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Rescue Gear

By Ken Whiting
Photos by Paul Villecourt

Whitewater Rescue Gear With today's shorter boats, the increasing variety of paddling activities, and the growing diversity of people getting into the sport, there is some lack of clarity and agreement around what gear paddlers should carry. Does it depend on the situation? Maybe, but it's probably best to always pack a basic rescue kit in your boat that you can beef up if a particular excursion calls for it. The effect of an extra two or three pounds will never extend beyond the psychological, and the gear isn't too expensive, so why not have it there just in case?

There have been times when we've felt great to be able to contribute to a rescue, and there have been others when we've felt and looked pretty unprofessional and irresponsible, not having even the basics for a rescue. The latter were situations where we either were not informed about what we should have, or we just made the decision not to bring any rescue gear because it was very unlikely that anything would happen. It's pretty simple to us now: if you always have at least the basic gear, you'll never be left wishing you had it.

So what should a basic kayaker's rescue kit look like? There's a plethora of name brand variation in rescue products, but the essentials are all very similar. The equipment you bring down will depend heavily on the type of river you're paddling.
Here are some of the most important pieces of gear to choose from.

  • Throw Rope
  • First Aid Kit
  • Tow Line
  • Breakdown Paddle
  • Whistle
  • Duct Tape
  • Pin Kit:
    Carabiners, Tubular Webbing, Prussic, Pulley, Knife

Something to keep in mind is that your PFD can also be an important piece of rescue gear. A good rescue vest will have a quick-release harness system. The chest harness is secured around the center of your PFD and should tighten independently of the straps that secure the PFD to you (i.e. the tightness of the PFD should not rely on the chest harness). The harness should have an easy quick-release system up front. You might also have a leash or "Cow's Tail," which has its own steel O-ring attached to the back of the harness and a lightweight carabiner at its other end, which should clip into a quick-release point on the front of the PFD.

The leash is usually stretchy tubular webbing so that it hugs your body and does not interfere with normal movement. It's intended to use as a quick means of clipping into a rope. Many people use the leash for towing boats, but the use of rescue gear for this kind of thing is not highly recommended. If you're going to use your leash for towing boats regularly, it's probably best not to use it in dangerous tethered rescues.

This article is an excerpt from Ken Whiting's recently revised book,
'The Ultimate Guide to Whitewater Kayaking - 2nd Edition'

Ken is a World Champion Kayaker and the author and producer of an award winning series of instructional kayaking books and videos. He was recognized by "Paddler Magazine" as one of their 'Paddlers of the Century'. For more information, visit

Ken's book 'Rolling A Kayak' and latest DVD, 'Recreational Kayaking: Essential Skills & Safety' are available in the Store! Along with his other popular DVD's like 'Ultimate Guide to Sea Kayaking'

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