Safety is paramount whilst kayak fishing. The water is a hostile environment, even on a calm day. In an ideal world you will not find yourself in trouble, but if you do you need to be prepared and equipped to either self rescue or get in contact with someone who can rescue you. This guide offers generic advice on safety equipment to help those entering, or progressing, in the world of kayak fishing make sense of what safety kit they may need to stay safe on the water.
There are many items of safety kit that could be carried, and many are mentioned in this guide. It is worth noting that not all items mentioned here are essential for all kayak fishing situations. In fact the very environment and conditions you are kayak fishing in will dictate what safety gear you will need. Those paddling on their own should certainly consider carrying more safety equipment than those paddling with company or within a group. Safety certainly comes with numbers on the water and the chance of getting into a distress situation is less likely when kayak fishing in a group where a helping hand is never too far away. Kayak fishing with company is definitely recommended for those new to kayak fishing but this is not always possible. Those heading out on the water on their own need to have several safety bases covered to ensure the best chance of survival and rescue should a serious incident occur.
NOTE: This article aims to offer generic safety advice to those entering, or progressing, in the world of kayak fishing. Different environments and different water conditions will require differing types and amounts of safety equipment. Be sure to carry out extensive research and consult local kayak fishers to ensure you have the best idea about what safety equipment you will require on the water.
Lets take a look at some of the Safety Equipment you may wish to consider carrying on your kayak:
Personal Safety Equipment for Kayak Fishing
Personal Floatation Device / Buoyancy Aid - ESSENTIAL
A Buoyancy Aid/PFD is an aid to buoyancy - they help you to stay afloat. A correct size PFD for your body weight will allow you to float at the waters surface fairly effortlessly. Modern kayaking PFDs tend to have slim-line ergonomic designs and are specifically cut to provide unrestricted movement when paddling. Some PFDs have foam shaped to the body and are very comfortable - you can often forget you are even wearing one! I often hear people say that they don't like the feeling of wearing a PFD, so choose not to wear one.... utter rubbish. I'm not sure what drowning is like but i bet that doesn't feel great either, for you or your family. There is no excuse for not wearing a PFD when kayak fishing and by not doing so you are putting your life at risk. You will also likely get called out by other kayak users too as it is standard practice across all branches of kayaking, perhaps with the exception of surf kayaking, to wear a buoyancy aid. A basic buoyancy aid costs as little as £30 so there can be no excuses of cost either.
Pictured below are 4 popular buoyancy aids for kayak fishing in the UK - the Palm Kakioura, Palm Peyto, Palm Hydro and NRS Chinook...
Safety Knives and Rope/Line Cutters - ESSENTIAL
A safety knife needs to be carried on your person in a place of quick and easy access - most people attach them to the front of their PFD. Look for blunt-ended knife designs - no sharp point so little chance of accidentally stabbing yourself. Get one with a good sheath/holder that allows you to pull out the knife one-handed. Folding designs are compact but look for ones with bite tabs on the blade to allow for one handed opening using your teeth to deploy the blade! The Palm Folding Rescue Knife ticks these boxes. Small rope/line cutters are a great alternative to a knife and again are inexpensive - The Beaver Trigger Cutter is very good. Knife or Cutter, make sure you get one with a stainless steel blade!
On-Kayak Safety Equipment for Kayak Fishing
Paddle Leash - Considered Essential
Bilge Pump / Bailing Device
Drogue / Drift Chute
A drogue is a piece of kit that will slow your drift in windy conditions. Once placed in the water, usually off the bow using an anchor trolley, it acts as a brake allowing the kayak to drift at the speed of the water beneath you, rather than at the full mercy of the wind.
A drogue works particularly well in wind against tide conditions and can sometimes see you drift back against the wind! In wind with tide conditions a drogue is less effective but can still help slow your drift. If the tide is running fast then sometime a drogue is of no use at all and may drag you faster downtide! Nevertheless, a drogue is a useful piece of safety equipment that weighs very little and can help you stay out of trouble in windy conditions. You only require a small drogue for a kayak so steer clear of those designed for boats. There are two popular types used in the UK, either the cone style drogue from Hobie available here, or a parachute style drogue made by KayakUK (Simon Everett) available here.
Food and Drink - Considered Essential
Navigation / Visibility Lights
Railblaza produce an excellent all-round white nav light, along with mounting poles. Nav lights are best purchased as part of a 'Visibility Kit', and both Railblaza and Yak Attack make kits that are popular. Click Here for a range of safety flags, lights and visibility kits.
First Aid Kit
Keep a few waterproof plasters of various sizes in a small sealed bag, inside your PFD or tackle box. Lightweight and costs pennies, and It may just save a ruined trip one day! More comprehensive first aid kits can be carried for the safety conscious. Lifesystems make a great little first aid kit complete with a waterproof storage bag! Perfect for tucking away inside a hatch for little emergencies. First aid kits are available here.
