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About Kayak Safety Gear


Photograph by Olivier Renck

Safety Gear

Sea Kayaking safety gear serves two functions: risk management and compliance with coast guard regulations. The USCG requirements for small human powered craft are minimal – one Personal Floatation Device (PFD) per passenger per vessel, a whistle or horn, and a flashlight for visibility and signaling other vessels after dark. Additionally, kayakers operating in coastal waters, the Great Lakes, territorial seas, and those waters connected directly to them, up to a point where a body of water is less than two miles wide, must be equipped with U.S.C.G. Approved visual distress signals. Review the regulations here. Comprehensive risk management may require a longer list of items depending on the location, conditions and length of time you’ll be on the water, as well as who you will be paddling with. There are things that you may need that we don’t sell. For example, emergency signaling devices that are used by a broad range of vessels, like flairs and waterproof hand-held VHF radios, will be purchased most economically by high volume boating supply chain stores. We sell the things that are made especially for kayakers that those stores don’t sell, and we make our selections after field testing lots of choices and talking about the gear with our professional sea kayaking colleagues from around the world.

Our selection is tightly focused on just a few manufacturers with functional, satisfying designs and a high level of quality in materials and construction that won’t let you down in a pinch and will serve you well for years to come. The Kokatat PFDs listed here are made in California in a range of prices and styles that will fit just about everyone. We especially like that they use a high-density environmentally friendly urethane foam for flotation – it’s more comfortable and remains buoyant for a long after less robust PFDs must be retired. It’s important to have a PFD that is well designed and comfortable to wear – it must be snug enough to stay on and support an immersed paddler who may be unconscious in rough conditions, yet it cannot restrict movement or bind or chafe so the paddler can perform at optimal levels. We prefer the red, green and white navigation lights to a simple flashlight for night paddling in New York Harbor, because then it’s easier for other vessels to identify us as boats instead of confusing us with the abundance of city lights that are reflected on the water’s surface. Northwater’s SeaTec Tow belt is our staff’s favorite so overwhelmingly that we don’t sell any others. We change our selection as new products are introduced, so please keep checking back!

Finally, please remember that a kayaker’s most important piece of risk management gear is between the ears. Check the weather forecast every time you go out, select appropriate gear and apparel, know the abilities and limitations of your paddling companions as well as you know your own, and plan trips that match participant skill levels to the conditions you’ll be encountering.