With kayak fishing it is easy to get distracted with the fishing and sometimes not notice things like the weather changing, or another boat heading your way. So it is good to be prepared for an emergency.
In this article we will cover kayak fishing safety equipment and a gear checklist. As well as some tips and hints on how to use it and why it should be with you.
Kayak Fishing Safety Gear Checklist
Here are some safety items you might include in your equipment:
- PFD / Life jacket
- Cell phone in a dry bag
- Safety whistle
- Anchor and extra rope
- Anchor trolley
- Bilge pump
- Bailing bucket or scoop
- Spare paddle
- Rescue throw bag
- GPS / Fish finder
- EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon)
- PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)
- Safety knife / rope cutter
- Safety flag
- Boating lights
- Headlamp / Flashlight
- Paddle float
- Webbing ladder
- Marine safety flares
- Marine radio
- Appropriate clothing
- First Aid Kit
- Leatherman tool / multi-tool
- Tether / Leash gear
- Dry bags
Life jacket / PFD
One of the most important things for kayak fishing is to use a life jacket, also called a PFD. (Personal Flotation Device.)
While fishing kayaks are generally very stable there is a chance you can still capsize the kayak and end up in the cold water to. So it always a good idea to wear a life vest.
Even if you do wear a wetsuit or you think you’re a good swimmer it is always sensible to wear a life jacket. As cold waters or fatigue can overcome the best swimmer.
With bulky clothing on, fishing gear going all over the place and the shock of getting tipped into the water, it is easy to get caught by surprised, so a PFD should not only be in the kayak, but actually on you, wearing it.
Sometimes it is a good idea to have a spare PFD in the hull of kayak. If you or your fishing partner forgets to bring one, you have a spare one. It is also extra buoyancy in the kayak.
A mobile phone shouldn’t be your primary safety source, as you could be in areas with no service, or it could malfunction if wet.
Place your cell phone in a waterproof bag or small dry bag. I also put my wallet and car keys in this bag as well and put this in my fishing PFD. this limits my chance of losing my valuables going overboard into the water.
Make sure your phone is fully charged before you head out. You can also get some small powerful phone charges that you can take to recharge it.
A whistle is a good way to communicate between kayak fishermen, as sometimes the wind is too noisy to shout.
A safety whistle is also good for getting a boats attention that may not see you.
They don’t take up much room and are inexpensive to buy.
I have a marine safety whistle attached to my fishing PFD for quick access.
Anchor and extra-long rope
Have extra rope out when anchored, so if there any big waves or swells the kayak will ride them easily.
A short anchor rope can be dangerous as the kayak may not ride the waves, but be pulled under the wave as there is no give.
Anchor with more excess rope for strong currents, rising tides, waves and swells.
One rough formula for how much anchor rope to let out is 8:1. That is you let out 8 feet of rope for every 1 foot of water depth. This is also called “scope.”
This ratio or scope will depend on the weather, currents, tides, depth and bottom. Other ratios are 5:1 or 6:1 for calmer waters.
For very rough weather or strong currents the ratio might even go up to be 12:1
A length of chain attached close to the anchor sets the anchor into the bottom faster and helps keeps the angle of the rope to work a more horizontal pull. Otherwise the anchor can lift out with no sideways pressure set.
The anchor should be suitable for the bottom type.
Kayak Anchor Trolley
Never anchor side on as waves or a current can tip the kayak over.
An anchor trolley can help position the kayak at a good fishing angle, but still be safe from the waves and wind.
The kayak anchor trolley is a loop of cordage that runs around one side of the kayak. The loop runs from the bow to the stern end on two pulleys. The angler can pull the cord up or down and this positions where the anchor rope angles off the kayak.
Have a quick release clip from the anchor trolley to the anchor rope, in case you have to release the anchor quickly.
For a sit in kayak, the bilge pump can get rid of excess water in the hull.
A bilge pump might be used for saltwater fishing or fishing big open lakes. Check that it is working correctly before heading out.
Bailing bucket or scoop
For a sit-in-kayak, a bailing bucket or scoop is useful for getting rid of excess water in the hull of the kayak.
Even on a sit-on-top fishing kayak, a small bailing bucket is handy for scooping up bits of water in the footrests or wells of the kayak.
