safety and rescue accessories

I would like to get some basic safety and rescue accessories for my kayak – a paddle float, bilge pump, strobe light and perhaps a deck compass. There are quite a few brands of these items that seem pretty similar in photos seen on web sites and the few I’ve seen in stores.

Any recommendations for choosing these items in the moderate price range?

not much difference IMHO
About the only that has a lot of options is the paddle float. There are inflatable, foam blocks, etc. I prefer inflatable, and also prefer one that has 2 chambers.

I don’t know about the moderate price

– Last Updated: Jun-18-09 10:53 AM EST –

range, but when you get your bilge pump, get the one with the large discharge.
It is about an inch and a half.
Mine is a Harmony, and it will empty a boat much quicker than the one with the smaller discharge.


then please practice using it all
so you know how to best deploy it effectively. Paddling sensibly is your best defense.

Paddlefloat: if inflatable, get one w. two chambers.

that way there is redundancy if one fails. Depending where you are in NC and what waters you paddle, you may want a winter paddle float (a foam noninflatable). See what other kayakers in your area use in winter if you want to do winter kayaking.

Bilge Pump: do not get a cheap pump w. the plastic rod. It inevitably draws in silt, sand etc. and this scratches in vertical grooves on the rod. This in turn makes it easier for particles to get in there and the pump will eventually jam, , esp. if it lacks a removable foot for cleaning. Get a pump w. a foam float or make one (and test it) if yours does not come w. one. The better pumps discharge water on the UP and DOWN strokes, and have a removable foot. Finally, “8 gallons per minute” or whatever the specs are, is dependent more on your hustle and muscle than the pump.

Whistle: get one that is LOUD above water & can be heard underwater. Get two as you will lose the first one '-)

Knife: there are numerous archived threads about knives. Salt water v. fresh water can make a big

difference. Think about how you would attach

it and access it so you don’t make unnecessary tributes to Neptune.

Strobe light: Go white. As a general practice flashing strobe is for distress only. A nonflashing strobe is to make you visible to other boaters. Different regs apply depending on who has jurisdiction where you paddle and I don’t wanna get into all that, but you get the idea. Local advice would do you better.

Compass: There are compasses that you can screw mount into your deck more or less permanently. There are those you can attach w. bungees. If you are new to kayaking and/or may eventually have more than one, the latter may give you more options. The one that are permanently screwed in are more likely to stay on and result in less deck clutter. You decide :smiley:

What does affordable mean to you? If around $30-40 the Seattle Sports compass. If around $45-$55 the Suunto Orca or a sale price on the Ritchie S-59W which I have seen as low as $50 and as high as $90 while looking one up for a friend today. These are just price ranges, you can search for best prices online or in stores. Over $85-120 takes you into Brunton territory. I’m sure there are other names

but I am most familiar w. these.

If you want more product names I’ll wager that some will chime in shortly - take it all in, but always do your own research. What is “the best” for one paddler is not necessarily the “best” for you or anyone else.

As already mentioned test your gear often so you know it will work, and that you’ll know how to use it, when it counts.

don’t forget
an extra paddle and 1st aid kit.

And perhaps
a weather alert radio…

Sounds like I might ought to just buy one of those kits that contain most of the safety/rescue stuff needed. The only items I have so far are a PFD, whistle and paddle leash.

The spare paddle is gonna have to wait because I don’t have that much money to spend, having just bought a new sea touring kayak. Do paddles really break that often? Mine seems pretty sturdy (Seven2)

2nd Paddle a Priority for Me
Paddles do break, get blown out of people’s hands, slip off your lap while you’re taking a pic, get released and blow away in the confusion of a capsize - if you lose it and have no spare, you are basically “bleeped!”. I’d concentrate on getting a spare, even a real el cheapo - or at the very least, a canoe paddle, better than nothing…if I had to really scrimp, I’d have a hacked-off Javex bottle as a ‘bilge pump’, and get a spare paddle…

The other thing I think of as an essential is a buoyant heaving line - at least 30 feet, with 50 being better. Not expensive, but essential in an emergency…

Finally, a Fox 40 whistle is about as good a “bang for the buck” device as is out there…have fun, and be safe.

a couple thoughts
just to add to what others have written.

On the paddle float, look at the valves and consider how you would operate them with one hand, or if they can be operated with no hands. Some have other features which might be of interest, such as reflective tape, ability to put two arms through as a back-up flotation device, small pocket for storage, etc.

Spare paddle - some say the ideal is a different one that can be used in other conditions than your primary paddle - like I have a GP primary and a big blade split for surf areas. Consider where you paddle and how you would deal with the loss (blown or drifted away after capsize) of your primary paddle. Weight that situation against your finances and decide what to do. I think a loss of your paddle is as likely as breakage. You have a leash, so maybe this is a lower probability risk for you?

one handed use
Excellent point, DesertDave. Besides the paddlefloat I would consider it advantageous if the gear I chose allowed me to do the following w. one hand

  1. Pull out a knife from its sheath.
  2. Stand the pump up thru the skirt tunnel or the

    open cockpit and pump w. one hand.
  3. Pull each shaft of the spare TAP paddle from its

    paddle tube - so it wasn’t stuck in the rigging.

