Kayak Safety

While the recent tragic events involving NFL players Marquis Cooper, Corey Smith and former South Florida player William Bleakley are front page stories and should be, kayakers are not immune to the same dangers while out on the water.  I can remember a few years back a lady that paddled out from Shell Point one summer afternoon, she got caught out in the open by a thunderstorm, capsized and could not get back in her kayak.  They found her the next morning clinging to one of the range markers out by the St. Pete Pier.  Disaster can happen to anyone, but hopefully some of the things discussed here can not only help prepare you, but eliminate the chance they will happen all together.

I did some research and what I found was kind of disturbing.  The myfwc website was redesigned and finding information on required safety items for kayaks was, in my opinion very hard to find or nonexistent all together.  What I was looking for was the link where you typed in your vessels length and if it was a canoe or kayak.   http://myfwc.com/Boating/safety/vessel_class/A.htm I did find it, but someone had to send it to me.  But, that’s a topic for another article.


Personal Floatation Device – PFD

A Coast Guard approved type I, II, III, V life vest is required.  Children under the age of 6 must wear one while underway.  (I thought this had been changed, but could not find any information)

While in a kayak, your PFD must be within easy reach.  That means exactly that, easy reach.  Easy reach is not in your front hatch, or your milk crate behind you.  Lots of kayakers I know will place it on their front bungee if they have one, or right behind the seat.

If you choose one of the hybrid auto or manual inflating models, those must be worn at all time while underway.

Sound Producing Device

Every vessel less than 12 meters (39.4 ft) in length must carry an efficient sound producing device. The sound producing device need not meet any particular specifications, as long as the vessel can produce signals required by the navigational rules.

Easy enough.  My whistle is attached to my PFD, and I have another one in my seat pouch.  Your whistle should also be in a place that’s easy to get to, not buried in the bottom of a dry bag.  Most likely your going to need this in an emergency, so it better be handy.

Visual Distress Signal

Must carry visual distress signals for nighttime use.  (Required on the high seas and coastal waters)

NOTE: Coastal waters means the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and all bays, sounds, harbors, rivers, inlets, etc. where any entrance is over two (2) miles wide to the first point where the distance between shorelines narrows to 2 miles.

What is a Visual Distress Signal?  Good question.  Flares, flashlights are a good choice, unfortunately the FWC does not tell you what this should be.  Flares in a kayak might be a hard one.  Kayaks a sups table to getting wet and unless you can keep them dry I’m not sure if they would help you.  If plan on going out a lot at night, they might be a good choice though.  I carry a strong flashlight in a dry bag.

Vessel Lighting

If less than 23.0 feet (7 meters) long, these vessels should:

  • If practical, exhibit the same lights as required for unpowered vessels less than 65.6 feet in length.
  • If not practical, have on hand at least one lantern or flashlight

A good recommendation is a strong 360 degree light that attaches to your kayak, Scotty makes a couple of good ones.  I’ve seen some good homemade ones that used really strong LED lights mounted on a piece of pvc.  What ever you choose, make sure its tall enough to be seen in that 360 degree arc.

According to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission this is all that is required to be on board your kayak.  I’ve added some recommended items that you should carry.


While the first choice for navigation might be a gps, things go wrong with them, batteries die, they loose signals in the mangroves etc, etc.  A compass is always there.  I would recommend one with the marks on the outer ring as well.  This goes back to my Air Force days as we practiced our water survival.  We had to direct the rescues choppers in by giving them bearings on our location.

VHF Radio

Good water proof VHF radios are very reasonably priced these days are an indispensable item to have on board.  Once again, cell phone batteries die, they get wet or there is no signal.  That VHF radio could be your only life line to rescue.  Learn what channels are used for each kind of communication.  Channel 16 is monitored by the Coast Guard for May Days.

First Aid Kit

A good water proof first aid kit can get you home or back to the launch if you get in a jam.  These can be purchased just about anywhere and can be as simply or as complex as you want them to be.  A couple of things to stick in one are, super glue and those hand warmers hunters use.  The super glue can be used to glue shut a nasty cut, the hand warmers are used for sting rays stings.  Activate one or two of those and apply them directly on the wound and cover with something water proof.  (A plastic grocery bag or plastic wrap will work).

Water Proof  Bag  (Dry Bag)

Carry your spare batteries, cell phone and other non-water proof items in this bag.

This last two items could be, in my opinion, the most important.


File a float plan with someone.  The FWC has one on their website that you can download.  Leave a copy of it in vehicle, on the dashboard.  If something does happen they at least have a good description of what they are looking for and where. Stick to your plan, it does you no good if you tell someone you are going to one place, change your mind during the drive, and go somewhere else.  Stick to your plan.


Know how to get back in your kayak in deep water.  Practice it, then practice it again.  Especially with your PFD on.  While you should be wearing one in deeper water, the fact is we all sometimes forget.  You will find that the PFD will help and hinder you while getting back in.  It gives you the buoyancy to help get back in, it also interferes with that process.  If your not familiar or want to practice with someone who has done it, let me know.  I can set something up.

There other items such as water, always carry plenty of water with you.  Know the weather, its Florida and we all know what Florida can be like in the summer time.  Not only do you have to consider thunderstorm, but the wind.  Trust me, its no fun paddling into a 30 MPH head wind for a couple of hours.  Just use your common sense out there, there will always be another day to go out.

I have some other items that I will cover later, such safety while fishing for the big fish, tarpon and kingfish., long distance trips etc.  I hope this will help you get started in the right direction while you out on the water.

As the old police sergeant on Hill Street Blues used to say “For god’s sake, be careful out there people”.