For some states, a bailer is compulsory to have in a vessel. (This may or may not include a kayak. And even a sit on top kayak, so double check the boating rules if the word vessel or boats includes kayaks.)
For the size and weight of it, is worth having a bailer in your gear. You can also use the bailer to get water over the side and wash out fish blood and mud on the kayak.
For very hot days fishing, the bailing bucket is ideal for scooping up some water and pouring it over yourself to cool you down, especially if you have a wetsuit on.
A cut up plastic milk container with a handle makes an easy DIY bailer.
A sponge or cloth is also useful for not only cleaning up fish slime, but also grime and mud from the anchor. You can also use it for mopping up excess water that a bailing bucket can’t get to.
Having a spare kayak paddle is a good idea if you go saltwater fishing or fish big bodies of water, as it would be a disaster if you lose or break your paddle.
A two piece paddle can be stored easier in the kayak hull or secured on the rear well or under the bow decking lines.
Make sure the main paddle is tethered to the fishing kayak.
Rescue throw bag
A rescue throw bag is a thin rope with a weight that can be thrown to another kayak to help pull them out of a situation. It can also be used to tow the kayaker if they are injured or if their paddle is broken, etc.
The rope should float and the bag can be a medium weight buoy so it can be thrown easily, but float if the receiving kayaker doesn’t catch it.
GPS / fish finder
The GPS (Global Positioning System) is very handy, for marking good fishing spots or structures. This is ideal for getting back to a spot in low light or darkness, where it is hard to see landmarks.
You can also mark danger areas like shallow reefs or rocky outcrop areas in the water you want to avoid with the GPS.
I remember one fishing trip in a boat with a friend. We set off from a boat ramp during the daylight, fished for several hours and headed back when it was dark. It was hard to find the boat ramp because it had no lights and you couldn’t see any visual landmarks.
To make matters worse, there were big rocky reeks in the area. We motored slowly back and eventually found the boat ramp, but it was a long and slow trip back trying to find the ramp. The moral of the story is use a GPS to mark your vehicle launch spot as well.
If you are doing a backcountry kayak or canoe fishing trip, don’t just rely on your GPS. Have a map and compass and know how to use it.
A fish finder while not technically safety gear is good for reading the depth of the water and also the contour of the lake or sea bottom. These are ideal for knowing when you are approaching shallow water or any dangers like a shallow rocky bottoms.
You can also get fish finders with built in GPS on them.
An EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) is used to contact emergency services to find you.
The EPIRB will provide first responders with your GPS coordinates to narrow down you’re your location.
An EPIRB is normally attached to a boat or watercraft vessel. Some brands are designed to be activated automatically when submerged underwater.
In some states and countries if you go out to the sea so many nautical miles from land, you are required to have one in your vessel.
Much like an EPIRB, a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) can be used to summons first responders for help.
A PLB is smaller and more portable than an EPIRB. You might have a PLB attached to your life vest or in a fanny pack on you.
For some brands you can submit your intended trip location and legs, which are also ideal for hikers and backpackers.
Safety knife / rope cutter
A safety knife is ideal for cutting fishing line or rope that is tangled, but it is safer to use as it has a blunt tip.
A sharp tip knife can be a danger in rough and bumpy waters when fishing from the kayak. So the safety knife is handy to have because he can cut rope and line easy but doesn’t have a dangerous point.
I attach my line safety knife to my fishing PFD, this makes it easy to get to in a hurry or an emergency.
A safety flag is a great idea on a fishing in a kayak as they sit low on the water and are hard to see.
Big waves and swells will hide the kayak from another boat, so the flag helps to stick out especially if it’s a fluorescent bright color.
On the safety flag pole you can also mount safety lights.
Another idea is to put reflective tape on the pole as well, for more visibility in low light.
If you don’t want to buy a commercial one, a DIY kayak safety flag can be made from the following:
- Broken fishing rod
- Thin PVC pipe
- Thin tent pole
- Childs bicycle safety flag
The builder’s safety flag can also be purchased from a hardware store. Or a DIY flag from fluro orange plastic material.
Use small marine boating lights or kayak lights when you fish during the night.
You also might need lights if you set out early in the morning while it is dark. Or you regularly fish in the evening and get back at dark.