Communication Safety Equipment for Kayak Fishing
As a bare minimum carry at least one form of contact with the shore
Handheld VHF Radio - Considered essential for solo kayak fishing on the sea
A handheld unit is very much recommended for saltwater kayak fishing where contact between other vessels and the coastguard may be needed for safe navigation, preventing incidents, or asking for assistance in a distress situation. Look for VHF Radios that float and flash - it's no good if it slips out of your hands and sinks! These units will also flash a strobe light or red light when in the water. Modern VHF Radios also feature 'Digital Selective Calling' (DSC for short) and integrated GPS. In simple terms DSC units with GPS allow you to send a distress signal with your exact position directly to other VHF receivers within range (hopefully the coastguard!), all at the single push of a button on the unit.
The transmit power of the radio is also an important consideration to make when selecting a VHF - in general, the higher the output wattage the further the signal will transmit and be 'visible' to other VHF receivers. Look for handheld units that transmit at 5 Watts or 6 Watts with 1 Watt low power modes. VHF Radios work on 'line-of-sight' between antennas so may not be effective in remote areas - if you are in a particularly remote region then consider a PLB (see next section).
Standard Horizon and Icom VHF units are popular amongst UK kayak fisherman. A decent float/flash unit will set you back over £100, with DSC/GPS units often over £150.
- To legally own a VHF Radio you must obtain a Ship Portable Radio license from OFCOM - This is free to obtain and you can register online here. Failure to hold a valid licence is a criminal offence and Ofcom's enforcement team can impose on-the-spot fines. Upon registering your VHF unit with OFCOM you are issued with a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number, which is a unique number assigned to your VHF unit.
- To legally transmit with a VHF radio you must obtain a Marine Radio Short Range Certificate - The Short Range Certificate is the minimum qualification required by law to control the operation of VHF and VHF Digital Selective Calling (DSC) equipment. This involves an online or class-based day course with a short class-based exam at the end, with course providers available across the country. Prices range from £100-200 (including RYA certificate cost) depending on course provider and the license once obtained lasts a lifetime. If you do not hold a licence, you can still use a VHF to receive signals (i.e. listen to other users, monitor channel 16 etc.) and obviously transmit with the unit in an emergency/distress situation, but for general use and contact between other users a licence must be obtained and is highly recommended so that correct protocols are followed when communicating via VHF. Knowing how to use a VHF with confidence and clarity could save valuable time in a rescue situation. In this respect, the course is worth every single penny.
Personal Location Beacon / PLB
Navigational Safety Equipment for Kayak Fishing
Handheld units tend to be of a fairly small size - usually not much bigger than a chunky mobile phone size. They have the advantage of not being fixed, and therefore can be used both on and off the water, which may be useful if you participate in other outdoor activities where GPS may be an advantageous piece of kit. Their smaller size usually means they will fit in the pocket of your PFD which makes sense from a safety point of view, although some prefer to mount them on-deck for easier viewing whilst paddling. Most handheld units run off of AA or AAA sized batteries so its important to make sure the batteries aren't running low before a trip - spares can always be kept in a small sealed bag on the kayak. Colour screens tend to be easier to view but will drain a bit more battery power. Ensure you get a waterproof unit. The Garmin range of marine GPS units are widely respected amongst kayak fisherman.
Fish-Finder/Chartplotter combination units are what many people opt for and these can work out more cost effective than having separate fish finder and handheld GPS units. Again, these run off batteries, usually a 12V sealed lead acid type, so make sure the battery is well-charged before a trip. Having your fish-finder and GPS in one unit does make for easier viewing of both sonar readings and your position, as all the info can be displayed next to each other on one screen. The screen tends to be much bigger than that of a hand-held unit too. The downside to the unit being fixed to the kayak is that if you were ever separated from your kayak on the water then you wouldn't be able to use the GPS to relay your position to potential rescuers!
Safety Kit Summary
- A Buoyancy Aid
- A Paddle Leash
- A Rescue Knife/Line Cutter carried on your person
- At least one form of communication with shore carried on your person - ideally a VHF for the sea.
Other safety equipment is a bonus and will certainly better equip you should you get into trouble. Take time to consult local kayak fishers to gain knowledge of your local paddling spots. Get in contact with, or visit your local kayak shop and they will be able to give you further advice. Any good kayak store will have a range of safety and rescue equipment. Check out Cornwall Canoes who stock a vast range of safety equipment with nationwide delivery - take a look here. Just make sure you are safe on the water and can either help yourself or get help if you need it!
Any questions then please comment below....
Safe Kayak Fishing and Tight Lines!