Read on to find out about the necessary safety gear, and don’t attempt to head out without at least talking to an experienced paddler first. Better yet, take a lesson! We hear they offer some pretty sweet courses at the Eastern Mountain Sports Kayak School

Personal floatation device
This one is a no-brainer. Even if you think you’re a great swimmer, always bring a coast guard certified personal floatation device, or PFD, with you. Make sure you choose a PFD that fits properly and is comfortable, and wear it at all times when paddling in open water.

Keep a whistle on your PFD in case of emergencies, and blow it three times if you’re in distress. Three quick blasts is the international S.O.S. signal, so anyone who is able will respond to the call. Pea-less whistles are best, since there are no small pieces to break or get stuck.

HornA horn is slightly more bulky than a whistle, but it produces a significantly louder sound to alert rescuers to your location. Some come on a convenient lanyard so you can keep it around your neck. However, it’s better to attach it to your PFD, so you don’t run the risk of losing it if you capsize.

First aid kits
You wouldn’t head out on a trip in the woods without a first aid kit, and going out on the water shouldn’t be any different. Even a simple first aid kit could help save your life in an emergency situation.
Be sure to keep your first aid kit in a waterproof bag, and store it someplace where it will be easy to get to if you need it in a hurry. It is also advisable for everyone in your group to carry their own first aid kit in case of separation.

A waterproof light mounted on the front of your kayak not only alerts surrounding boats to your location after sundown, and most kayak lights also have a strobe mode to convey an emergency.
Compass/GPSA kayak compass—or kayak-compatible GPS unit—is essential for open-water paddling trips. Water and weather conditions can change in a heart beat, and being able to quickly navigate your way back to shore is imperative.

 Paddle leash
Much like a surfer has a leash for his board, so should a paddler have a leash for his paddle. If you don’t have a leash and somehow lose your paddle in the middle of the ocean, you’ll be stranded. With a leash, you’ll have one less thing to worry about.
Paddle floatPaddle floats are essential for kayaking in choppy waters, as they enable you to rescue yourself and re-enter your kayak after capsizing. However, it should be noted that paddle floats are a rescue device, and are only effective if you’ve been trained to use them.

Stern/bow floats
Stern and bow floats, on the other hand, are not merely rescue aids. They should be used if your kayak does not have bulkheads. They help keep water out of the hatch, and also help to keep your kayak afloat. Make sure you purchase good quality floats that won’t pop on impact.
KnifeA knife might seem like overkill in the ocean, but if you capsize and end up tangled in something, be it seaweed or cord, you’ll be happy you have one. Attach it to your PFD for easy access and try to get a stainless steel model to avoid corrosion.

PumpIn theory, your spray skirt will keep water out of your kayak. Things happen, however, and it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan. A bilge pump will bail out a water-filled cockpit in no time, and takes up very little space in your boat.

Having a signal mirror is another necessity for sea kayaking. When in distress, you can flash the mirror in the direction of other boats to alert them that you need rescuing.
Flares are also great for signaling distress, and are generally small and easy to pack. Flares can sometimes fail, though, so be sure to bring a few extras for backup.

 Tow system
Maybe you or someone in your group gets injured. Maybe they’re just too fatigued to keep paddling. Maybe you stumble upon a fellow kayaker who’s in trouble. Maybe a beached whale needs help getting back out to sea. In all of these situations, a tow system is invaluable. Simply attach one end to your kayak—or to your waist, depending on the style—and the other end to the person in distress, and paddle to safety. (Note: leave whale rescues to the pros we just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention.)

If you’ll be paddling in the surf, consider wearing a helmet. There’s a good reason white water paddlers wear them—you never know where you’ll find a rock hiding under rushing water. Similar dangers exist in the surf, and the last thing you want to deal with if your boat tips over is smashing your head on a rock.

Kayaking Gear List

Ready to take your kayak on a day trip? But want to avoid soggy sandwiches and butt rash? Read on to hear our expert advice…

Bring lots of dry bags
Let’s start with the simple stuff. Your kayak’s storage hatch is not waterproof. If you throw in a beach towel, it will get soaking wet. For all trips, use dry bags to ensure your gear is dry when you get to your destination. When considering what size dry bags to buy, think like a backpacker – all the essentials in small spaces. Mid-size and smaller dry bags will allow you to efficiently pack your gear, keep your boat more stable, keep your underwear dry, and make your lunch readily available.

Wear a skirt
If you’re going beyond small, calm, warm, local waters, you should wear a spray skirt whenever you paddle. Spray skirts cover the area between your waist and the raised edge your boat’s cockpit. When water makes its way inside your boat (whether it be from rain, waves, or drips from your paddle) it can soak your clothing, ruin your lunch, and possibly destabilize your kayak. By protecting yourself from cold waters, spray skirts also extend your kayaking season into spring and fall.

