paddle away into the sunrise.
However, the reality is that the water can present risks, and some of them might occur unexpectedly. Whether you’re on the lake or the river, you need to understand the risks involved with your situation. Being unprepared when disaster strikes could turn a fun outing into a tragedy.
Learning how to handle yourself in an emergency on the ocean or the lake is critical to ensuring that you and your team safely make it back to shore. This post unpacks the top kayak safety tips you need to know before heading onto the water.
- What are the Safety Risks of Kayaking?
- Top Kayak Safety Tips
- Wear Your PFD
- Stay Hydrated
- Check the Weather Report
- VHF Marine Radio
- Dress for the Weather
- Don’t Paddle Outside Your Skill Level
- Take a First Aid Course
- Carry a Portable Medical Kit and Survival Pack
- Understand State Laws
- Improve Visibility
- Know Your Kayak
- Let Someone Know Where You’re Going
- Don’t Go Alone
- Wear a Helmet
- Stay Sober
- In Closing – Charge Your GPS
What are the Safety Risks of Kayaking?
There are several risks involved with kayaking. Some of them are obvious, while others are unexpected. Here are the most common risks involved with kayaking.
- Falling out of the boat and drowning
- Prolonged cold-water immersion, leading to the onset of hypothermia and death.
- Getting lost at sea.
- In-shore water hazards like low-head dams and weirs.
- Wildlife like sharks and alligators.
- Storms and adverse weather conditions that build suddenly, especially at sea.
- Sun exposure and heat stroke.
- Boat traffic in the area and shipping lanes.
- Capsizing the kayak and finding yourself unable to get back into the boat.
Some risks are more common than others, and some are easy to mitigate. For instance, the likelihood of you being attacked by a shark are minimal. However, storms or being lost at sea are more common risks associated with the sport.
Top Kayak Safety Tips
For the safest experience out on the water, we curated a list of top tips you can use to prepare you for your kayaking journey.
Wear Your PFD
Your PFD is the most important piece of equipment for your kayaking experience. The PFD keeps you floating in the water without the need to swim. If you capsize and end up in the water, you might find it difficult to get back into the kayak, especially if you’re wearing waterlogged boots.
If you’re far from shore when you capsize, you could drown if you can’t get back into the boat. The PFD keeps you floating, preventing a drowning incident. Kayak PFDs come in different styles, with dedicated PFDs for fishing, touring, and whitewater kayaking trips.
The PFD fits you like a jacket, leaving room around the arms to give your shoulders a full range of motion. They feature a locking zip on the front of the vest, with foam panels in the back and front to keep you afloat.
It might seem cool in the morning when you launch your boat. However, it can give you a proper beating when the sun gets overhead, causing rapid dehydration. Being out on the lake or the ocean with no water is a huge mistake.
It puts you at risk of developing heat stroke, and you could pass out and fall into the water. Invest in a water bladder. The bladder is like a slimline backpack, holding up to 3-liters of liquid. You suck on a straw that mounts to your shoulder strap with a valve to activate the water flow.
Check the Weather Report
The weather is always a concerning factor, especially for ocean kayaking. The last thing you need is a thunderstorm developing when you are miles from shore. Your raised position on the water makes you a prime target for lightning strikes.
Storms also create big waves and rough ocean conditions. If you end up capsizing, the kayak could sink, and you’ll have to call for rescue, relying on your PFD to keep you afloat. Check the charts on the NOAA weather site the day before you go out and on the morning before you leave.
NOAA issues regular updates on the weather in your area, and you can access it through a VHF marine radio.
VHF Marine Radio
The marine radio looks like a small walkie-talkie. Most models are waterproof and float if you drop them in the water. You have several channels available, including NOAA weather reports.
If you’re offshore fishing and something goes wrong, you’ll use channel 16 to reach out to the Coast Guard for assistance. VHF marine radios come in several models and at varying price points.
However, they are essential for offshore kayaking, acting as a lifeline to shore when you’re out at sea and can’t get back to the beach for whatever reason.
Dress for the Weather
When checking the weather report, pay attention to the water and air temperature forecast. Dress for the weather.
If you’re in cold conditions, consider wearing a wet suit. The suit traps a thin layer of water between the neoprene and your skin, warming it up.
If you land in the cold water, you risk the onset of hypothermia. Hypothermia can occur in less than ten minutes, causing you to blackout and perish. A wetsuit keeps you warm, allowing you to call for rescue.
Don’t Paddle Outside Your Skill Level
If you’re a newbie to kayaking, stay in your comfort zone. Heading into a Class III rapid with no experience is a huge mistake.
If you capsize, you could find it difficult to roll the kayak if you have no experience with the skill. Asa result, you’ll have to make a wet exit from the kayak and risk drowning.
