by Bill Mauney

In the last article entitled “Coastal Paddling – Gear Up!” we covered choosing the proper kayak for exploring the coastal environment.  We also covered the minimum safety items you are required by law to have on board and our recommendations for you as a kayaker to meet those requirements.  In addition to a PFD (Personal Flotation Device), Sound Producing Devices, Navigational Lights and Visual Distress Signals that are required by law, there are other accessories you need to have on board for your personal safety and comfort.

Getting Underway

Buoyancy Fore and Aft – Make sure your kayak has buoyancy fore and aft.  Kayaks that do not come with bulkheads (walls) that separate the bow and stern sections of the kayak into floatation chambers need to have either inflatable or foam buoyancy in the end(s) of the kayak without a bulkhead.  Foam floatation needs to be glued into place and inflatable floatation needs to be lashed into place to keep either from floating out of a swamped kayak and thus defeating the purpose for which it is intended.  If there is no flotation the kayak will sink.  If there is only a bulkhead in one end, the kayak will float bow down with the stern sticking up vertically out of the water like a buoy.  A kayak in this attitude, often referred to as “Cleopatra’s Needle”, is extremely difficult to right and reenter after capsizing.

Paddle Leash – A paddle leash helps one keep up with his paddle while fishing, working on a navigational problem, eating a snack, taking a drink or any other activity where one needs to let go of the paddle, but not let it drift away.  This is especially true in capsize recovery situations where the kayak and paddle may drift away from each other and the paddler.  There are two types of leashes.  One goes from the paddle to clip on the deck rigging of the kayak.  The other is shorter going from the wrist to the paddle.  Both are typically made from bungee cord or from a spiral “telephone cord” type plastic cordage.  DO NOT use paddle leashes in the surf zone or white water as they may be a cause for entanglement.

Spare Paddle – You do not want to be up the creek without your paddle, either from breakage or loss.  A spare paddle is a must for extended trips on coastal waters.   A take-a-part paddle or Greenland “storm” paddle can be easily stored on your aft deck for easy access when needed.  Make sure that your paddle is secured because a wave can easily wash items out from under deck bungee rigging.

Spray Skirt – Sometimes called a spray deck, this accessory consists of a flat covering deck that fits over the cockpit coaming with a tunnel that fits around your torso.  This combination keeps the water out of your kayak from waves, spray and rain and makes you “one” with the kayak.  Below your waist your body is dry and comfortable.  A loop at the front allows you to quickly release the skirt from the cockpit coaming.  Such spray skirts are available in non-breathable waterproof nylon, waterproof/breathable fabrics and neoprene.  Some spray decks have a neoprene deck with a fabric tube and suspenders that allows for some ventilation below your waist.  An all-neoprene spray skirt is the most waterproof, is best for cold weather paddling and is bombproof when you are rolling your kayak.  I personally wear these year-round, even in the southeast.  Just keep splashing the spray skirt deck with water and the evaporative cooling of the neoprene keeps you comfortable below decks.  On extended journeys in wilderness areas, a spare spray skirt is recommended.

A Painter – A short piece of line (nautical term for rope) should be attached to your bow toggle.  The length of the rope should be roughly a boat length.  This line is use to secure your kayak to a dock or, if on the beach, to an immovable object to keep your kayak from drifting off, being blown by a hard wind into the water or from floating off in a flood (rising) tide.  The excess line should be coiled and stowed beneath your deck rigging.

Capsize Recovery

PFD – This was already covered in the previous article.  Again we recommend a Type III PFD.  Bright colors (yellow, orange, red) are recommended along with reflective tape and lots of pockets.

Paddle Float – After capsizing, a paddle float can be attached to the paddle blade.  The paddle can then be rigged under the deck rigging behind the cockpit so that the paddle is perpendicular to the swamped kayak with the float on the water.  This “outrigger” creates a stable kayak for reentry and bailing.  Paddle floats are either inflatable or foam.  The former supplies more buoyancy and is easier to stow on your kayak.  The latter is quicker to deploy, most helpful in cold water capsizes.  Attach a lanyard to your paddle float that can be attached to the kayak when stored or on the paddle when deployed so it won’t drift away or wash out by a wave from your bungee deck rigging.  We will help you rig a lanyard with a clip at our shop.

