Safety Gear

I have been building confidence and am now paddling solo outside the harbor. Currently my safety gear is paddle float, bilge pump, mirror, and whistle. As I paddle I go through worst case scenarios and feel i may want to add a flare, die pack, flashlight.

I am looking for suggestions on other items I might want to carry. Which of these items will work well for a kayak. Where should I carry them, in the boat or PFD?

You might want to consider
a PLB (Personal locater beacon) if you do a lot of off shore paddling.

I keep mine in my PFD pocket.

Hopefully you’ll never have to use it, but it’s a nice insurance policy


VHF Marine Radio
This is the only piece of safety gear I’ve ever had to use “for real”. Get a good waterproof one, carry it on your body and learn how to use it- it does have limitations.

Self-rescue/VHFw-weather alert-on PFD

– Last Updated: Oct-06-12 8:31 AM EST –

Very first thing, you haven't indicated how much time you have spent learning self-rescues, including ones like the Cowboy that do not involve paddle floats. Do that now and find a pool for over the winter if you are north.

VHF - get one that can be mounted on the PFD with a good submersible rating and a good weather alert feature - one hardy enough to hear clearly rather than glorified static like the cheap ones. If you are messing around outside of harbors learn how to use it to give securite alerts when crossing channels if needed. I'd put this ahead of a PLB.

Also food, at least snack bars and fluid. And a bivy if you plan to get far enough out that you may have to hole up away from your launch point in a change of weather.

I’ve added smoke (can or stick) to my
safety bag. Generally easier to see in day time. Flares best at night. Glad you’re thinking safety. R

Emergency survival kit
I carry an emergency survival kit, the kind carried by hikers. It fits in a quart-size bag and weighs about a lb. To that I add a small tarp.

Opinions differ on what should be in that kit. Here’s an example: Study what is referred as the “10 Essentials.”

I used to carry a whistle but recently I found this horn that’s much louder than a whistle:

I would definitely carry a light! I have a very small flashlight in the pocket of my pfd (along with waterproof matches), and would carry a 75-lumen flashlight in my emergency kit if going out in the late afternoon or in any remote area.

way to communicate
I agree with the personal locator beacon and VHF comments. Either (or both) would be good. Spot is probably the best known of the PLBs. You wouldn’t need something as formal as the EPIRBS that larger boats often use. These devices are great for getting word that you are in trouble out and where you are at, but they are one way (they only say someone is in trouble and their location - not type of trouble nor can the rescuers communicate back).

If you are in an area with coast guard base and/or harbor patrols and/or lots of other boats, then a VHF would be good. These are line of sight radios, so only transmit over a few miles. In heavy traffic areas, Coast Guard may have repeaters, which extend the range a lot. If you are paddling away from civilization, then they aren’t that useful. But in urban areas,they are good.

In urban areas, you can use your cell phone for emergency communication. But you need to have a way to keep it dry while you use it. There are special made dry bags for these.

In all cases, you likely want the communication method attached to you, not the boat. If you get separated from your boat, you want to still have access to this.

Spot is way to expensive vs a PLB
A PLB has a one time cost and then every five years you replace the battery.

Spot costs just about the same but you have to pay a subscription fee every year (a hundred bucks or more depending if you want the tracking)

We have both, but if I were to just get one, I would get just the “Fast Find” PLB


First Aid kit?
If not a “worst case scenario”, at least a “bad case scenario” would probably involve being washed up on some isolated rocky shore, battered by rocks on the way in… kayak smashed up, electronics drenched… might be really handy to have a decent first aid kit stashed somewhere in the wreckage…

is my number one item. They have gotten really chap and they are useful literally everywhere. But only when life is on the line. Spot useful most places but not everywhere, VHF good on coastal waters. Knife is good to have.

rating conditions
check out the sea rating system.

this is a great way to rate a trip on the day and acts as a good check list of conditions and things to consider.

practice those rescues in ‘conditions’ you are likely to need them. A friendly shore on a windy day is a good place to practice.

the best rescue is a roll. Then your paddle floats make a nice pillow

We did a test of flares last summer in our club. We shot 3 or 4 duds before we had a good one.

Is there a skirt on your kayak?

My setup
I have a half skirt, which is pretty much only good to keep my legs from getting sunburned and splashes from landing in the cockpit. I also have a spray skirt that fits my wife’s boat she refuses to use, it fits okay on my boat to keep higher splashes out but would not stand up to a huge splash or a roll.

I have a sponge and spare water in the cockpit.

My vest is a WW rescue vest. I have a few energy bars in a pocket, whistle and mirror. The vest has a serrated knife on my shoulder and a short tow leash.

Currently on a strict budget so the kayak investments are limited to near nothing for now. I have a camel back I am thinking of making into a kayak pack. Add a drybag with a first aid kit, flashlight and space blanket. I will add a dry bag to the boat with some survival clothes and some food.

Once budget allows, I need to get a full sized “real” spray skirt. PLB, die pack, flares, flare gun, and better VHF.

Where are you paddling?

– Last Updated: Oct-07-12 1:14 AM EST –

Open ocean with a half skirt?

This may work in protected harbor in the summer but, often you can get pretty confused seas leaving a harbor, in a few weeks heavier northwest swells, and storms will start. Getting a real skirt would be important, if you are paddling a rec boat with a huge cockpit, get a different boat if you want to paddle open coastline.

“Die pack” is a horrible typo!
Or a Freudian slip?

Yeah, get a full sprayskirt, preferably neoprene. Practice putting on and removing right on the beach before you paddle out, in case it’s a tight one.

EPIRB and sling stirrup
When I take my folder to the Caribbean, I carry an EPIRB since there is little land and a lot of water. If you are not 100% confident you can reenter your kayak, consider a paddle float and a stirrup sling and practice self rescue a lot.