My buoyancy aid essentials

By Chris Evans - May 22, 2020

As Lead Instructor for Paddlesports, I thought it would be helpful to share  buoyancy aid essentials for white water kayaking, canoeing and sea kayaking.

Making sure you’ve got the right essentials in your buoyancy aid is always a good exercise to carry out, but as we’re all quite sensibly under lockdown at the moment, there’s no excuse for not taking the time to check what you’re carrying with you. I thought it would be helpful to share what I carry with me on the water, whether it’s working with clients or just out for playtime with friends.

A key message is that if you paddle a range of different craft, you’ll see some similarities and differences in what I take out; this is a chance to save some pennies by only buying the essentials, rather than doubling-up on things.

White Water Kayak

  • Knife - The main use for this is rope cutting, however, it also comes in handy for cheese, and other picnic situations (just make sure it’s clean!). 
  • Pruning Saw - Lots of uses, including trimming the branches of dead trees that have fallen into the river, cutting campfire wood or cutting through a boat fitting in an emergency.
  • Whistle - Primarily there to raise attention in an emergency but could be useful if you happen to find yourself in a riverside 90’s rave.
  • Carabiners - Becomes part of your pin and rescue kit when combined with throwlines, rescue tapes and prusiks.
  • Prusiks - The main use is as a ‘rope grabber’ in your pin kit, also useful as a necklace if you happen to find yourself surrounded by climbers.
  • Rescue tape - Loads of uses, from short throw rescues to boat lowering, hauling systems, mechanical advantage systems, and even as a washing line when you’re at camp! The trick here is to make sure that, whatever you decide to use it for, make sure you’re slick with it – this is one area that some coaching can really pay dividends.
  • Sun cream - I specifically highlight this because I burn really easily, but I think we all know this is a really sensible idea.
  • