Just as mountain biking has a ‘No Helmet, No Ride’ policy, we support a ‘No PFD, no paddle’ policy. A PFD is a Personal Flotation Device, often called a swim vest or lifejacket.
While you may want to flash your pecs as you paddle, we highly recommend making it a habit to always paddle wearing your PFD, regardless of how good a swimmer you may be. Buy a designed-for-kayaking PFD that fits you properly. The shoulder area should allow a full range of motion without chafing and straps must be able to tighten sufficiently to ensure that you won’t slip out of the PFD. It must have sufficient flotation to support your weight and, ideally, be in a high-visibility colour.
Should you swim, a PFD adds buoyancy to keep you afloat and it helps to keep you warm. If you’re walking on slippery rocks, the PFD will protect your back, chest and ribs should you fall.
A good PFD will last you for many years, especially if you take good care of it; rinsing it after being in salt water, storing out of direct sunlight and never compress your PFD underneath heavy objects.
Other safety basics include sun protection, hydration, suitable clothing, and common sense and good practice.
Out on the water, you’ll get roasted. Always wear a hat, lather yourself in sunscreen (even the underside of your arms!), protect your eyes from glare on the water by wearing sunglasses and cover those shoulders with a tee shirt or long-sleeved top. On a sit-on-top, your legs will be burnt unless you generously apply sunscreen or cover your legs.
While you may be surrounded by water, not all water is drinkable. Always take a bottle of drinking water with you (our kayaks have moulded-in bottle holders). It is also a good idea to pack some snacks, even if you only plan to be out for an hour. Situations change and those snacks and water may be useful.
Dress for the conditions (hot, cold, windy, rainy) and always prepare for unfavourable changes in the weather. This may mean adding a thermal top, rain jacket or wind shell to a dry bag, which you can stow securely on the deck or in the storage compartment.
Common sense and good practice
As the Darwin Awards have shown us, common sense can be in short supply. We recommend these habits as good practice.
- Keep your mobile phone with you in a waterproof pouch or dry bag. Load relevant emergency numbers onto your phone, like that of the NSRI, emergency services or coast guard.
- Always tell someone where you are going, what your plan is and how long you intend to be away.
- Before setting off, complete a ‘4-point check’ on your kayak making certain that you have all your kit, that the drain plug is closed, that the rudder (if applicable) is working properly and that there are no cracks or other damage to your kayak.
- Ideally, always paddle with someone else.
- If you’re heading out on open water (large dam, lake or the sea), check the weather forecast and tide timetables.
- Practice capsizing, turning your kayak over and getting back on to it so that this is second nature should you need to do it in an emergency situation. If you do capsize and are unable to get back on, stay with your kayak (hold on to it) and swim it back to shore. Shout / whistle / phone for help.
- A whistle and safety flares are worth taking along too, especially if you are out on a large body of water.
- For kayak fishing, adhere to regulations issued by relevant associations.