Complete Kayak Safety Guide — or How to Save Your Loved Ones’ Lives

Did you know 48 people died in kayaking incidents in 2020 alone?

What’s even more troubling is that half of these deaths were beginners… just looking to have fun when things took a turn for the worse.

By taking simple precautions, you could ensure you and your loved ones stay safe on the water − and it doesn’t take as long as you’d think!

Basic Kayak Safety Rules

  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back
  • Always wear a life jacket
  • Bring more clothing, food, and water than you need
  • Know how to use a paddle float or similar safety equipment
  • Paddle with someone unless able to do wet exit and re-entry recoveries
  • Make safe, responsible changes to your trip if conditions or weather changes

Make a Float Plan

Having a float plan should be part of your pre-trip routine. All you have to do is tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back. Make sure they know the color of your kayak, life jacket, and any camping gear.

Plan Your Trip Properly

When planning your trip, whether for a day, a night, or a week, have an honest assessment of your skill level. What sort of water will you be paddling on? If the wind picks up, what direction will it come from?

If planning a river trip, ask how much it’s been raining and what the current water level is like. If you’re paddling in a region with prominent tides and currents, have a thorough understanding of their characteristics.

Bear in mind that distances look shorter over water than over land. Calculate your projected mileage and how long it should take. A good baseline in a sea kayak is about 2.5 miles an hour in neutral conditions.

Prepare Your First-Aid Kit

The further from help you’ll be, the more exhaustive your first-aid kit. Make sure you have several pairs of latex gloves so you can safely administer care to others.

Moleskin or a similar anti-blister band is invaluable where your hands rotate and chafe around the paddle.

Basic anti-inflammatories like Tylenol help with most aches and sores.

An ace bandage and assortment of band-aids should be a staple of any first-aid kit. Medical scissors, gauze, tweezers, and antibiotic cream will help with most cuts or abrasions.

If someone has allergies, make sure their medication is readily available.

If you plan on building a fire, bring along some anti-burn cream.

Watch for Currents and Tides

Rivers and oceans can have dynamic currents and tides that can overpower a kayak. Watch the water ahead of you for changing conditions. Look for ripples or lines in the water that indicate a changing current or shift in the tide’s behavior.

To make sure you’re safe, the best practice is to talk with locals and consult guide books for in-depth information. Current and tides can be subtle and you may not notice the effect they’re having until it’s too late.


For complete safety instructions, read the full Kayak Safety Guide on Happiness Without.