The kayaking safety information on this page and throughout this site is intended to give you a Smart Start. I do hope that seeking out additional training won't keep you from enjoying this truly wonderful sport.
I strongly advise taking a First Aid class which includes CPR. Where to find one? Many high school adult-ed programs or area hospitals offer First Aid and CPR training.
A course in basic kayaking safety by a certified instructor including self and assisted rescue skills is necessary to get hands on training for emergency situations.
Form good habits from the start - the time you take to prepare can be the difference between a great kayaking day and a bad experience.
Here's some other smart things to do and have . . .
By now, you know that wearing a Personal Floatation Device - PFD is the number one thing to do. . . kayaking safety 101.
Find out the current weather and forecasted changes... how do you do that?
There are a couple of ways that I know of ...
Via the Internet - For weather and current warnings you can go to: www.WEATHER.GOV.
For weather and water temperature go to www.WEATHER.COM - click on Sports & Recreation, then Boat & Beach.
Another way to find the current weather and water temperature is NOAA's weather radio - NWR (National Weather Radio). It covers 50 states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto
Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the U.S. Pacific Territories. Continual broadcasts are aired on the VHF (MHz) bands as follows: 162.400 - 162.425 - 162.450 - 162.475 - 162.500 - 162.525 - 162.550
It's a good habit to let someone on shore or at home know of your plans. Even if intending to simply paddle for a few hours at the nearest pond - I stick a note on the refrigerator. This is simple kayaking safety.
You will find a convenient Float Plan that you can copy and use - see: Float Plan
For longer excursions, leave a more detailed plan with a responsible person. If you plan to make stops, list the different places in the order in which they will be visited. Leave a second copy on your car seat ... and call when you're back on shore. (Creepy perhaps - but not if you need help).
You will need to carry enough water for each paddler and more in extreme heat. How much? ... the rule of thumb is one gallon per day for each paddler.
First Aid Kit
A small air-tight container for a first aid kit dry box is a must-have. I insert my dry box in a zip lock plastic bag and then surround it by two more zip locks for a couple of reasons. First, it assures me that those supplies will remain dry and second, the extra bags double as waste containers or for other purposes during my paddling if needed.
Here's a basic dry box first aid kit:
Bandages or gauze
Burn Cream for skin
Energy food bars
For an extended trip - Add:
Change of warm clothing - fleece
Thermal emergency blanket
Type IV PFD for throwable float
Disposable lighter to make a fire
Here's a clip about safety gear ...
When you buy your kayak and any gear, choose bright colors - they double as a visual signal. Consider bright orange - yellow - bright green. Red is not as visible at long distances.
If you're going to spend any money in kayaking safety gear - wow, float bags are worth your first consideration! Float bags are inflatable cone shapes that clip-fit inside the front and back ends of a kayak to keep it afloat if capsized. I think they're the coolest kayaking safety item you can have. You can get two standard kayak floats for under $100 - money well spent.
Other must-haves . . .
A whistle or air-horn
of audible capability per Navigational Rule 35
with or without clips - used for towing (discussed later)
to assist capsize (discussed later)
not required but a good plan for longer trips
of (navigation) and (familiarity with route)
Know how to upright a capsize
see discussion at How To Kayak
Knowledge of weather
and any forecasted changes
sunglasses, hat, sunscreen
About Alcohol & Stimulants
These just don't combine well with water sports. First - alcohol will dehydrate your body and impair your judgment as well as accelerate hypothermia.
You need to be alert and sharp - leave the stimulants behind.
Self Rescue and Assisted Rescue ... the reality
Recreational kayaks are made for calm water, close to shore usage. They have a large open cockpit and generally don't have enough floatation to be paddled ashore when they are swamped. They'll float but not supporting your weight in it. (Here's where floatation bags help). So what do you do? . . .
Stay with your kayak
Find your paddle - hold on to it
Float on your back so you can push off any objects with your feet
Stay upstream in currents - don't get caught between the kayak and rocks
Focus on getting back into your kayak - how do you do that? . . .
If you or another person capsize, here's where you'll wish you took that rescue class. You will need to know basic kayaking safety - self rescue and assisted rescue procedures.
Using self rescue skills, you need to first upright the kayak. Next you will need to re-enter the swamped cockpit using your paddle float to stabilize the kayak. (In an assisted rescue a second kayak acts as a stabilizer.) Then the swimmer kicks to propel their self onto the deck and into the swamped cockpit. Next, secure the paddle - grab the hand pump to get the water out. After the water is out, it can then be paddled to shore.
If you or another cannot re-enter the kayak you will have to tow it. For a more detailed overview of how to upright a kayak, re-enter or tow, see: Kayak-Self-Rescue.
In this situation, you can see how important it is to know safety rescue skills and secure your gear before you start off paddling. Having the gear that you depend on secured to the kayak in an emergency situation is crucial to your rescue.
Here's a clip from REI on uprighting and re-entering a kayak ...
Cold Water Paddling Precautions
In some areas, particularly in early Spring and late Fall, you may get a day where the air temperature is 80 degrees or more. It's a great day for a paddle - but beware - despite the air temperature - the water temperature could be a frigid 40 degrees. Do you know how quickly hypothermia will overtake you when you're in shorts and a T-Shirt? Did you leave a Float Plan with someone? . . . This stuff really happens - don't let it happen to you. Learn and practice kayaking safety rescue skills.