Kayaking Safety: Keep Yourself Safe on the Water

Kayaking Safety Keep Yourself Safe on the Water

Outdoor activities such as kayaking and canoeing can be enjoyed by people of all levels of expertise and ages.

However, performers of such challenging and exciting activities are certainly prone to injuries and open to several risks.

While there is nothing as peaceful as paddling a kayak in wide waters on a calm, sunny day, sudden weather changes can make for unfavorable hazardous conditions.

For this particular reason, it is important to have all the relevant knowledge about kayaking safety and the necessary equipment before you set out for an adventure.

With advanced preparation, you can easily avoid potential paddling hazards.

Here is an extensive guide to kayaking safety to help you get started:

Kayaking Safety Concerns

Following are some safety concerns involved in kayaking:

Incorrect Use of Personal Floatation Device (PFD)

man wearing a personal floating device

When it comes to kayaking, one of the biggest mistakes that paddlers make is not wearing life jackets when they are actively involved in the activity.

This also includes individuals who pack their PFDs but never wear them, along with people who wear them incorrectly.

If there is one kayaking safety tip to remember, it’s always wear your life vest and wear it correctly! This one simple step can help prevent many injuries, accidents and even unfortunate deaths.

Protecting Yourself

Always paddle with a life jacket on.

Remember, your PFD should fit you snugly without being too lose or too tight and you should be able to fasten it comfortably.


Dehydration during kayaking often occurs due to lack of water consumption and too much sun exposure.

Paddling activities such as kayaking takes up a lot of your energy, therefore it is essential that you remain hydrated at all times. Make sure that you carry water bottles with you on your trip.

The longer you plan to paddle, the more water you need to carry. Some signs of dehydration include confusion, fatigue and dizziness. You might also experience extreme thirst.

All these issues can negatively affect your ability to paddle.

Protecting Yourself

Don’t wait until you are extremely thirsty to drink water.

Carry ample water with you to last the trip and keep sipping on some liquid along the way to remain hydrated at all times.

Excessive Exposure to Sun

girl in kayak on the sun

One other danger that a lot of paddlers perceive as low risk is being exposed to direct sunlight for a long period of time.

While going on the lake for a quiet paddle might not seem that dangerous, excess sunlight can make it a high-risk situation. Being exposed to direct sunlight for about an hour is fine.

However, if you’re in the waters for longer than that, you will likely become subject to potential health dangers such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, dehydration and sunburn.

Remember, water reflects sunlight and eventually your skin has to suffer.

Protecting Yourself

Every time you go out for kayaking, make sure you apply plenty of sunscreen on all your body parts that are likely to be exposed to the sun.

Wearing a hat is also a great idea to get extra protection from sunlight.

Remember that even if the weather is cold and chilly, sun exposure can still be a safety concern.

Harsh Weather and Lightning

man in kayak on rainy day

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that kayaking during a storm isn’t the best idea. There might be times when you are already on the water and a storm starts.

While some drizzling is unlikely to put a kayaker in danger, as soon as you start see lightning or start hearing the sound of thunder, prepare to get out of the water.

Lightning and water are a deadly combination and being in the midst of it when the lightning strikes, raises your chances of getting electrocuted.

Protecting Yourself

As soon as you realize that a storm is coming your way, you need to try to get to the shore as quickly as possible. Do not hurry back in. Wait on dry land for the storm to completely settle down.

If you can help it, never attempt to paddle in harsh weather conditions.

Extreme rain and high winds can limit visibility and mobility and turn your relatively kayak into something far more dangerous and riskier.

Sweepers and Strainers

obstacles an branches are dangerous

Sweepers and strainers are some of the most high-risk obstacles you might encounter during kayaking. While water can easily pass through strainers, solid objects can’t.

They can be natural like branches and logs or manmade like rebar and grates.

If you get stuck in a strainer, the immense pressure of the water might cause you to get trapped underwater and in a fatal situation.

Trees that have fallen into the waters from the riverbank are sweepers. They are not fully submerged or detached.

