Kayaking is a fun and exciting water sport. Whether you are maneuvering your watercraft down a quiet and peaceful stream, or are paddling through rough or white waters to enjoy the thrill of fighting the waves and currents, this is a sport whose challenges must be respected, because it can get dangerous out there for the unprepared.
The dangers associated with kayaking can be reduced and in some cases even eliminated if you follow a few important safety tips every time you get in your boat. The tips below will help you to have both a fun and safe experience while out on the water.
1. Wear a life jacket
Every time you go out in your kayak you should have a life jacket on. The American Canoe Association states 48% of kayaking accidents that result in severe injuries or a fatality happen when the occupant was NOT wearing a life jacket.
The life jacket you wear does not have to be one that is either bulky or restricts your movement. Twenty-first century designed life jackets are both thinner and less constricting than they once were. What you will have to make sure of is that you have a life jacket that fits you properly. If the jacket you are wearing is too large then it may slip off if you end up in the water.
2. Always check the local weather for the area you will be kayaking before you head out
A large number of kayak accidents happen because kayakers got caught in a storm or other bad weather while they were out on the water. Know what the local weather is supposed to be on your trip before you leave.
Don’t overestimate your ability to navigate rough water. A rip tide, big wind, or unexpected current can easily outgun even the strongest and most fit people out there. It is not to be messed with. As you see on all the beach signs in Hawaii, directed at surfers, “When in Doubt, Don’t go Out!”
3. Be mindful of water currents
Water currents can be very strong, even in water that is only a few feet deep. You need to know about the currents in the streams, rivers or larger bodies of water you will be kayaking in.
Even seasoned kayakers can find navigating in currents difficult. They allow you to lose bearing and control of your craft, and require you to exert much more energy than you normally would, creating fatigue. The combination can make a situation spiral out of control.
One of the best ways to be cognizant of currents is to ask around before you go out. Locals will quickly be able to tell you if currents are an issue on the body of water you plan to be on, and can point out where the current flows and what effect it will have on you.
If you get caught in a current, it is best to not fight it directly. Try to paddle generally perpendicular to the current to gradually escape it.
4. Stay close to shore when you are out on large bodies of water.
When you are out on a large body of water such as a lake or on the ocean waters it is imperative that you stay close to the shore. If you get too far out and/or lose sight of land you risk getting confused and not knowing which direction to head when you want to head back to shore. And if you are out on the ocean you could put yourself at a greater risk of shark encounters or more dangerous swells that could tip your watercraft over. Worse, you stand a greater chance of being completely alone out there should your kayak tip over because no one on shore will be able to see that you are in need of assistance.
5. Let someone know where you will be going
Before you go out in your kayak make sure that you tell someone where you are going and about how long you plan to be out on the water. If you are able to, try to have a buddy. The odds of one kayak being able to avoid a problem if something goes wrong, and help or find help, is high.
6. Consider a helmet
One of the greatest dangers in kayaking, if you are paddling down whitewater or potential whitewater, is in your kayak flipping over and risk of striking your head on something. Suffering a traumatic head injury could make you incapable of getting back in your watercraft, or able to swimming to safety. You should always wear a helmet if you are going to be kayaking down rivers or streams, and most especially if you planning to go whitewater kayaking.
7. Dress for the water temperatures.
If the water temperature is under 60°F (15°C) it is cold enough to cause water shock. Water shock occurs when you are immersed in the cold water. This condition could lead to confusion and can render you incapable of swimming to safety, or even getting back in your kayak.
To prevent water shock you should wear an appropriate paddling, which can include long sleeves or even a wet suit. If you are going to be kayaking in water that will be under 50°F (10°C) you definitely should be wearing a temperature appropriate wet or dry suit.
Don’t forget about the feet, which can often get cold faster because most kayaks have a small amount of water that gets in the cockpit. Consider some kayaking shoes, which can help insulate and give you traction in the event you need to walk on the shore.
8. Practice getting back in your kayak
One of the best things you can do is go out in water that is calm, such as swimming area at a lake and practice getting back into your kayak from the water. If you are tipped over when you are in a kayak you will need to be able to get back into your watercraft.
It can help also to have a buddy with you to tip your kayak over with you in it to practice what to do when the kayak rolls over. Not only can these safety practices be fun, they may also save your life in a time of crisis.
9. Do an equipment check before you head out
You should always know what condition your equipment is in before you head out for a day of fun on the water. Make sure that the plug is properly installed in your kayak and that your paddles are in good condition, This equipment check takes just a few minutes and can save your life.
10. Do not drink while you are on the water
Alcohol and water sports do not mix well. When you drink alcohol you impair your judgment and are more likely to take dangerous risks. Being under the influence increases the odds of a kayak accident by 60%. The best idea if you are kayaking and feel you could use a beer or something stronger is to wait until you are back on dry land before partaking.
11. Carry a whistle on you
It is important that you are able to get the attention of other people for whatever reason when you are out on the water. Having a whistle with you allows you to make a loud enough noise that can be heard over a long distance you if you are in trouble, and it can even get the attention of people in motorized vessels if they do not appear see you, such as in high wave conditions.
12. Make sure you are visible to others.
Wearing bright colored clothing in general, placing reflective tape on your paddles and kayak, and having a bright colored life jacket will help ensure that other people on the water or land will see you. Kayaks are the motorcycles of the waterways. People in cars often do not see people on motorcycles because motorcycles are smaller. People in motorized boats may not always see you in the kayak, so wear something bright that will catch their attention.
13. Respect the weight limits
Manufactures provide safe weight limits for each of their kayak models. Respect those limitations and do not overload your kayak.
14. Understand Your Surroundings
Knowing your surroundings is key. If you pull up on shore for a break, or have an issue and need to stop along the way, you need to understand the environment you are in. Additionally, some kayakers camp along the shore, which adds an entire element of needing to be prepared. Consider bringing some good bear spray if you are in a grizzly area, and understand what bugs and snakes might be around.
Go out and enjoy your kayak, but remember that a few moments of proper preparation can mean a you will be kayaking safely through both calm and choppy water for years to come.