Paddlers Safety Checklists and Equipment

Basic Trip
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
  • Sunscreen
  • Spray skirt
  • Bilge pump or bailer
  • Paddle
  • Spare paddle
  • Paddle float
  • Food and water
  • Rain gear and hat
  • Dry bags
  • Flares
  • Fog horn
  • VHF marine radio
  • Weather radio
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight/headlamp
  • Kayak and canoe repair kit
  • Multipurpose repair tool
  • Local charts
  • Deck compass
  • Tide chart
  • Opt: Vacuum bottle (hot drink)
Additional Checklists
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.