Harken

Self Test for Kayaking Safety

Recreational Kayakers Companion Guide

By Michael Gray

The last segment seemed to be widely read and brought out some great feedback from readers as well as many horror stories. Some of these stories bore witness to many potential accidents and some were very honest accountings of personal experiences that could have gone very bad.

Personally, I have to give a nod to those designers out there who have given us a quiver of recreational kayaks to choose from. They've brought a variety of kayaks to the mainstream public and made a quiet sport popular. People are paddling and leaving their jetski in the garage. I say, "Cool!" Now, let's take a look at making our recreational kayaking experiences safer.

  • First, let's have a look at the boats themselves. Very few of them have adequate flotation to support your weight when they're swamped. That's a snap to fix. Call your local paddling shop and ask if they have flotation bags that will work in your boat - for both ends. It won't help you if only one end floats, unless you're trying to create a new buoy out there on the lake. If the shop tells you that you don't need them, then you know more about it than they do. Trust your gut, call someplace else or consult the manufacturer for recommended float bags. Generally speaking, it's an investment of less than $100-very cheap life insurance. Okay, now you have a boat that won't sink so easily. Let's continue on the common sense theme, shall we?

  • Your PFD: wearing it won't help all that much if it doesn't fit, so be sure that its snugged up enough that it doesn't slide off over your head if you go in the drink. Remember that it will stretch a far bit when its wet, so snug it up until you feel your breathing restricted a bit. Make sure you've got a good whistle attached to it in case you need to give that 3 blast signal that says, "help".

  • Make sure you're dressed for the water temp - take a look at "Dressing for the four Seasons" for the low-down on safe paddling fashion.

  • Have a dunk kit in the boat: a good drybag with dry fleece, a way to make fire, some sugar candy and a cell phone. I like to have a thermos with hot chocolate along on cool weather trips. There's never a down side to having that.

  • A simple tow rig for simple short distance retrievals. You never know when you may have to help someone in a sudden wind or tow someone else's swamped boat to shore while they hold onto the back of your boat. You can make one out of 20 feet of floating line attached to a cheap waist pack that you can wrap around your PFD or buy a similar rig. It should be simple and easy to use with cold hands. Its not intended for tows over a few hundred meters - remember what these kayaks are designed for.

Remember any good boat can be made better with some forethought and the development of good judgement. Let's have some fun out there!


Michael Gray writes from his winter kayak base on the island of Roatan in Honduras. You can access his company, Uncommon Adventures on the web at www.uncommonadv.com).

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