Sea Kayaking:Safety and Kit

Trip Considerations and Kit List

Sea touring is not considered hazardous, can be undertaken by all age groups and provides opportunities for visiting otherwise inaccessible islands perhaps with a little bit of adventure thrown in. It is, however, safe only if appropriate precautions are taken and requisite gear carried either by individuals or as group equipment. In this respect it has much in common with hill walking. A risk assessment, however brief, should be a normal prerequisite to group trips, with briefing of the group by the leader as necessary. Weather conditions and strong tidal streams are major considerations in any plan for touring off the west coast.

The list presumes a suitable kayak and paddle


  • Medical kit
  • Mobile phone
  • Spare paddle
  • Buoyancy aid
  • Spray deck
  • Tow line
  • Head torch
  • Spare batteries
  • Whistle

Group Equipment

  • First aid kit
  • Flares
  • VHF radio
  • Portable pump
  • GPS
  • Repair kit
  • Emergency box
  • Tidal info
  • Weather info
  • Charts/maps


Foul weather clothing for both in and out of the kayak e.g. pitching tents, moving gear to and from boat. Normally comprises wellies, waterproof trousers or salopettes and semi-dry cag with hood. Waterproof breathable gear is more comfortable. Although unnecessary for most summer paddling it should be carried on extended trips in some form.

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping mat
  • Dry bags
  • Spare clothing


  • Snack food
  • Water
  • Vacuum flask
  • Stove/fuel
  • Cooking pans
  • Utensils/cutlery
  • Ready use basics
  • Lighter/matches
  • Food for trip
  • Cleaning gear

General & Optional

  • Tote bag
  • Fire lighting material
  • Camera
  • Binoculars

Some paddlers travel very light and others would take the kitchen sink if possible. Trial and occasional error will determine what each individual prefers.

Mandatory Safety Equipment/Adverse Weather Procedure

Our club has a good safety record but that does not mean we cannot reduce the probability of incidents still further. It is considered prudent to expand the information in the documents Trip Considerations and Kit List (Nov 08) and Touring Requirements and Abilities (April 09) to give clear instruction on what must be carried on day/multi day expeditions both at sea and on fresh water lochs. The following is recommended practice for all except close inshore training and short paddles under instruction.

All individuals are expected to carry yachting type coastal flares of the hand held design; 1 x red, 1 x orange smoke as a minimum. A red 350 metre parachute flare is also recommended for ‘regulars’. A whistle and head torch/strobe must also be carried together with spare clothing (unless wearing a dry or wet suit) as a matter of course. The hand flares, whistle and torch/strobe must be carried in or attached to the buoyancy aid.

Other pieces of kit that regulars should consider obtaining in due course are;

VHF radio – for kayakers the submersible type is probably best. Guidance and training in their use can be arranged as necessary. Waterproof radios are available around £90 and submersible around £150. VHF hand held does not have a long range but can be invaluable in situations where shore stations, other vessels or aircraft are in reasonable proximity. They also receive weather broadcasts where location is favourable to reception.

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) – The title says it all and is only for use in situations of dire emergency since once it is triggered, reception via satellite is virtually guaranteed and the resulting response is automatic i.e. emergency services are scrambled. The devices work anywhere in the world and there is a registration scheme for owners. One of the best and cheapest for our purpose is the McMurdo Fastfind 210 Personal Locator Beacon with GPS (transmit only) at a cost of £200. The device weighs 150grm, has a battery life of 5 years and transmits on a monitoring and a homing frequency with GPS position transmitted to increase response speed, hence the name. The alternative to an EPIRB is SPOT (see Geoff) at around £90 plus annual subscription of £90.

Strobe Light – a waterproof strobe light. Example is the ACR C-Strobe with a visibility of 2 miles in all directions on 2 x AA batteries at a cost of £23.

Tow Line – Suitable for sea use. These can be fixed permanently to a kayak or fastened round the waist of the paddler.

It is the responsibility of every individual to remain in close proximity to leader/group in poor conditions to enable communication. This is fundamental to risk reduction and response to any casualty situation. In conditions where spoken communication is difficult or impossible it is proposed to use two whistle signals.

One long blast: Meaning – You are too far away from me.

Action   –    Close up (or wait if someone has dropped back)

Two long blasts: Meaning – I have (or have seen) a problem.

Action  –  All go to assist

Where a member of a group cannot for whatever reason carry on paddling (two whistle blasts), the first action of the group, will be to close up to the casualty and either support and tow or, if there is sufficient sea room, raft up to consider/agree actions. Appropriate actions may vary but scenarios will be discussed in training. Handling/rescue of an unconscious (or otherwise unable to participate) casualty will be added to the self-rescue and buddy rescue requirements in the pool and open water.

It is quite possible that having purchased some of the above equipment you will never use it because your skill and judgement have kept you safe. That is exactly what is intended. If however you are involved in an incident you may well be grateful that you are fully kitted up.