Top 10 Safety Items to Canoe or Kayak With

Kayaking on Colorado River Grand Canyon Arizona
John & Lisa Merrill/Photodisc / Getty Images

Water safety should be a number one priority for paddlers of canoes and kayaks, regardless of the type of paddling one does. All too often people think they are just going out on a local and familiar body of water. They take shortcuts or become complacent about what they need to do to ensure the safety of themselves and the people for whom they are responsible. Here is a list of paddling and water safety items regardless of the weather, time of year, or type of paddling.

Note: Not included in this list is the type of clothing one should wear as this varies depending on the weather conditions and type of paddling a person will be doing.

Personal Flotation Device

Otherwise known as a PFD or lifejacket, a personal flotation device is an absolute requirement for all paddlers. Even the most experienced canoeists, kayakers, and swimmers need to wear their PFD as it is very possible to be in a situation where you can’t get to shore, you may be unconscious or injured, or get caught in debris.

Helmet or Hat

The type of paddling you will be doing will dictate what type of head covering you will need. Whitewater paddlers must wear an approved helmet. Other types of paddlers should wear a hat with a brim. This will shield them from the damaging effects of the sun on hot days as well as help them retain their body heat on cold days.

Proper Footwear

Weather and condition appropriate closed-toe shoes should be worn. Neoprene socks and booties are great for cold water paddling. Old sneakers, water shoes, or closed toe sandals work well in warm conditions. In either case, you want to make sure that you are wearing good foot protection in case you end up in a situation where you are required to walk. Rocks, shells, sea life, and even glass have caused frequent injuries to unsuspecting paddlers because they weren’t wearing proper footwear while canoeing and kayaking.

Paddling Whistle

It is so easy and inexpensive to carry a good canoeing whistle that it just doesn’t make sense not to. When you get in trouble while on the water, it is nearly impossible to yell and have anyone hear you. It is only with a special whistle made for canoeing or kayaking that you will be heard. Air horns are a more expensive alternative but also work great. Be sure to attach your paddling whistle right to your PFD so it is with you at all times.

Water and Snack

Even if you are only going to be in your canoe or kayak for a short period of time, it is essential to bring a full water bottle with you. It is quite common for paddlers to become dehydrated due to the combined effect that the sun and wind have on the body. Also, you will be expending a lot of energy even if you don’t realize it, so be sure to bring a snack so you don’t get light-headed from hunger.

Dry Bag

Paddlers should have a dry bag securely fastened to the boat. The dry bag should include a variety of things you think you may need which may include some form of identification, food, first aid kit, phone or 2-way radio, dry shirt, towel, and a map to name a few.

Rope Throw Bag

A rope throw bag is a rescue device that can be thrown to a swimmer with the intent of pulling them to safety. It can also be used to tow another canoe or kayak to shore if needed. You never know what other uses you will find for a rope while in nature.


Whenever you are dealing with the possibility of using a rope, you should always carry a knife. Paddling knives are often designed to be clipped to your PFD so that they are easily accessible. It’s amazing how many other uses you’ll find for your knife while on canoe and kayak trips.

First Aid Kit

You can make your own first aid kit or buy one of the convenient pre-packed ones that are available in most stores. This can be kept in your dry bag or in a dry box if you keep one onboard.

Sun Protection

Sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm should be worn even on cold days when the sun is out. It’s amazing how exposure to the sun while out on the water can really have damaging effects on your body even when it isn’t that hot out. The lip balm will also help protect you from unnecessary discomfort caused by the wind.

And there you have it. These 10 things should be a part of your paddling go-kit and most of them can be kept in a container or duffel bag so they are all together and ready to go. Remember, this list does not include weather, condition, and type of paddling specific clothing that should be worn. Such items could include a windbreaker, dry top, paddling jacket, wicking layer, bathing suit, wetsuit, and gloves to name a few.