Stay within your comfort zone. We’re not saying you can’t push your limits from time to time, but you need to do it in a controlled environment where you can reduce risk.
Take a First Aid Course
You never know when things can go wrong. If you’re out with friends and one of them experiences an injury, you need basic first aid training to help them recover.
Learning CPR techniques could save someone’s life on your kayaking trip. A first aid course is inexpensive, and it benefits you outside of the kayak. Your first aid training could come in handy in many different situations in life.
Carry a Portable Medical Kit and Survival Pack
Along with your first aid skills, you should always carry a portable medical kit in your kayak. The medical kit should include standard items, such as a tourniquet, gauze, painkillers, antiseptic, and other basic materials for patching injuries.
Keep a survival pack alongside your medical kit. Pack it with a paracord, a compass, knife, firesteel, emergency blanket, and flares. If anything goes wrong and you find yourself stranded, you have the basics you need to wait out the night.
Understand State Laws
Every state has different laws for kayaking. If you’re going out kayak camping at the lakes, make sure you get all the correct permits for your trip from the parks office.
When you buy your permits, the park officials know you’re out there. If they discover you fishing the lakes without a permit, you’ll receive a huge fine.
States also differ on the rules and regulations surrounding offshore kayaking. While you don’t need a permit, some states may require you to register a float plan with the Coast Guard before heading out.
We recommend a PFD with bright colors, especially if you’re kayaking offshore. Look for PFDs with Hi-Viz colors and reflectors. The more you improve your visibility, the better.
Other boats and vessels in the area can see you on the water. If you’re at the lake, you’ll be visible from the shore, and people can help you if they see you’re in distress. Some PFDs come with built-in emergency whistles.
If you need help, a single long blast means that you need help. People close to shore are likely to hear it and assist you.
Know Your Kayak
A very kayaker should understand their boat before heading out into challenging water conditions. Before you get out onto the ocean, take some time to practice on flat water. Learn how to paddle effectively and control your boat. Paddling might seem easy, but there’s a skill to it.
You’ll also need to practice techniques like rolling your kayak after a capsize. Conducting this training in calm, flat water, like the lake or a swimming pool, is the best way to familiarize yourself with your kayak and how it feels on the water.
You’ll also need to practice entering the kayak from the water. The last thing you need is to struggle to get back into the boat in a real-world kayaking situation. Practicing at home builds your confidence and prepares you with the skillset you need to get back in the boat.
Let Someone Know Where You’re Going
Let someone know where you’re going before you head out on your kayaking adventure. Some states require you to file a float plan before you go out.
Other states don’t have this requirement, but you should always tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. If you don’t show up, the person can inform the coast guard of where you went so they can start rescue operations.
If you don’t let people know where you went, no one will know you’re missing. A little preparation could save your life when you’re lost at sea or deep in the lake systems.
Don’t Go Alone
You don’t want to head out kayaking alone as a beginner, especially on the ocean. Taking someone with you or teaming up with a friend for a kayaking adventure is a safer strategy. If something happens to you, the other person can go for help.
Plus, taking a friend with you makes the trip more fun when you can share the experience with someone else. Whether you’re planning a day trip or a week-long kayaking adventure, check to see who’s keen to go out with you. If you don’t have friends that are into kayaking, consider joining a kayak club.
Wear a Helmet
If you’re into whitewater rafting, wear a helmet, and don’t forget your PFD. The helmet protects your head from collisions with rocks and submerged objects. You could bump your head underwater during a capsize, pass out, and drown without it.
The helmet might look stupid and feel cumbersome, but it protects your head and life. The helmet will have drain holes to ensure the helmet doesn’t waterlog, and there are foam panels to absorb impact shock.
Kayaking is fun and relaxing. It might be tempting to crack that beer on the water as you enjoy your fishing. Sure, having a beer is a great way to enjoy the afternoon. However, drinking to excess is dangerous.
Being drunk or high on the water could cost you your life. Alcohol and drugs blunt your senses and cause you to take an unnecessary risk on the water. Stay sober and prevent your kayaking trip from turning into a drunken disaster. Rather rely on water, or stick to one drink.
You wouldn’t drink and drive, right? So, why drink and kayak? Save it for when you get back to the shore and keep yourself safe on the water.
In Closing – Charge Your GPS
There’s no need for maps in the digital age of technology. Your GPS gives you accurate positioning and all the maps you need for your local area. You get route planning, waypoint marking, and trip distances from the GPS, and you can share this data with other GPS systems.
There are portable, waterproof GPS units that float if you drop them in the water. They’re a handy tool, and many of them offer emergency communication if you don’t have a marine radio. However, the GPS is no good to you if the battery dies.
Make sure you charge the GPS the night before heading out for your trip. It’s a good idea to carry a spare power bank to charge your radio and GPS on the water if they go flat.