Kayak Fishing Safety Tips

Kayak safety is at the forefront of many discussions in the kayak community this year. While the 2018 American Canoe Association statistics have not been released yet, 2017 had a total of 149 documented paddle sport fatalities which consisted of 94 kayak, 44 canoe, and 11 paddleboard deaths. One fact that highlights the growth of kayaking as a sport is that canoe fatalities accounted for most deaths in the United States until 2010, when kayaking took over the leading category and has not relinquished the title of the deadliest paddle sport in the United States since. 

While not all these accidents and incidents are preventable there are a few things and practices that you can work on to minimize the amount of risk you take on each individual trip. Here are some not so commonly mentioned safety tips to keep you safe and to help maximize your chances of survival if you were ever to find yourself in a dangerous situation. 

1. Understand the differences in the types of PFD’s available to the public. 

​Type I PFD – provides the most floatation of any PFD, suitable for rough water or stormy situations. This PFD is the only PFD that will keep most unconscious victims face above and out of the water. 

​Type II PFD – Suitable for most water conditions, provides great floatation in calmer water but in rough waters can require the individual to tread water to remain face up and head out of water. Many Type V (Special) inflatables have Type II ratings for buoyancy.

​Type III – Designed for calm water or where rescue would be very quickly accomplished. Type III devices are not designed for extended survival situations and will not turn an unconscious individual face up in the water. 

​Type IV – Throwable devices made for man overboard situations or to keep someone afloat long enough to direct the vessel or watercraft into a rescue position. 

​Type V – Special Use. This is a very broad category that encompasses most inflatable life vests, special purpose life vests and jackets, as well as white water vests. They must be worn when underway to meet USCG requirements for vessel floatation devices. Some manufacturers have Type V devices that meet Regular Type II standards. Automatic inflatable life vests are included in this category and provide the most comfort and user mobility during use.

​Each Category of life vest has different uses and provide different levels of protection during survival situations, understanding what your life vest will do in these situations is critical to making the right decision in deciding what to have with you as emergency equipment and survival gear. 

2. Dress appropriately and for the worst-case scenario.

​It is a common mistake to plan to go out for a few hours on the water and not bring the perfect gear to be out for an extended period. For example, if it is a chilly morning below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it is convenient to wear a hoodie and some thick pants and call it good for a few hours. But what happens when the wind is higher than expected or you get wetter than you planned? Having the gear and protective clothing for the worst conditions puts you in a position to remove items rather than having to wish you had them. I often sweat a little during my winter fishing trips because to me, being cold isn’t an option, if you are anything but cozy you have put yourself at a disadvantage and a have a higher risk of an incident if your situation goes south. Always try to have extra gear as a precaution even if it seems inconvenient. 

3. Prepare to be rescued. 

​Nobody likes to picture themselves in a life-threatening position but planning for these types of things can be the difference between life and death. Flares are an extremely useful device to help yourself be seen and located by boaters or authorities. If your out of range of a whistle to another boater, a flare or a good VHF radio might be your only shot at being noticed right away. Many search and rescue cases would have different outcomes if distress signals or messages were relayed at the time of the incident, but many searches don’t even start until that person is far overdue and reported missing by a friend or loves one. Those first hours can be the difference in the outcome of a search. Even if you only fish freshwater lakes and rivers, flares and or a radio can save your life. 

4. Always have your safety equipment within reach of both arms. 

​Imagine you are fishing in windy, 

choppy conditions and have a hook or life become embedded in your dominant hand or arm from a fish or accident. Could you handle lifting the weight of that fish and putting that much pressure on your wound to reach your gear or equipment? My example is I have a pair of heavy-duty diagonals cutting pliers to cut the hooks away from whatever is connected to it, whether it is a fish or debris to at least regain full use of that limb. I can reach these pliers with both hands no matter what awkward position I am in when this happens, if it ever happens. It looks goofy but my big diagonal cutter in the center of my life vest are a huge risk mitigator if I ever get hooked while the line or lure is attached to an object. The point of this tip is to think about these situations and to be able to plan for these things to happen, so they don’t catch you by surprise. If you ever want to see an example of this just check out Chris Castro’s leg gear on NextLevelFishingTV. He always has some emergency tools and some survival gear such as pliers and a knife on his leg for unexpected situations. 

5. Is your kayak rigged to flip?

​This can be a contradicting point at first glance. Is your kayak rigged to flip to save your gear, or save yourself? Tethers, line, trolleys and gear are valuable, but can also create a tangle hazard when both of you are flipped and in proximity to it under water. I use every gear leash I have when I am actively fishing, but when I am in a situation where I think flipping my kayak could happen, I disconnect everything, lay the gear down and use bungees that do not move and will not create tangle hazards for me if I flip with my kayak. Another big point on flipping a kayak or paddleboard is to always stay upswell of the kayak. If you are on the side of the kayak facing the wave direction a wave can throw the kayak or board into your body or head and risk serious injury, which in turn can really impact your ability to swim and tread water. With kayak seats getting higher and higher, high winds can really increase your chances of flipping in rough conditions. 

​While these points may seem like I am planning for the worst-case scenario, there is a reason for it. Writer Alan Lakein said, “Planning is bringing the future into the present, so you can do something about it now.” I plan because I spent 8 years of my life in the United States Coast Guard observing and responding to situations that every single person I helped to rescue or those we were unable to find or save never planned or dreamed that they would ever be in. I hope you enjoyed this article and got some insight into 5 not so common kayak safety tips from me.

-YakGear Brand Ambassador Holton Walker, now lives in Tyler, Texas. After serving our country in the Coast Guard for 8 years, Holton bought his family of 4 back home to Texas to work for McCoy’s Building Supply. Holton is an avid angler having grown up fishing the Laguna Madre in Corpus Christi, Texas. Now Holton spends his time fishing freshwater lakes and occasionally comes down to fish his home waters on the Texas coast.  Don’t be surprised if you see Holton at your next Kayak Fishing Tournament.