What Safety Gear Should I Have In My Canoe Or Kayak?



If you’re planning on heading out onto the water in a canoe or kayak, it’s essential to have the right safety gear with you. From life jackets to communication devices, having the proper equipment can make all the difference in ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience. In this article, we will explore the essential items that every canoe or kayak enthusiast should have on board to stay prepared for any unforeseen circumstances. So, before you set out on your next adventure, let’s make sure you have all the necessary safety gear to keep you protected on the water.

What Safety Gear Should I Have In My Canoe Or Kayak?

Life Jackets

Life jackets are an essential piece of safety gear for anyone venturing out on the water in a canoe or kayak. These devices are designed to help keep you afloat in case of an emergency, and they come in a variety of types to suit different water activities and personal preferences.

Types of Life Jackets

There are several types of life jackets to choose from, including:

  1. Type I: These are the most buoyant and suitable for offshore use or when boating in rough waters.
  2. Type II: These are less buoyant than Type I but still provide adequate flotation. They are commonly used for recreational boating.
  3. Type III: These are more comfortable and lightweight, making them ideal for canoeing or kayaking. They are designed for calm waters.
  4. Type IV: These are throwable devices such as buoyant cushions or rings. They are meant to be used as a backup flotation device.
  5. Type V: These are specialized life jackets for specific activities, such as kayaking or windsurfing. They offer increased mobility.

When choosing a life jacket, consider the type of water you will be paddling in and the level of comfort and mobility you desire.

Proper Fit and Sizing

Ensuring a proper fit and sizing for your life jacket is crucial for its effectiveness. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Make sure the life jacket is the right size for your weight, and check the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Adjust the straps and buckles so the life jacket fits snugly without restricting your movements.
  • Test the fit by lifting your arms overhead. The life jacket should not ride up to your chin or face.
See also  How Do I Adjust The Height Of Kayak Stabilizers?

Remember to also check the life jacket’s label for any specific washing or maintenance instructions to ensure its longevity and continued effectiveness.


Storing your life jacket properly is important to maintain its quality and readiness for use. When not in use, keep your life jacket in a dry and well-ventilated area to prevent mold or mildew. It’s also a good idea to inspect it regularly for any signs of wear or damage and replace it if necessary. Additionally, be sure to store your life jacket away from direct sunlight, as prolonged exposure can weaken the material.


The paddle is an essential tool for maneuvering and propelling your canoe or kayak. Choosing the right paddle and having a spare can make a significant difference in your paddling experience.

Choosing the Right Paddle

When selecting a paddle, consider the following factors:

  • Material: Paddles can be made of aluminum, fiberglass, carbon fiber, or wood. Each material has its own benefits and drawbacks in terms of weight, durability, and cost.
  • Length: The length of your paddle depends on your height and the width of your boat. A paddle that is too short or too long can lead to inefficient strokes and discomfort.
  • Blade Shape: Paddle blades come in different shapes, such as symmetrical, asymmetrical, or spoon-shaped. Each shape affects the paddle’s efficiency and maneuverability.
  • Feathering: Some paddles allow you to adjust the angle of the blades relative to each other. Feathered blades can reduce wind resistance during forward strokes.

It’s advisable to test different paddles before making a purchase to find the one that feels most comfortable and efficient for your paddling style.

Spare Paddle

Having a spare paddle is essential in case of paddle breakage or loss during your trip. Store the spare paddle securely in your canoe or kayak where it is easily accessible. Make sure it is in good condition and similar in length and style to your primary paddle for consistency in paddling technique.

Communication Devices

Having reliable communication devices is essential for staying safe on the water and getting help in case of emergencies.

Cell Phone

Carrying a cell phone in a waterproof case or dry bag is a convenient way to call for help in case of an emergency. Make sure your phone is fully charged and has a waterproof case that allows you to use the touchscreen and access important apps or emergency numbers.


A whistle is a simple yet effective signaling device that can be heard over long distances. It is recommended to use a pealess whistle, as they are less likely to get clogged with water. Attach the whistle to your life jacket or PFD (personal flotation device) for easy access.

See also  Can I Use A Bilge Pump In A Canoe Or Kayak?

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

A personal locator beacon (PLB) is a small electronic device that sends out a distress signal when activated. PLBs are registered with the coast guard or rescue coordination centers and can greatly assist search and rescue operations. Keep your PLB in a readily accessible location and ensure it is fully charged before each trip.

Navigation Tools

Navigating on the water requires the use of reliable tools to ensure you can find your way and stay on course.

