Chapter 06 - Safety



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Kayaks are generally safe but present varied potential dangers. Use of the 6Ps of kayak safety - Planning, Partner, PFD, Preparation, Practice and Patience - can lessen these objective dangers.



Many potential hazards can be encountered out on the water in a kayak. Cold water is perhaps the greatest of these. Many others can make a day on a kayak unpleasant at best. Being aware of the dangers and following the six P's can increase your safety margin and can prevent unfortunate outcomes.


What are the 6Ps?

Planning - Many kayak trips go wrong before they ever leave the shore. Some kayakers start to paddle never having considered anything about what they are going to have to deal with during their paddle. I have seen people launching from a ramp for a day's paddling having not the slightest idea about weather, tides, wind, water temperatures, currents or many other haszards of a particular area. Planning is your first defence against an unhappy experience.

Partner - Another kayaker out on the water is your most powerful safety item. There are many more options in any dangerous situation when there is more than one person out on the water. Kayaking alone is much more dangerous than kayaking with others. Most fatalities occur when kayaking alone.

PFD - A Personal Flotation Device helps you to stay above water. Breathing is easier there. A PFD will not save you from everything, but it does make everything in the water easier. Having a PFD is not the same as wearing it.

Preparation - Do you have the equipment along that you might need if something goes bad? Are you properly dressed? Do you know what to do in certain situations? Do you know what your limits are? Do you have sufficient knowledge for what you are attempting to do?

Practice - Learned skills need to be practiced in order to be reliable. When something changes, a boat, a paddle, a skirt - all those skills need to be practiced again. If you haven't been out paddling in a while, you need some practice first.

Patience - Many tragedies on the water start when people are in a hurry. Planes have to be met, time schedules kept, other committments honored. Such time pressures lead to bad judgements that compromise safety. Sometimes actions are taken without thinking of consequences. Very few things happen at high speed on the sea. You usually will have plenty of time to think about things before needing to do them.

If you can follow the 6Ps, you are much more likely to have a safer and more enjoyable time on the water.


The following pages describe some of these dangers and ways to avoid or lessen them.

Be safe, know the dangers of cold water! The greatest danger a kayaker faces is cold water. Many are not aware of the multiple dangers cold water presents. You should be very familiar with the threat and what you need to do in order to be safe paddling in cold water.

Hypothermia - Killer Cold and other medical dangers

Sea sickness

Basic kayak equipment including safety gear

Don't fall over - know how to brace

Wet Exit and Kayak re-entry - if you fall over, know how to get air and then get back in.

Kayak lights - be seen. It's no fun being run over.

Lightning is frightening

In the United States, an average of 73 people are killed each year by lightning. That's more than the annual number of people killed by tornadoes or hurricanes. Do you know about lightning?

Personal Flotation Devices

Whether called life jackets, life vests, life preservers, Mae Wests or Personal Floatation Devices ( PFDs), this equipment is one of the essential Ps of kayaking. PFDs provide individualized floatation assistance. The Coast Guard states 85% of all drowning deaths were preventable if the victim had worn a PFD..

Visual Distress Signals

Although not required to carry visual distress signals during the day, kayakers should carry some type of daytime distress signal

Wave Dynamics and Rogue Waves

Wind waves, or the rippling of the ocean surface by the friction and driving force of the wind, is the most ever-present oceanic feature.

Wind - Downbursts

Caused by thunder-storms, localized strong winds as high as 130 miles per hour can hit with little or no warning.


These are just some of the safety issues faced by kayakers. Others are addressed in other pages of this web site. It is not a comprehensive list of dangers. See the warning at the bottom of this page.




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EVEN THE BEST BOATERS CAN FIND THEMSELVES IN SERIOUS TROUBLE ON THE MILDEST OF DAYS ON THE WATER. PARTICIPATION IN THIS SPORT IS A STRENUOUS ACTIVITY. CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN BEFORE UNDERTAKING ANY SUCH ACTIVITY. PLEASE BE AWARE THAT EACH BOATER TAKES FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR HIS OR HER OWN SAFETY, AND IS TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR ASSESSING THE DANGER LEVEL AND ACCEPTING THE CONSEQUENCES OF PARTICIPATING IN THIS SPORT.


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