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Kayak Safety Tips

While learning to kayak is fun and easy, you should be sure to familiarize yourself with some safety tips before hitting the water.

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Kayak Safety Gear

Having the proper paddling gear is one of the best ways to be prepared for a trip. While your gear needs will vary depending on where and when you’re going, there are some basics thatevery kayaker should take, regardless of the water temperature, including a personal flotation device (also called a PFD, life vest, or life jacket), first-aid kit, compass, whistle, light, and paddle float. For more information, read How to Choose Kayak Safety Gear.

Use Your Kayaking Gear Properly

It’s not enough to keep the PFD in the boat with you. You need to wear it at all times. Regardless of how strong a swimmer you are or how calm the water is, accidents can happen. Other safety items like a whistle and strobe light won’t be much good if they aren’t within reach, so ideally, you should attach them to your life vest.

Know Your Abilities

Going on a trip that’s beyond your abilities is an easy way to find yourself in an unsafe situation. Make sure to keep track of what skill level you’re atso you know what you’re capable of. Another way to determine what trips you’re able to take is to enroll in a class. Try your hand at the paddle with an Eastern Mountain Sports kayaking course to improve your technique, get used to the open water, or learn how to do rescue maneuvers.

Practice Escape Maneuvers

Of course, once you’ve learned rescue rolls, you have to keep practicing them to make sure you’re prepared in a real-life scenario. First, to reenter an overturned kayak, you have to confirm that the boat is actually overturned. Self-rescues won’t work if the kayak is already partially upright.

The easiest escape maneuver is called the “wet exit.” Once the kayak has fully capsized and is upside down, lean forward. Your inclination will likely be to straighten out your body and lean backward, but doing this means you risk hitting your head on something. Place each hand on either side of the cockpit and push yourself out of the kayak. Retrieve your gear at the surface and either reenter the kayak using a paddle float or with the assistance of a second kayaker. If you’re close enough to shore, you could tow your kayak to shore and reenter it that way.

Check Weather Conditions

Being aware of the conditions you’ll be paddling in is necessary to plan a trip. Check weather.gov a day or two before the trip. If the weather is too adverse, it may be advisable to reschedule. Even if the wind is expected to be minimal and there’s little chance of rain, knowing what temperature it will be can help you plan what gear to bring and what to wear.

Be Aware of Water Temperature

Early in the year it takes a while for water, especially in the ocean, to warm up. It might be a warm and sunny May day off the Maine coast, but if youtake a plunge in 50 degree water, it’ll take your breath away. Click here to learn more about cold-weather paddling.

Dress Appropriately

Wearing quick-drying gear is great for kayaking, regardless of weather, with a swimsuit underneath if you plan to swim on your trip. If you wear cotton clothing, you’ll likely get it wet, and the material will just keep the moisture next to your skin and draw heat from your body. Cooler weather calls for another layer; consider a waterproof, breathable windbreaker. If you anticipate that it will be chilly, wear fleece under your windbreaker and long underwear under your pants. Read more about what to wear when paddling in cold water.


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