Bilge Pump – A bilge pump will help you quickly remove water from a kayak.  A bilge pump should have a piece of foam around the cylinder which works as a PFD for your pump when it is full of water.  Again, a lanyard is a good idea to keep up with your pump during a recovery.

Sponge – A sponge gets out that last bit of water a pump cannot handle.  It also is great for cleaning out sand or mud from the interior of your cockpit.  They are typically stowed wedged under or on the side of your kayak seat.

Stirrup Sling – Sometimes you need a little “alley oop” to get back in your kayak.  Manufactured or homemade adjustable slings can be used in a variety of ways to give you a foot hold to use your leg to lift you out of the water and onto the deck of your kayak.  Care should be taken to avoid entanglement, however. We have what you need.

Lend a Hand

Tow System – Several types of towing systems are available for towing a fellow kayaker.  Some attach directly to the deck, or to the cockpit coaming, to a specialized PFD or are worn around your waist.  I once towed a Bayliner boat to safety.  The motor had conked out and she was being pulled by the ebb tide out through the inlet.  Towing systems designed for kayak touring typically have longer tow lines with bungee built in.  This keeps the tow from surfing down on you when towing in following seas.  The bungee absorbs the shock of the load on the line.

Being Seen

Reflective Tape – Strips of reflective tape on your paddle blades (both sides), along the edge of your kayak, on your PFD, etc. makes your position pop when hit by another vessel’s spot light.  We carry SOLAS quality reflective tape for customizing your kayak and gear.  In addition, we have replacement deck rigging line or deck rigging covers that have reflective qualities built in.

Light Sticks – Light sticks attached to the top of the bill of your cap can let other kayakers in your party keep up with you.  Also, you can lower your head slightly and the light stick will light up your chart and compass.  DO NOT use red, green or white light sticks as these may be confused by other boaters as a vessel’s navigational (running) lights.

Waterproof Lights – As discussed in the previous article, a waterproof light is legally required to meet the Navigational Rules.  In addition, they come in handy for night chart reading, locating others in your group or around camp on the beach.  A wrist lanyard will keep your flashlight from falling overboard.  Headlamps give you hands-free lighting by just pointing your nose where you want the light to be.  Don’t forget extra batteries and a spare bulb in a waterproof container.

Being Heard

Whistle – A sound producing device is not only a legal requirement to meet the Navigational Rules as covered in the previous article, but it is also great for communicating among a group of paddlers.  A whistle specifically designed for the marine environment can be attached to your PFD.  These whistles do not have a pea and can quickly be emptied of water when blown.  With a high decibel rating these whistles can be heard for long distances depending on the wind direction.  Our shops have the best whistles available for the marine environment.

  • ONE BLAST – “Notice me!”…A warning to other boat traffic or a means of getting another kayaker’s attention.
  • TWO BLASTS – “Let’s come together.”… “Conference.”…”Wait Up!”…A signal to all paddlers in the group to get together.
  • THREE BLASTS – “HELP!”… Emergency assistance is needed from other group members.

Personal Comfort and Safety

Stay Hydrated – We carry a wide variety of hydration systems and bottles for both water and electrolyte replacement drinks.

Stay Fueled – Energy bars are a great way to easily maintain your body’s need for fuel to power your kayak.  Checkout our selection.

Don’t Get Burned – When paddling in warm weather it is important to protect yourself from harmful UV rays.  Not only are you exposed to the rays directly from the sun, but also from rays reflected off of the water.  Our shops have a wide array of UPF rated clothing including brimmed hats that won’t blow off in the wind, ventilated shirts, amphibious shorts and pants.  Year round don’t forget to protect your exposed skin and lips with waterproof SPF rated sunscreen and lip balm.

