REQUIRED GEAR – SAFETY GEAR
(Last update December, 2017)
So now that you have the kayak, paddle, PFD and whistle there are a few other items you will need for safe paddling. You should never leave shore without these other items.
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 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 a non-stretch bow and/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 to use a separate line on your boat where you may need it as a reliable safety item. So get an additional 10- to 20-foot line for your boat and take good care of it. A carabiner attached to a loop at each end makes it easy on/easy off – a good safety practice, particularly for a tow.
Every boat should have at least one sponge for getting rid of water drips and every boat with hatches and/or an enclosed cockpit 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 paddler, 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 while the inflatable models stow easily behind your seat or under deck bungees.
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 warm summer days, and that moment when you need to put the skills to use is not the time to try to figure them out.