Check local boating (it might include vessels like kayaks) rules about what safety lights you need. Such as bow, stern lights and port and starboard lights.
Headlamp / Flashlight
A flashlight can not only help you change fishing tackle, but you can use it for an emergency signaling device on the water.
Always carry a waterproof flashlight, even if you don’t plan on fishing in the dark. The weather might change and you get delayed paddling back, before you know it, it’s dark.
Also you might be catching some fish in the evening and decide to stay until dark while they are on the bite.
Headlamps are good for hands free use, so you can paddle or re-bait hooks or change lures.
Even if you just use a headlamp, have an extra waterproof torch as well. Check your batteries are fresh and the torch is working before you set out for the trip.
A lot of fish species are active feeding around dawn, dusk and night time, so a flashlight is worth having.
A paddle float can help you get back on the kayak when it has capsized.
The paddle float is buoyant and you slide it on one end of the paddle.
You brace the paddle on the decking of the kayak underneath the deck lines or cargo netting. This helps stabilize the kayak like an outrigger when you’re trying to climb back onto the kayak.
You can get paddle floats in two types. One that is inflatable and you blow it up, the other is solid foam.
A rope or webbing ladder is used to help you get back on the kayak when in the water.
I use a bit of webbing strap tied with loops in it and a big carabiner that can be used as a rope ladder. This is clipped on to the side carry handle or somewhere on the kayak and extended overboard and used as a foot rest to get back on the kayak.
So the webbing or rope doesn’t float I use a tube of plastic around 10 inches long, for a stirrup. The webbing strap inserts through the plastic tube.
Marine safety flares
Boating flares are worth investing in for extra safety when fishing in big bodies of water.
Know how to use the signaling flares and how the different ones work. Like a smoke flare for the day time and a parachute flare or star flare for nighttime emergencies.
You should have a combination of both day and night safety flares in your kit. Keep them dry and protected from the elements when in the kayak.
Some states and countries have rules that you should have signaling flares on board if you head out in the ocean fishing a certain distance from land.
Remember emergency flares have an expiry date and might only last a year or two, before being replaced.
While the mobile phone is a great tool, it can go flat easy, be out of service or get wet and not work. So a marine radio is a good back up tool for getting help.
Know the correct emergency channels and what procedures on how to use it.
Obviously you can’t chat to your fishing buddy about how the fish are biting on an emergency channel. (However, you can use it on another channel and communicate with him.)
You can get some good small handheld radios that you can attach to your life vest or put in a fanny pack or bum bag.
Some marine radios brands are more waterproof and better quality than other models, so shop around.
Check your battery levels before heading out.
The correct clothing for kayaking and a PFD is probably one of the most important safety equipment items you can have when fishing.
In kayak fishing you are probably going to get wet, or some splashes of water on you. This could be from paddling, landing a fish, hauling up the anchor, waves or sea spray.
To make the fishing more comfortable wear appropriate clothing like a wetsuit or dry suit for cold weather and water.
Wearing the correct clothing is a fine line as you may get hot paddling to the location, then you cool down when at the fishing spot. However, always dress like you might end up in the cold water if the kayak capsizes.
Depending on the water temperature and air temperature, you might wear a two piece wetsuit, insulation layer like a microfleece top. To prevent the wind chill and getting wet you might wear a rain jacket that is also wind proof.
Remember to wear a hat and Polaroid sunglasses to reduce glare and the sun. This makes it easier to spot fish and fish feeding as well. For very hot weather a wide brimmed hat can work.
A French Foreign Legion type hat with flaps for the sides and back of your neck, will cover you from the sun. You can get waterproof paddling caps with removable sides.
For cold weather, a waterproof beanie is worth having.
Wetsuit gloves or paddling gloves should be worn to prevent blisters when paddling and also offer protection from the cold or heat.
Wetsuit boots and waterproof socks might be worn.
If you need to change your top layer, ideally change on land as you have to take your PFD off to change.
For extra safety, wear bright colorful clothing that helps you be seen when you’re on the water. Colors like fluro orange, yellow and hot pink standout against the grey blue and dull waters or background.