Protect Your Eyes – A good pair of polarized sunglasses protects your eyes from the same harmful UV rays as well as helping you see through the glare of an early morning or late afternoon sun reflecting on the water.  They also allow you to see through the surface glare to see what is below the water.  For a fisherman, this is a must.  Don’t forget to pick up an eye retention system to keep your sunglasses from falling overboard.  Some of them will float your glasses should that accidentally happen.

Protect Your Nose – Nose plugs are great for learning to roll your kayak.  In addition they should be worn when negotiating the surf zone.  In case of an accidental capsize, your nose is protected from salt water entering the nasal passages.

Stay Dry – Whether catching spray while paddling through waves or when an afternoon shower arrives you will need some form of paddling jacket to keep you dry and comfortable.  You can combine a jacket with a rain hat or choose a jacket with a hood.  Many jackets have large pockets for storage, deep ventilating zippers and closures at the wrist to keep water from dripping down your arm to your armpits.

Don’t Get Bitten – Exploring marshes, tidal creeks or barrier islands often bring you into contact with winged critters that bite if the wind is calm.  Insect repellant is worth its weight in gold at such times.  We offer both DEET and natural ingredients alternatives.  Also, a bug head net over a wide brimmed hat totally protects your head in extreme conditions.

Protect Those Feet – Protecting your feet from sharp shells is a must at the coast.  We offer a wide variety of amphibious footwear from sandals to over-the-calf neoprene booties.

First Aid – First Aid kits come ready made in kit form or you can put one together from scratch.  Either way, you will need a dry bag or dry box to keep the contents bone dry and ready for use.  Pill bottles are available for your personal medications.

Cut That Out – A knife designed for marine use is a wonderful tool to have attached to your PFD.  You will be amazed at how often you find such a tool useful.

Change of Clothes – An accidental capsize or getting wet from spray or rain plus wind brings on a chilling effect even on a summer day.  When the sun goes down the temperature will drop.  Having a change of clothes and some extra layers can make a world of difference.  Just putting on a fleece cap will have a dramatic effect in your comfort level.  All layering clothing should be made of synthetic material that wicks moisture and dries quickly.  Put all of these into a dry bag and store in a hatch.  Don’t forget a micro-fiber pack towel to dry off.

For that Warm All Over Feeling – When you get out of your kayak after a long paddle, the breeze and drop in temperature as the sun goes down can have a chilling effect.  Before setting up camp or loading your kayak and gear on your vehicle, a nice warm drink is certainly welcomed.  Warming you up and giving you quick energy for what is ahead is what makes a stainless steel thermos bottle a valuable part of your gear.  Boiled water mixed with instant cocoa or other drinks will stay warm all day in a thermos.  If you accidentally capsize in cold conditions, such a drink can warm up your core temperature.

For Cold Water – There are a number of ways to protect your body from the ill effects of cold water immersion. Covering the torso, legs, head, hands and feet are important.  Please read the two article we posted entitled “Cold Water Paddling” and “Paddling Clothing Systems for Cold Water” for details on what you will need and why.

Repair Kit – A small repair kit can be a lifesaver when paddling.  A dry box or dry bag with a few basic repair items and any tools required to tighten fittings, adjust seats, or to work on a rudder or skeg is all you need.  We have mini rolls of duck tape to repair just about anything.   Store this kit in a dry bag or dry box.

Bailout Kit – When paddling remote wilderness coasts, a homemade bailout kit including a basic shelter, fire building materials, signaling items, food, water and extra clothing, etc. will be valuable should you find yourself in a short-term survival situation on a wilderness coast.  These can be stored in a dry bag and then put in a fanny pack in case you find yourself swimming to the beach.

You will find all of these accessories at your local Great Outdoor Provision Co. shop as well as numerous books and DVDs on the subject of coastal kayaking.  Our helpful staff can help you with your selection and if you are a do-it-yourselfer we can help you find all of the supplies you will need.

Happy Paddling!

Read More in our Coastal Paddling Series