REQUIRED GEAR – SAFETY GEAR
(Last update June, 2016)
Other than a kayak and paddle you will need several items for safe paddling. You should never leave shore without these items.
The first and foremost piece of safety gear for all boating is your PFD or Personal Floatation Device. State and federal law requires a wearable (i.e., boat cushions don’t count) PFD for each person. Many states require children to wear a PFD, the exact upper age for a “child” varies by state.
The American Canoe Association reports over 70% of paddling fatalities could have been prevented by wearing a PFD. So we say it – wear your PFD. But we also know that most of you will NOT wear one all the time and the YakPak must confess that we do not either. So, if you won’t wear it all the time, at least your PFD should always be within reach and easily accessible so you can put it on if the water or weather starts acting up. Usually you can stash them right behind the seat or under the bungees immediately in front of or behind the cockpit. As with other safety items, make sure it’s secured. If the boat goes over you don’t want your life jacket floating down the river away from you.
And remember, your PFD is your LIFE jacket, it is not a boat cushion or beach chair. Using it as a kneeling pad or sit-upon will greatly shorten its life and since good, comfortable PFDs are expensive, we don’t recommend using it for anything other than what it was designed for – keeping you afloat when you need it most.
In this day of marketing-wins-all there are a plethora of designer colors in PFDs now. Please choose your LIFE jacket with an eye towards visibility, not just what matches your kayak or sun hat. Lime green, pale blue, yellow, orange, and bright red are the colors most visible against dark blue/green/gray/brown water. For kayaking you want to get a properly fitted Type II or Type III PFD. The US Coast Guard type will be printed on a label inside the PFD along with the pounds of flotation the PFD provides.
The US Coast Guard specifies a minimum of 15-½ pounds flotation in an adult PFD. If you’re a decent swimmer and comfortable in the water, a jacket with 16-18 pounds of design flotation is about right. If you’re not a good swimmer, you may feel better with a PFD in the 22-27 pound range. There are also now several PFDs available for a women’s figure.
When fitting a PFD follow these steps:
1) Loosen all the straps then put it on and zip it up.
2) Buckle all the buckles – usually there is only one, below the zipper at your waist.
3) Tighten the strap at the waist.
4) Pull the 2-6 straps on the sides, alternating sides until the PFD fits your torso snugly but comfortably.
5) Tighten down on the shoulder straps. There should be no gap between your shoulders and the straps or the PFD will ride up on your face in the water.
6) Bend and stretch a bit to make sure you can move enough to paddle while still keeping the PFD snug around the torso.
Other things – the best PFD is the one you will wear. Make sure you are comfortable wearing your PFD while paddling. Test it out in shallow water or a swimming pool to make sure you know how to adjust it properly – in and out of the water. If you use a back band or low seat back, there are PFD models with thinner foam or mesh on the lower back that you might find more comfortable while paddling. Try to get a PFD with at least one pocket to carry extra safety items that you’ll want with you in an emergency or if the boat floats away leaving you stranded. Knife, whistle, flare, light, VHF radio, etc.
Inflatable PFD – If you decide to go with an inflatable PFD note that in order to satisfy Coast Guard regulations (and the regs of most states) it MUST BE WORN AT ALL TIMES and the CO2 cartridge must be showing GREEN. Also, make sure you get one that allows for manual inflation. The automatic type (as in, they inflate automatically when submerged in water) may inflate while you are still in the boat or when you don’t want the extra support during re-entry. Look for the kind with both CO2 cartridge inflation AND a mouth tube to blow it up. Inflatable PFDs are available in Type II, III, and V.
A sound signaling device is also a US Coast Guard requirement as well as a requirement in most states. The best, simplest and least expensive is a whistle. Get a pea-less plastic whistle and attach it to your PFD so it’s always available in case of an emergency. 3 blasts on the whistle is the recognized distress signal in US waters. The response is 1 blast.
FIRST AID KIT
A small personal first aid kit can be purchased or put together from supplies at home and carried in a pint or quart zipper-lock bag. Include any prescription medications and instructions. Also stick in a card detailing any medical conditions you may have and your emergency contact information. For day trips you don’t need a huge assortment of items. For touring, when you may be out with a group for several days, a larger kit can be assembled in a small dry bag or dry box.
A simple repair kit can save a day on the water. Wire for temporary rudder fixes, duct/strapping tape for hull cracks and minor paddle problems, some extra nylon line, and a sharp knife is a bare minimum. You can keep your repair kit in the same dry bag or dry box as your first aid kit.
Every boat should have at least a non-stretch bow or a stern line, also called a painter. This can be used not only for tying the boat up for lunch or a swimming session, but also for towing a disabled boat or paddler. Since the line you use for transporting the kayak on your vehicle or trailer really takes a beating, it’s a good idea not to use the same line on your boat where you may need it as a reliable safety item. So get a separate 10- to 20-foot line for your boat and take care of it. A light-weight carabiner attached to a loop at each end makes it easy on/easy off.
Every boat should have at least one sponge for getting rid of water drips and every sit-Inside kayak also needs some sort of bailer or bilge pump for getting rid of mass quantities of water.
Kayaks sit low on the water and making yourself visible to other boaters or to aerial search crews is YOUR responsibility. Some of our favorite times to paddle are early in the morning and late in the afternoon when the world is quiet and the colors saturated, but visibility can be low. Lots of small measures can add up to preventing accidents. If your deck perimeter (non-stretchy) lines are not reflective, you can purchase reflective line and replace them. There are also slip-on reflective covers you can get for your perimeter lines. Also available is reflective tape you can use to add a pin stripe around the hull line or create a reflective design on your deck. Or check at the hardware store of the reflective tape frequently used for mailboxes. You can also add reflective patches to your paddle which makes it a great, movable, reflective signal device. Many studies show that the first thing seen on the water by other boaters and people on shore are the moving paddles, not the kayak or kayaker, so a brightly colored paddle and/or reflective patches are a great safety feature.
Check your state laws regarding paddle craft for their requirements. Here are the basics, but your state laws may be different: after dusk and before dawn, kayaks should display a white light on the stern. You can get special kayak lights, usually mounted on a short pole, or simply carry a waterproof flashlight or head lamp. Port and starboard (red and green) bow lights may be required by some states, however there is a lot of controversy about whether kayaks really should appear the same as power boats to other boats on the water. Also, adding port and starboard lights to a kayak is difficult although flashlights with colored filters are available.
OTHER SAFETY ITEMS
Most of our paddling is close in to shore in relatively slow moving water. If we should capsize, we simply swim or tow our boats to land, bail out, and go again. However, sometimes this is difficult or impossible. So it’s extremely important that you know at least one reliable method for re-entering your boat from the water and preferably several. (See our page on Recovery and Rescue for some basics.) A few items are available to make re-entry easier when you can’t get to land.
A paddle float helps turn your paddle into an outrigger and can provide enough extra stability for you to scramble back into your boat from deep water or if you suffer an injury. You can get foam or inflatable models. The foam models are easier and faster to deploy (a definite plus in cold water) but they also take up a lot of room on your deck.
A stirrup is a loop of nylon webbing that you wind around your paddle or the cockpit coaming providing you with a step to help climb back in. You can purchase a fancy one or make one yourself. This strap can also serve as a short tow rope.
Be sure to practice with paddle floats and rescue stirrups before you need them. Practicing can be fun, especially on hot days, and that moment when you need to put the skills to use is not the time to try to figure them out.