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Kayaking Safety Rules & Regulations For A Better Paddling Experience

Mark Armstrong
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Whether you’re just starting out or you think of yourself as a bit of a pro, it’s always worth going over safety rules for kayaking – even if you think you already know them.

Following safety advice can be extremely important for any activity, but especially for kayaking, where failure to follow the rules could be deadly.

We have put this short guide together with some kayak safety tips that you might want to consider the next time you plan to head out on the water.

Kayaking Safety Rules - Pinterest ImagePin

11 Kayaking Safety Tips For Newbies (And Experts!)

1: Always Wear A PFD

A PFD (Personal Flotation Device) can be one of the most important pieces of safety equipment to have while kayaking, as it can help to save your life.

In most circumstances, it’s the law to have a wearable PFD in the correct size on board your kayak. But it’s recommended that you wear it at all times while underway. Children (federal law means under 13s, but some states vary) are required to wear theirs at all times.

2: Dress Appropriately

Whenever and wherever you plan to kayak it can be important to dress for the conditions. This can mean wearing a wetsuit or drysuit if it’s cold.

Sometimes the water will still be cold even if the air is not, so you may still need cold water gear in summer conditions, depending on the type of water.

Generally, if the water is colder than 60 degrees you’ll probably need a wetsuit. The same rule applies if the combined air and water temperature is under 120 degrees.

Remember to dress for a capsize and wear something that you can easily swim in if necessary.

3: Avoid Alcohol

As well as being dangerous, kayaking while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is against the law in the United States and you could face a large fine and time in prison. You could face additional penalties, such as the loss of your driver’s license, depending on your state’s laws.

4: Stick To Your Skill Level

One way to minimize the risks of accidents and injuries is to paddle within your limits. You’ll usually know yourself the types of water you can comfortably and safely handle, so it can be safer for yourself and others not to take unnecessary risks by attempting something that’s beyond your skill level.

This might mean postponing your trip if the conditions are too rough or water levels are too high, for example.

Understandably, everyone generally wants to improve their skills, but you’ll probably find that it’s safer to do this when the conditions are less dangerous or you’re in a more controlled environment, such as with an experienced paddler/tutor who can show you the ropes.

Learn more in our Kayak Theory section

5: Carry Safety Equipment

Having certain equipment with you on your kayak can be useful if things don’t go to plan. Items such as a throw line, whistle, first-aid kit, waterproof flashlight, a compact bilge pump, and sponge can be handy to have on board.

If you’re paddling at night, there may be other items that you’re required by law to carry, such as an electric distress light or three handheld red flares to meet Visual Distress Signal requirements for night use.

6: Know The Rules

No matter where you’re paddling, it can be important to know the local rules and regulations before you set off. If you’re paddling in coastal waters, you may have to know federal boating regulations as well as state laws.

Some state parks and national parks may have additional or different regulations that you need to follow.

7: Stay Visible

Because of their low design, kayaks can sometimes be pretty difficult to see. This means it can be important to wear highly visible clothing and/or have brightly colored accessories.

Adding a safety flag can be a good idea to increase your visibility and add some extra height to your vessel. This can be useful if you’re paddling or fishing in locations where there might be a lot of other boating traffic, as it can help larger vessels to see you.

Similarly, if you’re paddling in low light conditions, a light can be useful. In many places, usually between dusk and dawn, a light is often necessary to meet regulations.

8: Share Your Float Plan

Preparing a float plan should be something you do before every kayaking trip, as this can make it easier for rescue teams to find you if they need to. Your float plan should detail your intended route and the time you expect to return or reach your destination.

You should leave your float plan with someone who is remaining on land. This can be a family member, a friend, or someone else you trust who will be able to notify the coast guard or relevant authorities if you don’t return.

Remember to let the person know when you’ve arrived or returned safely, so the float plan can be closed.

9: Know Your Boat

As you’ll know there are various types of kayaks designed for different purposes, so it can be safer to stick within the intended purposes of your boat. For example, it’s generally not recommended to race through a whitewater stream in a sit-on-top kayak that’s designed for flatwater, as it probably won’t go well.

Knowing what your boat’s built for can help you stay safer on the water, as it can minimize risks.

10: Paddle With A Friend

Paddling with a friend can be safer if anything goes wrong, as you can help each other in the event of a capsize. It also means there is another person with you who can raise the alarm if necessary, for example, if there’s an accident.

Paddling with a friend is not always essential, especially if you’re in an area where there are lots of other water users around and you’re close to shore. But you may find that if you’re planning to paddle in remote areas, rapids, or if you’re sea kayaking, having a buddy or two with you might be a good idea.

11: Practice Re-Entry And Self-Rescue Skills

If you can’t get back into your kayak safely while on the water, you might want to stay close enough to shore so that you can swim back with your boat.

However, knowing how to self-rescue and re-enter your kayak on the water can be essential in certain conditions. Climbing back on to your sit-on-top yak can be easier than trying to get back into a sit-inside.

Video: Self-rescue | Kayak Re-entry

Sit-insides may also require the cockpit to be emptied if it’s filled with water during the capsize. You might find that a paddle float can help stabilize you and provide additional buoyancy so that you can get back into your boat.

Video: Kayak Paddle Float Self Rescue

If you’re in a whitewater or sea kayak, you may want to practice your rolls before heading out, so that you’re better prepared if you do capsize.

Video: How To Eskimo Roll A Kayak

Wrapping Up

Hopefully, you’ve found these tips to be a helpful reminder for how to stay safe on your future kayaking adventures. Remember to always wear your PFD (and suitable clothing) and make sure you tell someone where you’re headed and when you hope to return.

Do you have any other tips you want to share? Leave us a comment. If you want to share this with your buddies, feel free.

2 thoughts on “Kayaking Safety Rules & Regulations For A Better Paddling Experience”

  1. You got my attention when you said that to save your life, it is important to have pieces of safety equipment such as a PFD. My husband and I wanted to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary by going on a trip. We are interested in renting a kayak and go on fishing trips after. We will be sure to always have the right safety items and remember all your tips to keep ourselves safe.


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