The branches of these trees can deliver the same results of a strainer, making them dangerous for kayakers.

Protecting Yourself

Once you see an obstacle in the water, try to avoid it at all costs!

Attempting to paddle over or through a strainer is unsafe and you could end up losing your life. Try not to go on a kayaking adventure alone.

It’s always better to have some company for help in undesirable circumstances.

Cold Shock and Hypothermia

kayaking trough blocks of ice

As long as a kayaker is inside their kayak, they are quite safe from the temperatures of the water.

However, the story is entirely different when you capsize into the cold waters. Hypothermia and cold shock are major safety concerns when kayaking in cold, open waters.

Oftentimes, the air around you isn’t very cold but the temperature of the water is drastically different.

Hypothermia happens when an individual is submerged in cold water for a long time or they are paddling in cold air and are dressed inappropriately in terms of the weather.

Cold shock on the other hand occurs when the body of an individual first hits the water.

The body experiences an extreme change in temperature and it negatively affects it, causing confusion, blood pressure changes, breathing problems and more.

In fast moving waters, it becomes difficult for the kayaker to react to such situation and get out of threat.

Protecting Yourself

Before starting your adventure, make sure you are fully aware of the weather conditions you might face on the trip.

Dress accordingly. Drysuits and wetsuits can keep your body warm and safe if you capsize. Avoid paddling alone in cold waters.

Dams and Weirs

A low dam that is built horizontally across a river is known as a weir. It raises the level and regulates the flow of water upstream.

Water can usually flow down over the cascades and weir to a lower level. As turbulent water goes over the weir it becomes more dangerous. This process is known as weir hydraulics.

It is very easy for a kayaker to get caught in weir hydraulics. The bottom of dams has an undercurrent that is notorious for trapping on-goers.

Once a kayaker gets trapped in the flow of a weir or dam, it becomes extremely difficult for them to get out.

Protecting Yourself

Your best bet to be safe from dams and weirs is to avoid them. If you need to get past one of them, take your kayak out of the water and carry it around them.

Undercut Rocks

rocks in front of the kayak

The irregular formations of rocks underwater are known as undercuts. These undercuts form traps for debris and fallen trees.

Unwary kayakers can easily be trapped by them. This usually happens in fast-moving waters, where underwater visibility is quite limited.

Even if you are able to see these rocks, you might not be able to avoid them because of strong rapids.

Protecting Yourself

Know the whitewater kayaking spot you are planning to carry out your adventure in order to avoid getting caught in undercut rocks.

Go with a guide and check sources to learn as much as possible about the location before you get into it.

Lack of Experience

While kayaking, lack of experience can sometimes prove to be extremely dangerous as you are not prepared for difficult situations in advance.

A lot of paddling accidents occur when kayakers set out on body of waters and rapids that they are too inexperienced to be kayaking on.

While advanced and professional kayakers might be capable of coping up with rough conditions, paddlers with lack of technical skills and experience are not.

Protecting Yourself

If you haven’t taken any kayaking classes before or don’t have enough experience with the activity, don’t set out on higher class rapids.

If you’re unsure of your kayaking skill level, begin by attending some classes. Taking on new challenges without gaining proper knowledge and conducting research can cost you your life.

Other Boats and Ships

 Couple paddle a kayak

As kayaks are quite small, they are oftentimes hard to see. If you are kayaking in a small pond or river, this shouldn’t be a problem.

However, if you’re on an open ocean or a big lake, visibility can play an important role. Jet skis, big ships and motorboats can be a huge risk to paddlers on the water.

If one of these water transportations runs into you, the situation can instantly become dangerous and even fatal.

Protecting Yourself

In order to remain safe in such situations, it is essential that you remain visible at all times.

If it’s foggy or dim, attach bright lights to your little kayak so that other water travelers can see you. You can stay out of main boating routes and wear bright colored clothing to minimize the risk.

What to Do When Your Kayak Is Upside Down?

man with rolles over kayak

Capsizing and being trapped inside a flipped kayak is one of the most common fears for amateur kayakers.

