We are about to head out on a 2 week trip kayak, and one challenge is that we can’t keep our radios on full time to stay in touch should our group get outside of conversation range (batteries won’t last, and we have no way to recharge, so need to keep them off unless needed for emergencies).

I was thinking of arranging some sort of signal system using our whistles (we all have whistles attached to our PFDs, as everyone should). Something like 1 blast means we should come within communications range and 3 blasts for some sort of incident/emergency.

But before we up and make some system, I thought I should find out if there are any standards or general porotocols out there? If so, we should obviously use those (why re-invent the wheel, plus the habit we get in could be useful when with other people). Is there a standard practice for communicating with whistles.

Use paddle signals
There are some standards - go left, go right, come to me. I think they are described at Atlantic Kayak Tour’s site (www.atlantickayaktours.com) but if not there do a search on this site too. They are around.

need to be looking
Paddle signals require that the others be looking - I am looking for some method of getting attention when someone is not looking (and at the same time letting them know if it is urgent or not - so having separate signals for urgent versus non-urgent).

After the audio signal, then we could use paddle signals.

We use a whistle to mean "look"
then we use a paddle signal such as the ones at University of Sea Kayaking. Primarily, it’s go right, go left, or everybody raft up with the person signalling.

When the wind blows, the whistle is just about useless though, and we all carry very loud ones.

Not really a standard but common in the Maine professional community:

1 whistle - Look at me (paddle signal to follow)

2 whistles - Rally (come to me)

5 whistles - Emergency in progress (like a capsize), Rally & Raft

3 whistles - Reserved for I am lost (like in fog). Rescuer returns 2.

For what it is worth . . .

If you’re going
to a calm place with no wind then a whistle signal might work. I’ve never tried to use one for an emergency but have tried to signal paddling partners while scouting for campsites, a good lunch spot, or fresh water. My experience was that the whistle simply wasn’t heard over even gentle surf or moderate wind, and definitely not if there are waterfalls or boat traffic nearby. I still carry one but wouldn’t rely on it in a pinch. If you’re going to be paddling in conditions you’re better off making sure your partners are always in visual range and that you keep your eyes on each other. I know it’s not easy but I guess my point is to not rely on your whistle too much.


I can’t agree more. I paddle in the
Pacific ocean and there is no way a whistle is heard in any but the calmest conditions. Our practice is that everyone in our group is looking all the time, so paddle signals really are our best resource.

This is a good example
of why when you get a VHF radio you should get the one that not only recharges, but accepts regular batteries as well.

On our extended camping trips we just take a stash of batteries, (which we also need for our GPS units) and we pop in a new set when the others get low.



If you’re going

Posted by: lyngo on Aug-27-07 9:35 PM (EST)

to a calm place with no wind then a whistle signal might work.

In those conditions, a holler would work also.

And furthermore
It is a good idea to buy only electronics that all use the same batteries (Usually AA). I only have to buy one kind, and can cannibalize any of my gizmos to power any of the others.

On long trips, we use FRS/GMRS radios for group communication. Save the VHF for weather, talking to larger craft, and emergencies. For daytrips and overnights, I use rechargeables, and for longer trips, I bring along a pack of non-rechargeables to use as replacements when the first set goes.


And VHF’s

– Last Updated: Aug-28-07 8:18 AM EST –

We ran into a guy who was doing the entire coast of Maine using batteries to manage communications as well as maintain his blog and send stuff back wireless via his phone. He just had a ton o' batteries - many have just gone with that option. He had found that the solar chargers couldn't keep up, though we have a couple and I'd be tempted on a continuous trip to bring them anyway and use them for what help they could provide.
And agree with the above posters - your group should never be so spread out or so unalert that each paddler can't be gotten to by another fairly quickly.

a nonpaddler might hear the whistle
and think that you just need lots of help…especially if there is a whole group of paddler stooting away…might have a visit from a CG vessel…

stay close enough…
We try hard to stay close enough so one blast on the whistle does work to catch everyone’s attention. THis means, as winds get stronger, we stay closer together. If your paddling buddies can’t hear your whistle, they’re too far away. And I can blow my whistle much much louder than I can holler!

and so will this action, “slowly and repeatedly raising and lowering arms outstretched to each side” apparently being used as regular paddling signals, which is also listed as a recognized maritime distress signal.

Just a thought
How 'bout one of those air horns with a can of propellant attached…I have one that the horn mechanism is actually plastic and very light,