Paddling Safety and Rescue Gear

Basic Safety Gear

It’s simple: Paddlers who wear protective gear are less likely to capsize than those who don’t. Paddlers should have the following paddle board accessories and safety equipment at all times:


Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) are necessary paddling safety equipment. If you capsize, they provide buoyancy to keep your head above water. They can also help with bracing, rolling, and rescues by providing extra upward force when your upper body is submerged. PFDs also act as an extra layer of insulation in cold weather.

Every boater is required by the US Coast Guard to wear an approved PFD. Wear yours at all times while paddleboarding. They can be difficult to put on after a capsize, especially if the conditions are rough and you’re already trying to hold on to your boat and paddle.

Flotation Bags

Flotation bags reduce the amount of water in canoes and kayaks, preventing them from sinking if they capsize. Whitewater kayaks are more likely to use the bags; sea kayaks typically have built-in bulkheads that trap air at the bow and stern. The air-filled bags, which are attached at the bow and stern of canoes and sometimes in the centre, keep boats riding high over rocks and prevent swamping. Some bags are designed in such a way that two bags fit lengthwise on either side of the bow or stern, leaving room for other gear bags in between.


Sponsons are floating devices that attach to the outside of a canoe or kayak. They are usually used in pairs, with one on each side of the boat.

Spray Skirts

Spray skirts are watertight barriers that keep waves, rain, and spray out of kayaks. They protect the area between your waist and the cockpit coaming or rim of your kayak. A spray skirt should be worn in all but the calmest, warmest conditions. Water in your boat (from rain, waves, or drips from your paddle) can soak your clothes, ruin your lunch, and even make you dizzy. Spray covers are waterproof barriers that can be removed to keep water out of canoes in rough or rainy conditions. These covers, which snap or hook onto the canoe’s edges and stretch across the open hull, keep the paddler and equipment dry while also helping the boat float higher in the water. Spray covers are available in a variety of styles and are regarded as optional equipment by the majority of canoe campers. However, on adventurous journeys in rough or wet weather, they should be considered basic safety equipment.


Helmets are essential safety equipment for whitewater and surf kayakers who may be thrown from their boats in shallow water or rocky areas. They should fit snugly under the chin and fasten securely. Some styles, typically used for whitewater tricks, include an additional layer of protection in the form of a face mask.

First-Aid Kits

Of course, each paddling group should have a first-aid kit on hand. Paddling-specific kits are available, but you may also use your own homemade kit with adequate contents.

Keep your paddling first-aid kit in a clearly labelled, waterproof bag (or box) in an easily accessible location on your boat. You don’t want to have to dig through your gear to find your first-aid supplies in a medical emergency.