If your kayak is flipped over, first you need to execute a wet release.

Lean forward in your kayak, using your paddle push the bottom of the kayak. Now, hold onto the protective spray skirt and release it.

Make sure that it is completely off. Then, push yourself out of your kayak.

Now you need to get back on the kayak. If it’s a sit-on-top kayak, position yourself at its side, near the seat.

Reach to the opposite board side and hold on to the edge using both your hands.

Then, flip the board over by pulling the edge. Let your legs reach the surface by grabbing either side of the kayak.

Pull yourself up until your stomach is lying on top of the seat. Balance yourself before going any further. Lastly, spin your body and bring your legs back into the kayak.

To get back into a sit-inside kayak, position yourself at its side and reach underneath it.

Now using both your hands, grab both seat sides and push the kayak up so that it flips away from you.

Then, grab onto the other side of the kayak and bring your legs up to the surface while pulling yourself flat into the kayak.

Once you have gained proper balance, flip your body and slide into the seat.

Kayaking Safety Gear

Before you set out on your kayaking adventure, make sure you pack all the necessary safety gear with you.

Here are some kayaking safety essentials you need to carry with you on your trip:

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

man with PFD and helmet

No matter the style of kayaking you are headed out for, it is mandatory to have personal floatation devices or PFDs with you on board.

Regardless of your level of expertise, water and weather conditions can take a turn for the worse in an instant and can make kayaking dangerous and challenging.

There are mainly two types of PFDs available; inflatable and standard. Each has their benefits and drawbacks.

Standard PFDs are inherently buoyant and don’t need to be handled with extreme care.

Moreover, you don’t need to activate them in order to enjoy floatation. They come with pockets that provide you with enough space to store your small belongings.

Common drawbacks of these PFDs are that they can be restrictive when paddling and are quite bulky.

Inflatable PFDs on the other hand are much more comfortable. Due to their compact profile, they grant you ample freedom of movement when you paddle.

However, the downsides to inflatable PFDs outweigh the benefits.

Unlike standard PFDs, these need to be inflated to be able to float and also require high maintenance.

Proper Clothing

Dress in warm, waterproof clothes as the temperature change between the air and water can make you feel extremely cold.

You can also opt for wetsuits in cooler temperatures as they keep you warm for a longer period of time by trapping in your body heat.

Proper Paddles

safety tips on clothes and paddles

Consider the length of the paddle, shape of the shaft and material it is made from before settling for one.

Test out different lengths and shapes to see what suits your needs the best.

Proper Kayak

Note down your personal requirements and then conduct extensive research on the best kayaks available in the market to make an informed decision.

Other Important Accessories

While not all paddlers wear helmets, it’s always a good idea to take some safety measures in case you capsize or hit your head with your paddle.

Other Tips for Improving Safety While Kayaking

Don’t Drink Alcoholic Beverages while Kayaking

beverages and bottle of wine on kayak

Make sure you stay away from alcohol and drugs before you go kayaking. Using them can affect your judgment calls and can lead to accidents.

You will also have a hard time controlling your kayak. Therefore, steer clear from any alcoholic drinks on your trip.

Inspect Your Kayak

Inspect your kayak thoroughly before you engage in this activity.

This will help you locate any faults in the kayak that can make it deflate and bring about accidents.

Check Weather Forecasts

Before you set out with your kayak, familiarize yourself with the spots you will be kayaking in.

Check weather forecasts for that particular area and prepare accordingly. If the weather forecasts fog or storm, do not take your kayak out!

Bottom Line

Like any other water sports, kayaking involves plenty of risks.

From sun exposure and dehydration to dangers in the water, your day of excitement can easily turn into a precarious event.

However, even with the involved dangers and risks, kayaking doesn’t always have to be life-threatening.

Taking proper kayaking safety measures and being smart about the areas you paddle in can make all the difference in the world.

Just do your research, use your intelligence and make informed decisions while you enjoy the adventure of your lifetime!

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