Paddlers Safety Checklists and Equipment
If you do not know how to use any of the equipment, get instruction before you set out.
- Kayak & canoe appropriate for conditions, with flotation bags or bulkheads
- Clothing appropriate for conditions with extra layers
- Life jacket/personal flotation device (PFD) with whistle, emergency strobe light and signal mirror attached
- Sunglasses and safety strap
- Sun hat
- Spray skirt
- Bilge pump or bailer
- Spare paddle
- Paddle float
- Food and water
- Rain gear and hat
- Dry bags
- Fog horn
- VHF marine radio
- Weather radio
- First aid kit
- Kayak and canoe repair kit
- Multipurpose repair tool
- Local charts
- Deck compass
- Tide chart
- Opt: Vacuum bottle (hot drink)
Whether you are a new or seasoned paddler, there are a few items of etiquette and rules of navigation to be aware of before venturing out on the water. Use these lists to plan a trip. Remember that no list can keep you safe: You must be familiar with and practice safety and rescue techniques. Instructors, guides, and clubs can provide this training.
Before you leave the house:
- Plan a route appropriate for the experience level of your group; use navigational charts; identify possible danger zones and emergency evacuation options.
- Find out what land, if any, is open to the public.
- In cold weather, dress for water temperature rather than air temperature; consider wearing a wet suit or dry suit.
- Know your group’s medical needs, abilities, and expectations.
- Agree on your group’s method for making decisions.
- Write down emergency phone numbers and VHF radio channels.
- Coast Guard emergency information: VHF Channel 16 or 9.
- Listen to the local marine forecast and paddling conditions such as water temperature, wind, tide range and currents.
- Review paddlers etiquette
- Complete a float plan.
Before you leave the launch
All group members should gather near the launch site and review these questions together (avoid tying up the ramp!)
- Basic paddling: Does every participant know strokes, braces, and rescue techniques?
- Course planning: Does everybody know the intended route, break locations, emergency bailouts, campsites, distances to be covered, contingency plans, and safe landing options?
- Leadership and decision-making: Is someone in charge in case of danger? Who will make decisions about course changes?
- Safety: Does everyone know about staying together, how to communicate with others on the water, what to do if someone capsizes?
- Procedures: Do trip members know how to avoid getting lost or separated from the group, and what to do if someone else gets lost or separated?
- Outfitting: Is each canoe and kayak equipped with standard safety gear?
- Tides: Is everyone familiar with the local tides and how they will affect conditions
- Launching: Is all gear packed and are kayaks and canoes ready to be launched promptly?
Once on the water
- Visibility: Assume that other boaters cannot see you. Stay out of well-traveled areas, keep your group tight. Use brightly colored boats and life jackets, and wave your paddle in the air to increase visibility.
- Communication: Use visual communications, a VHF marine radio, a fog horn, and/or a whistle to communicate with other vessels.
- Navigation: Use a chart, compass, and other navigation tools to predict danger areas and keep track of your course.
- Group ability: Paddle only to the ability of your slowest member. If necessary, change your course.
- Weather: Because weather can change quickly, watch for incoming storms, changes in weather patterns, and cloud formations.
- Ocean conditions: Keep track of wind-driven waves, rebounding and/or refracting waves, tidal currents, and the effects of sea bottom on the surface.
- Hydration: To avoid dehydration, drink enough fluids; plan on at least three quarts for a full-day trip.
- The elements: Protect yourself from the sun, the cold, and the water.
- Medical needs: Remain attentive to any medical issues that might arise on the water (sea sickness, hypothermia, blisters, sunburn, heat exhaustion, and so on).
- Shoreside: Most land on the coast is private. Land only on public property or where you have permission.
- Leave No Trace: Always.
Content last updated December 2019.