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Safety Gear for Kayakers

Posted by Darren Bush on 4/27/2013 to Kayak

So you want to buy a cool new boat. You’ve already figured out the value of buying a quality paddle, picked out a spray skirt, and solved the transportation issue. You can see the prices starting to add up. The last thing you want to do is invest in some gear you hope to never have to use. But there’s this nagging voice in the back of your head that keeps suggesting a few more things to add to the list before you can feel good about heading out onto the water.

I subscribe to what I call the “protective amulet to ward off evil” theory of safety gear: That which you prepare for rarely happens. And while I intend to talk about safety gear you can and should buy, the most important tool is knowledge. When the time comes to act, you don’t want to be thinking about what to do, you want to be doing something. With that in mind, two classes I recommend whole-heartedly are Kayak Fundamentals and Wilderness First Aid. In a fundamentals class you will not only increase your proficiency in basic strokes, you will also practice assisted and paddle float self-rescues. Wilderness First Aid will give you the skills to respond to emergencies where there is no medical aid immediately available.

Once you have knowledge, you need to start thinking about gear. Without question, a Personal Floatation Device is the most basic requirement. Don’t just buy one, wear it every time you are on the water. I think every PFD should be equipped with an ACR C-Light. This small, unobtrusive, under $10 light has a fresnelled lens that causes the light to flicker when you are on the water, and is visible from a surprisingly long distance. Even if you don’t plan on paddling at night, knowing you have it means you can linger over a perfect sunset without worrying about getting off the water. The other simple thing every PFD should have is a whistle. It is the best tool for attracting attention during the day. The other three things that always go out with me are a Paddle Float, a Bilge Pump and a First Aid Kit. With a paddle float and your paddle, you can stabilize your boat and get back in on your own. The bilge pump makes it much easier to get the water out of your kayak after you get back in. And a basic first aid kit comes in handy for the scrapes, cuts and burns that often accompany life on the water.

Having covered the basics you always want to take with you, there are a few extra things I usually carry: a cell phone in a dry bag, a waterproof VHF marine radio, a rescue knife (very important for cutting salami), a compass (nice when the fog rolls in), small hand-launch flares, a few Cliff bars, and some water.

Being safe is mostly about attitude. When you start thinking about how to prepare yourself, you are also thinking about potential problems that happen on the water. This will often lead you into making better choices, so you don’t have to use any of this stuff in the first place.

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