Safe paddling

Kayaking through wilderness and remote coastal areas, paddlers have a responsibility to themselves, the group and those waiting onshore to take safety precautions at sea.

Prevention is always better than the cure because specific kit may help you save yourself or others but no kit results in automatic safety. Having a GPS, VHF radio or a mobile phone will not guarantee a rescue.


Presuming someone on land already knows your ETA and proposed route and that you have checked the weather forecast before setting out, the most important thing to remember when on the waves is to keep an ever-watchful eye on the conditions. I make a conscious check of sea state, wind direction, wind strength and incoming weather on the horizon every ten minutes in the Scottish Inner Hebrides seas because that is how fast the weather can change, for better or worse.


In certain areas it is important to check the tides as currents between narrow channels and islands can be affected dramatically by tidal flows. It is important to have local maps and charts and to be familiar with the icons – hidden and exposed wrecks, masts, piers and rocks can all pose potential problems for those caught unaware.


A personal flotation device (PFD) is important but it should be noted that it is not the same as a lifejacket. Paddling with a partner is always recommended and having lessons with a view to attaining some levels of proficiency is recommended. Various techniques can be learned to re-enter a capsised kayak at sea whether alone or in a group.

Lost paddle

Taking a spare paddle is a must. A paddler without a paddle is like the man up the proverbial creek. A spare paddle can easily be broken to two parts and kept on the foredeck.


Plumbers’ tape and epoxy putty is a good stock gap solution for a leaking fiberglass kayak whilst at sea. Folding kayaks can be temporarily fixed using gaffer tape (duck tape) if the surface is dried before application. Some kayaks have integral foot pumps that can be operated with the spray deck still in place however I prefer a held pump as it can be passed between kayaks. Whilst it is rare to lose a hatch cover one can be improvised using a plastic bag and a length of para cord or a bungee. Always ensure that your sleeping bag is in a dry bag.


Most commercial plasters designed for blisters will come off whilst paddling. Electrical tape (plumbers tape) will stay on.


Lip cream and some high factor cream is essential as is a hat.


If you have completed a First Aid course this may be useful for treating a deep gash but, in the eventuality of ripping a spray deck, it is essential to carry stitching equipment on an expedition. If paddling in a folding kayak it may be necessary to repair the soft hull of your boat.

Dry dock

If you have sustained serious damage to your kayak it will be necessary to beach the craft and to make extensive repairs using fibreglass resin, hardener and cloth. You will need to carry sandpaper and surgical gloves also. It is always useful to carry cable ties of assorted lengths as well as glue and a good knife.


Mistakes happen when tiredness sets in. Carry energy bars and water and a towline to aid those in need.


Firstly, it is important to understand that hyperthermia does not set it immediately. It takes time for the body’s core temperature to fall to a critical temperature when paddling hard but it is important to take precautions if the weather closes in. Prevention is better than the cure and a paddler must be able to continue until shelter is found onshore.

However, if a paddler is immersed in the Atlantic sea during spring or winter this will reduce the body’s temperature very quickly. Water conducts heat away from the body 25 times more quickly than air and this is why getting wet in any cold environment is dangerous. Cold climate, cold water and wet clothes are a dangerous combination. Wear appropriate clothing for immersion and pack dry clothing in the boat. Fatigue and dehydration will help to induce hyperthermia.

Eat properly, drink lots, avoid tiredness and avoid getting wet – have a plan B if you do get wet.


Carry a first aid kit. If the injury can not be resolved seek help using preferred communication method.


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