Map and Compass

A map and compass are essential tools for navigation. Familiarize yourself with the waterways you’ll be paddling in and carry a waterproof map of the area. Learn basic navigation skills, such as reading coordinates, taking bearings, and plotting your course.


A GPS (Global Positioning System) device can provide accurate and real-time information about your location, speed, and distance traveled. It can be especially helpful in unfamiliar or complex water systems. Ensure your GPS device is waterproof and has spare batteries or a backup power source.

Marine Radio

Carrying a marine radio allows you to communicate with other boaters and call for help in case of an emergency. Marine radios have specific frequencies for communication on the water and can be a valuable tool for receiving weather updates and emergency alerts.

What Safety Gear Should I Have In My Canoe Or Kayak?

Visual Signaling Devices

Visual signaling devices can greatly enhance your chances of being spotted by rescuers in case of an emergency.


Flares are a common visual signaling device used on the water. They emit a bright light that can be seen from a distance. Ensure you have flares that are suitable for marine use, are in date, and stored in a watertight container.

Signal Mirror

A signal mirror is a lightweight and compact device that uses reflected sunlight to attract attention. Learn how to use a signal mirror effectively by aiming the reflected light towards potential rescuers or passing boats.

Strobe Light

A strobe light can be an effective signaling device during low light or nighttime conditions. These small and waterproof lights emit a bright and flashing light that can be seen from afar. Make sure your strobe light is in working order and easily accessible.

Bilge Pump

A bilge pump is a valuable tool for removing water that accumulates in your canoe or kayak. It is particularly useful in situations where water enters your boat due to rough conditions or capsizing.

Types and Usage

There are different types of bilge pumps available, including hand-operated pumps and electric pumps. Hand-operated pumps are lightweight and portable, making them ideal for small boats and personal use. Electric pumps are more powerful and can quickly remove large amounts of water. Familiarize yourself with the instructions and operation of your chosen bilge pump, and keep it easily accessible in case of emergency.

See also  How Do Kayak Stabilizers Affect Kayak Surfing?

What Safety Gear Should I Have In My Canoe Or Kayak?

First Aid Kit

A well-stocked first aid kit is imperative for handling minor injuries and providing initial care before professional medical help arrives.

Essential Supplies

Ensure your first aid kit includes the following:

  • Adhesive bandages in various sizes
  • Sterile gauze pads
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Adhesive tape
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Disposable gloves
  • Pain relievers
  • Antihistamines
  • Anti-diarrhea medication
  • Emergency blanket

Waterproof Container

Keep your first aid kit in a waterproof container or bag to protect its contents from water damage. Regularly check your first aid kit for expired medications or supplies and replace them as needed.

Throw Bag

A throw bag is a rescue tool used to assist someone who has fallen overboard or is in distress in the water.

Purpose and Usage

A throw bag consists of a floating rope that is coiled in a small bag. In case of an emergency, you can throw the bag to the person in distress to provide them with a floating line to grab onto. To use it effectively, practice your throwing technique to ensure accuracy and distance. Keep the throw bag in a readily accessible location, such as the cockpit of your kayak or easily reachable in your canoe.

Repair Kit

Carrying a repair kit allows you to quickly fix any minor damages to your canoe or kayak that could otherwise hinder your ability to paddle.

Essential Tools

A repair kit should include the following tools:

  • Multi-tool or pocket knife
  • Sandpaper or abrasive pad
  • Marine-grade adhesive
  • Zip ties
  • Spare hardware (nuts, bolts, screws)
  • Bailing wire

Patch Material

Include patch material specific to your boat’s material, whether it be PVC, polyethylene, fiberglass, or wood. These materials are typically provided by the boat manufacturer or can be purchased separately.

Duct Tape

Duct tape can be a temporary fix for small leaks or cracks until a more permanent repair can be made. Include a small roll of duct tape in your repair kit for quick and temporary solutions.

Dry Bags

Dry bags are essential for keeping your personal belongings, electronics, and other gear dry during your paddling adventures.

Types and Sizes

Dry bags come in various sizes and styles, including roll-top closures or zippered closures. Choose a size that fits your gear and ensure it is completely waterproof. Consider using multiple dry bags to organize and protect your items.

Waterproofing Techniques

In addition to using dry bags, it’s advisable to take extra precautions to waterproof important items, such as wallets, phones, or cameras. Consider using waterproof cases or bags within your dry bags for added protection. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to keeping your valuables dry.

By following these guidelines and ensuring you have the necessary safety gear, you can enjoy your canoe or kayak trips with confidence and peace of mind. Remember, safety should always be a top priority when venturing out onto the water. Happy paddling!