    (Using 2 hands of course to connect - I ain’t that


  4. Unbuckle straps on hatch covers.
  5. and the paddlefloat example Dave gave.

DON"T buy the kit
the kits I’ve seen are usually not good grade - or have 2 decent pieces and 2 clunkers. Usually the pump is one of the latter. If you shop carefully you can get each piece of gear for less than the cost of the kit and it will be better quality. Consider used quality gear in very good condition. For example, I’d rather have a used Beckson pump (the red/gray) than any of a handful of the newer ones.

North Water makes some nice products that stand the test of time. I have a paddle float, leash and tow belt. Not cheap, but it only hurts once and again it lasts.

Consider a submersible VHF. Avoid cheap. There is a reason why the military buys from ICOM.

If you buy good stuff, you avoid having to upgrade later.

It takes time to get all the goodies, unless you are Bill Gates.

Dry bags… can’t have enought of them… More smaller ones is better than fewer bigger ones.

Use one as a bail out bag and always take it with you. It should have dry clothes size LARGE to fit anyone. Include matches, flashlight, water, non-perishable food, a multi tool knife, 50 feet or so of line, a large trash bag, a ligher and firestarter tender, bandaids and other first aid stuff…

You can add to it at any time, but that is a good start.

Why no flares/laser/smoke/dye???

– Last Updated: Jun-18-09 8:22 AM EST –

You mention ocean as a venue. How come you don't consider VHF radio, ,GPS, PLB, Flares, Smoke, Dye, or a Laser Light as essentials?

The most significant way to be self responsible is to not go into conditions without skills, knowledge, and WAYS to minimize risk to rescuers if your plans, skills, weather forecast fails you. Socked in by fog, etc.

Having a VHF, PLB, GPS allows you to give exact location and your level of need to rescuers and minimizes risk to them.

Flares, smoke, dye, and a Laser allow them to find and home in on you for final rescue.

Even being on large inland lakes one may need some of these things as well.

Yes these things cost money. But, one, low frequency of occurrence events is 100 per cent likely overt time, so you will eventually need to be rescued. Two, how much will it cost you if you do not get rescued or if it takes 5 days at sea with no water to find you?

If you choose not to buy a 2nd
kayak paddle right now but do plan on paddling possibly alone, then at least buy a roll of heavy duty duct tape which can temporarily mend your paddle in case of breakage - or go to somewhere like West Marine and buy a collapsible canoe paddle - it isn’t expensive, is small, not too heavy and is worth having.

I’m not planning any offshore or remote coastal paddling that would call for flares, GPS and other gear you mention. Maybe sometime in the future when I acquire more skills. The sort of coastal paddling I do now is restricted to inshore waters where that sort of gear seems like overkill to me.

Thoughts on the strobe light

– Last Updated: Jun-18-09 10:14 AM EST –

Your last post says that signaling devices like a VHF radio and flares seem like overkill. Both of these devices are at least partially about letting rescuers know where you are in case of an emergency.

So... if these are overkill, a strobe light would be as well since it is supposed to indicate distress. If it is straight visibility on the water you want, a white light that can be pulled out as it gets dark and stuck on your deck via a suction cup would be a more useful choice. Most Marine stores sell these, as well as a version that has a red/green steady light option. I have found that the fancier ones die even faster than the white lights though when around salt water.

I guess the question is how you think about risk. If there is a possibility that you could become incapacitated from injury or illness and you paddle alone, doing so in sheltered waters doesn't leave things like VHF and flares off the list of gear. If there is low likelihood of that kind of accident happening and/or you would be near other people for help, I can see putting them lower on the list. Odds are between others, whether houses you are paddling by in a canal or other paddlers, someone would have the ability to call for help.

dig the costs man
hey, I dig the costs and you are hip to curbing risks especially till bankroll allows etc.

by the by, there are some ways to give yourself a safety margin in the mean while for those unexpected nasties, like a 40 mph thunderstorm downdraft suddenly pushing you out to sea, or pea soup fog, etc.

so go with Celia’s compassionate post and enjoy it out there!

Breaking paddles
"Do paddles really break that often? Mine seems pretty sturdy (Seven2)"

Were you taught to enter/exit your kayak by using the paddle as a brace off the shore or a dock? If so, this significantly increases the risk of breaking your paddle. I was first taught to enter/exit in this manner and used it until I broke a paddle. Now I stradle the kayak, sit down and then pull my feet in. I rarely use the paddle for entry/exit, except with ocean cockpits.

Several years ago I broke my paddle re-entering my kayak after a lunch stop on an island. I happened to have a spare that day.

So, if you paddle alone and rely on you paddle for entry/exit, I would put carring a spare paddle high on your list of safety gear. If you don’t enter and exit in this manner you will significantly reduce the chance of breaking a paddle. As with many things, it’s a calculated risk.



be aware of oyster beds… I like to go out at low tide to find out where they are… they are in calm tidal creeks but if sometimes someone is so casual that they manage to capsize over one. Not pretty.

I carry a VHF because it’s in range… and toss a cell phone in a $15 Pelican case.

Carry enough water, sun screen. If the tide is going out don’t get stranded way up in some marsh flat or you will be waiting for the next tide…

The safety item I use most? My sponge!

You probably know all this, but you asked!

Last summer I saw a kayaker on a SOT that paddled about 10 miles to the light house, was burnt to a crisp with no water, and couldn’t make it back… a family in a motor boat picked him and his yak up…

Maybe at least a small roll of tape and some kind of bandage to help bandage a wound? And plenty of fresh water to wash out any lacerations.

And what they said. I like being able to contact someone.