The following is not a definitive list and it should be taken together with any knowledge you have of the area you are kayaking in. The lists will provide some guidance, and no more, as to how to equip and prepare yourself for kayaking. The providers do not accept any liability for omissions or inclusions. This guide is meant to help.



SUPPORT THE RESCUE SERVICES. You never know when you might need them.


1. With knowledge.

2. With techniques.

3. With kit.

There are two kinds of safety.

1. Primary safety. Where you stay out of trouble and is the better option.

2. Secondary safety. Which is where you get out of trouble that could have been avoided by implementing primary safety. Things do go wrong and sometimes there is very little you can do about it other than to minimise the risk, mitigate the circumstances and manage the incident, which could include calling for outside assistance.

ALL the kit is of secondary importance compared to the initial decision of whether to launch or no. If the conditions are borderline for your experience, then do not lauch, if the conditions worsen while you are on the water, then you will be beyond your capabilities. If going in a group, the group should paddle in conditions suited to the least experienced member of the group. Expanding your experience is also important, but only do it in controlled situations with other, more experienced kayakers present in support. If you don’t push your boundaries, you will never progress, but do this is small increments, not big leaps. IF IN DOUBT, don’t launch. If conditions deteriorate, abort.


The first part of safety lies with the paddler themselves. Physical and mental preparation for the water is as important as your kayak and your kit. Ensure you are in good shape and are happy with the situation before you launch. Relax. A paddler who is tense and unsure of the situation is more likely to get into a situation that they cannot control.

Know your kit and how to use it properly.

Before you launch, know the weather, the tides and the sea state. Are they expected to change? For the better? Or for the worse? Select your launch or make your decision accordingly.


Paddling does leave you exposed t the elements and while you are active keeping warm is relatively easy, once you sit still the cold can seep in very quickly. It is important to dress for the conditions prevailing. The air temperature and the water temperature must be taken into consideration, as must strong sun or driving rain. If you are uncomfortable you will be more liable to make mistakes which could easily lead to a dangerous situation developing.

Wetsuits can be worn in mild conditions, extra clothing on top might be required.

Breathable drysuits are the best choice as they will provide ease of movement, keep the wind out, allow perspiration caused through activity to disapate and provide a waterproof barrier. It must be remembered though, a drysuit provides no warmth or insulation whatever. Proper insulated and breathable underlayers must be worn with one.

In deciding what to wear, think of taking a dunking and prepare for it. If you go under prepared, cold water could leave an able bodied person incapable of even righting their kayak and climbing back aboard. A rough rule of thumb is: if the water is so cold that you couldn’t swim in it comfortable for 30 minutes, then you need to dress for immersion.

Footwear is just as important as your upper layers.  Choose a comfortable over shoe. Neoprene divers type booties are a good choice, these have a strong sole for use ashore and provide good feel for paddling. Buy a pair that allows you to wear good, insulated socks beneath without cutting off the circulation. Softer soled footwear is better for kayaking than harder soles types as you get more feedback.

Hands can suffer in the cold too. Paddling requires the use of your hands, so it makes sense to keep them warm. Paddling actually promotes circulation, so you may find that it is only when fishing that your hands get cold. Consider a pair of neoprene gloves that you can paddle in and also put on to keep your fingers warmer when fishing. Paddle mits (pogies) are excellent for keeping your hands warm when paddling, but they can be a bit cumbersome when you put your paddle down.

The following is a kit list drawn up in conjunction with the RNLI safety Officers and is what they would like us to carry as a minimum. It is not in order of importance. It is ALL of equal importance.

Clothing as above to suit the conditions. Wetsuit or drysuit with underlayers, or cag and paddling pants.

1. Buoyancy Aid, suitable for the activity and which fits properly.

2. Pea less whistle attached to the buoyancy aid.

3. Hat. You lose the majority of your heat through the top of your head. In sun, a hat can help prevent heatstroke. A wide brimmed one for the summer is a good idea, and insulated one for winter.

4. Compass,  checked for error (that it points in the right direction) – no interference from other kit. A GPS can be carried in addition to a compass, not in place of it. A compass requires no power source to work, a GPS does and so can fail.

5. Chart of the area. A photocopy laminated is perfectly acceptable and legal for your own use.

6. VHF Radio. Waterproofed and with fully charged battery on the person, not on the kayak.

7. Mobile phone in waterproof case as backup to VHF, or as a minimum means of communication.

8. Paddle leash. It is your only means of propulsion. Hang on to it.

9. Blunt tipped rescue knife on your PFD or where it is easily accessible. To cut yourself free in entrapped in lines, anchor line or loose cordage.

10. Basic first aid kit. Learn how to perform first aid.

11. Suncream. (Lip salve too?)

12. Sunglasses.

13. Waterproof torch with fresh batteries. Even in the summer. Many rescues start in daylight, but extend into the hours of darkness. A torch will help rescuers to locate you.

14. Drink and food.

15. Change of clothes in a dry bag.

16. Space blanket – can be carried in first aid kit.

17. Towel, in with clothes in dry bag.


Ensure it is seaworthy. Check there are no leaks or damage and that everything is in place and working before you launch – have put the hatch back on properly?

You can use the dry bag (or two) to provide extra buoyancy within the hull by keeping air in it when you close it up. Alternatively, pool noodles or other closed cell foam can be installed into the hull to provide positive buoyancy in case the hull is flooded.

REMEMBER: Experience is something which is gained immediately after the first time you need it.

WSA would like to thank Simon Everett for taking the time to prepare this article for us.