Have spare clothing in a dry bag for extra layers or warmth. I would suggest a towel and a change of extra clothing back at the vehicle as well. In case you do go in the drink and you can change into dry clothes for the trip home.
First aid kit
A personal first aid kit should be carried on your kayak in a dry bag.
It is not only useful for big emergencies, but also for little mishaps, like a spike from a fish’s spines or small cuts.
A bigger first aid kit should also be kept in the vehicle as well.
Take a first aid course and keep up to date on the latest techniques.
If you regularly go fishing, camping and kayak fishing then a first aid course is cheap insurance to learn how to use your first aid bandages and kit.
Leatherman tool / multi-tool
A Leatherman tool or like a multi-tool applies is handy to have in case you get a fishing hook caught somewhere.
(Pliers or fishing forceps can help as well.)
Multi tools are also handy for doing emergency repairs like, tightening bolts and screws on fishing gear as well.
Be careful in saltwater as multi tools can rust very easy, so clean them with a cleaning oil or spray after a fishing trip.
Tether / Leash gear
If you don’t tether your gear, it could go overboard and you could lose safety gear like a paddle float or marine radio.
Attach the leash to the gear and on the other end use large carabiners or clips that are marine grade stainless steel.
Not all stainless steel is rust proof and in saltwater the clips will eventually seize and won’t work, so use marine grade fittings. A marine supplies shop is a good place to find stainless clips, etc.
To learn how to set up a kayak for fishing, click on – How To Outfit A Kayak For Fishing
If the weather changes for the worse and you don’t have spare clothing protected in a dry bag, it can get wet. Some clothing material will then not provide the warmth and be a hazard.
A dry bag is good for protecting electrical items dry such as the cell phone, GPS or marine radio.
A dry bag when sealed properly will not only keep the water out, but it can float as well for extra safety of not losing your gear.
Extra kayak fishing safety tips
This section isn’t just on safety gear, but more tips on fishing safely from a kayak and options for improving you safety equipment.
Tell someone where you are going fishing
Tell a friend or your partner where exactly you going to go fishing and also when you are expected back.
It is also a good idea to tell the person where you are going to launch the kayak from and where the vehicle will be parked. Such as at the main boat ramp, or on a remote back road that accesses the river.
Send a text to the partner or draw a map, so they’re not going by memory of the fishing place you told them. You might even include latitude and longitude coordination’s as well.
I put pieces of reflective tape on my paddle and handle.
I also place small patches on my fishing kayak as this helps it stand out at night when any sort of light reflects off it.
An old cloth or bandana is a good idea to hold the fish as well as clean your hands from fish slime. Washing your hands can help make your hands less slippery. Especially when fiddling around with a fishing knife or hooks, as your hands might slip and hurt yourself.
A bright orange bandana can be used for a cloth, as well as an emergency flag if tied to the tip of a fishing rod.
Tether your paddle
Tether the paddle to the kayak as it is amazing the amount of stories you hear about a kayaker losing their paddle. Which can be dangerous in windy conditions where you can get blown across the lake or the open sea.
For saltwater fishing or large lakes where you might be heading out the fairway have an extra paddle that might be a 2 piece one for easier storage.
Kayaking canoeing safety courses
A number of canoeing and kayaking clubs have safety information nights or provide courses like practice doing safety drills like re-entering the kayak, etc.
You can also learn a lot from the experience kayakers who do long trips. Also some are experienced in navigating icy waters and rough seas.
Don’t overload your kayak
A kayak will paddle easier and more efficiently if it isn’t overloaded. A weighted kayak will sit in the water lower and harder to maneuver.
No alcohol when fishing
Obviously never drink alcohol while on the water. Even a small amount can dull your reflexes and state of mind or common sense.
Reflective anchor rope
You can buy reflective marine rope which is easier to see at night if any light shines on it.
This is helpful to know where your anchor rope angles out from your kayak exactly for low light conditions.
Conclusion – Kayak Fishing Safety Gear
Kayak fishing can be safe, but like any water sport or activity there can be risks involved and potential dangers. So it is always a good idea to carry safety gear and know how to use it properly.
Wear your PFD all the time, check the weather regularly and wear appropriate clothing like you may end up in the cold water if the kayak tips.
Have fun, but stay safe on the water.
Author: David Anderson