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  • Meg McCall

Kayak Safety Gear: What You Need and Why

We've all heard stories from around the web about kayaking gone wrong: the experienced swimmer whose empty kayak was found 10 miles off the coast of Florida; the four family members who capsized and later died on Lake Superior despite wearing PFDs; the paddler in Chili who died of hypothermia due to lack of immersion wear. In the US alone, the US Coast Guard reported 4,145 boating accidents and 151 paddlesport deaths in 2018.

kayak safety tips

No one goes on the water thinking, "Today, I'm going to be reckless and put my life in jeopardy." No, most of us have some degree of awareness that we should approach paddling with safety in mind. But it's one thing to know you should "be safe" when kayaking; it's quite another to undertand just what that means on a practical level.


As part of our research on the most common recreational kayak safety gear, we asked our fellow paddlers for their list of must-have kayaking safety equipment. What follows are the most widely used items, along with a few that may be surprising. Please note that this equipment list is geared primarily to recreational paddling (e.g., flat water, smaller bodies of water), though we do touch on a few sea kayak safety gear items. Sea kayaking and whitewater kayaking -- and, for that matter, SUPing and surfing -- bring their own unique challenges and risks, and we do not explore them in this article.


Kayaking Safety Gear Vs Kayaking Safely


Before we jump in, it's also important to clarify that we're only covering kayaking safety gear in this article, meaning those tangible items you bring onboard or wear while kayaking. We'll tackle the issue of kayaking safety (e.g., knowing how to self-rescue, filing a float plan) in a separate post. It is worth noting here, however, that the US-based paddling industry is working to raise awareness around issues of paddling safety among paddlesports dealers, manufacturers and consumers. They recently released this short