“The call of the sea is an incessant whisper; once it enters it never leaves.  Though it is but a whisper; it’s as powerful as the ocean’s waves.  Like the waves, its power is derived from its persistence.”  – Jack Saylor

What follows is the first in a series of articles focused on coastal paddling seamanship (see the article entitled: Coastal Paddling – Intro to Seamanship).  Future articles on a variety of marine related subjects will be forthcoming.

Paddling your kayak on the lake and down that slow moving river over the years has been a great form of recreation, but deep down you long for bigger waters and more adventure.  You intuitively know that your kayak’s ancestors were designed for open water.  The coast is calling, but before you take your kayaking to the next level you must understand that even the protected bays, sounds and estuaries are not just a bigger version of the local lake or river.  The coastal paddling arena is a much more challenging and dynamic environment than the one you are use to.  These differences are both natural and man-made.  The savvy paddler needs more than good paddling skills. He also must be properly and legally prepared as well as possess a knowledge of the marine environment to which he is unaccustomed. While paddling on the coast, you will come under the jurisdiction of the United States Coast Guard.  They have established federal regulations that your vessel is required to maintain.  This article, entitled “Gear Up!”, focuses on choosing the right type of kayak for your coastal adventure and on the legally required safety equipment you are required to have on board.

Start with the Right Kayak  – The first thing is to make sure that your kayak design is appropriate for the waters you will be traversing.  While recreational kayaks might be OK for exploring a tidal creek through the salt marsh, it is not appropriate out in the open waters of a sound, bay, harbor or Intracoastal Waterway.  The winds, waves, tidal currents, tide rips and wakes of large power vessels make the marine environment inappropriate for such recreational designs.  More seaworthy is a hybrid, or better yet a true sea kayak which the paddler wears instead of just sits.  A smaller cockpit, protected by a spray skirt, along with bulkheads fore and aft producing buoyancy chambers along with a narrower beam and longer waterline make this type of kayak safer in rough conditions and more efficient (faster) in tidal currents and head winds.  Sit-on-top kayaks can also be used in this environment.  They make excellent fishing or diving platforms and are more seaworthy than a recreational kayak.

Staying Safe and Staying Legal – The list that follows show the legally required items you must have as a paddler in coastal waters.  The first bullet under each item is the link to the United States Coast Guard requirements.  As you visit these links, please understand that these requirements cover a wide array of vessels.  A kayak is considered a “vessel” under law, but because of our size and uniqueness, certain types of gear requirements fit us better than others.  Therefore, the second bullet is what we at Great Outdoor Provision Co. recommend for you to meet that requirement. Let’s start with PFDs.

PFD – Personal Flotation Devices:

Great Outdoor Provision Co. recommends wearing a Type III PFD properly fitted, zipped, buckled and snug so it will not come off accidentally if you take an unexpected swim.  Type III vests allow for unrestricted mobility while paddling without chaffing.  The drawback to a Type III PFD is that it will not roll you over if you are face down or support your head if you are unconscious.  Bright colors and reflective accents make you more visible to other boaters.  Pockets allow you to carry essentials on your person. >>PFD Selection

Sound Producing Devices:

Great Outdoor Provision Co. recommends a whistle without a pea that is made for marine use.  These whistles can be attached to your PFD.  When loaded with water, they clear easily and make a loud blast.

Navigational Lights:

Great Outdoor Provision Co. recommends a simple waterproof flashlight or headlamp and/or mounting a 360 degree white light, like the ACR C Light on your kayak.  These light(s) must be on board and in working order even if you are not underway at night.

Visual Distress Signals (VDS):

Great Outdoor Provision Co. recommends carrying at least 2 USGC approved aerial flares (parachute or meteor) and 1 handheld flare to meet both day/night use requirements when plying coastal waters. Orion SkyBlazer Aerial and Handheld Locator Flares make good choices for coastal paddlers. Paddlers venturing into more remote areas should also consider longer lasting signaling devices such as USGC approved Flags, Parachute Aerial Flares or Electric Distress Signals.
Since your kayak is considered a “vessel” under federal law, the information above should help you meet the legal requirements for gear on board.  For more information see this website and its links:


These “required” items are only a few of the safety items you will want to have on board.  In a future article I will present other safety items that would prove useful should your kayak capsize and you go for a “swim”.

Happy Paddling!

Read More in our Coastal Paddling Series

by Bill Mauney