When kayaking think safety – redundancy is ok
Even on a short kayaking day trip on a small pond, you should wear a PFD (Personal Flotation Device). In fact, the United States Coast Guard requires that every kayaker wear an approved PFD. PFDs provide buoyancy to keep your head above water if you fall out of your kayak. They can also make bracing, rolling, and rescues easier by adding extra upward force when your upper body is in the water. Always keep a whistle attached to your PFD for safety.

As you move to larger waters, you will often encounter other boat traffic. Visibility is difficult, as your kayak sits so low in the water. We recommend that you buy a paddle with brightly colored blades, or place reflective tape on your paddle blades and boat to increase the chances that the power boat heading your way sees you in time.

If you plan on multiday kayaking excursions on salt water, consider a portable marine VHF radio to communicate with other boats, obtain weather reports, and summon rescue services. Don’t forget to protect your radio with some type of waterproof enclosure and bring along extra batteries. Other “big trip” gear essentials include a signal mirror, horn for fog, tow rope, strobe light, aerial flares, and knife. With safety, redundancy is OK. Flares may not work, so use your signal mirror as a back-up. Steady-on white light should be used at dusk and night time.

Bring a bildge pump
Besides being a great squirt gun for the kids, bilge pumps are essential to remove water from your boat and are most useful right after you capsize. The most commonly used bilge pump in kayaking is the hand pump. Hand pumps are inserted into the bottom of your cockpit to pull water up and out of your kayak.

Use navigation tools
Depending on your trip type and the route you’re following, different types of navigation tools are required. For kayaking inland lakes or rivers, carry a detailed topographic map or nautical chart of your route and a compass. On coastal trips, also take along saltwater charts and area guides. Talk to the locals and get the lowdown on water level changes and current directions.

For navigational accuracy within 50 feet (or better, depending on the model), carry a GPS unit to augment traditional navigation techniques. A GPS device can aid navigation when clear landmarks do not exist or when exploring remote areas. Don’t forget to keep your GPS unit in a waterproof dry case.

Invest in a paddle leash and spare paddle
While an extra paddle is not necessary when taking day trips on small lakes and gentle rivers, it is an essential item on large water and more remote adventures. Imagine losing or breaking your paddle 100 miles from a gas station (let alone an EMS store!). The best spare paddles are two pieces and can be mounted on the deck of your boat. To keep from losing the paddle in the first place, invest in a paddle leash.

Practice self-rescue
For self-rescue, a paddle float is essential. A paddle float is a water wing for your paddle that, when slipped over the paddle blade, serves as an outrigger to help you re-enter your boat in open water (without capsizing again).

Staying dry and warm is essential
To avoid that diaper rash, wear surf shorts with synthetic undies (check out EMS Techwick®), or nylon running shorts with a liner. For all-day paddle or camping trips, pack a large dry bag with quick-dry clothing layers, including a wicking shirt that moves moisture away from your skin, an insulating fleece, a wind- and water-resistant shell, and a warm hat.

In colder waters, you need to protect yourself with a wetsuit or drysuit. Wetsuits are best for moderately cold water; the neoprene material keeps you warmer by trapping a thin layer of water next to your skin. But if you expect to get immersed in very cold waters, a drysuit with insulating liners would be a better bet. Drysuits seal out water completely with latex gaskets at the neck and cuff and are often laminated with Gore-Tex® to increase waterproofing and breathability.

Prepare a repair/emergency kit
On a trip, it is a really good idea to put together a repair/emergency kit that you can carry in your kayak. While you may not ever use it on that summer day trip, it could save your life in many other scenarios. Pack a small dry bag with items such as duct tape, lightweight rope, a Swiss Army knife, toilet paper, hand trowel, needle and thread, spare batteries, lighter, fire starter, a small medical kit, emergency blanket, water purification tablets, energy bars, and repair parts for specific kayaking gear.

Take plenty of water and snacks
Kayaks have tons of storage room, so you can eat like a king and bring enough water. For every day you’re out, bring 2 to 5 liters of water. And don’t forget to drink frequently throughout the day (before you get thirsty) to stay hydrated.

If you’re planning a kayaking trip on coastal waters, remember to check for freshwater sources along the route before you leave home. If none are available, bring fresh water with you in durable, reliable water storage containers.

If you’re planning a more remote, multiday kayaking trip, you’ll need to treat your drinking water with a water filter or purifier when possible, or bring a supply of chemical disinfectant tablets or extra fuel for boiling water. To cut down on the number of trips you have to make to the closest water source, pack a large-capacity, collapsible water container.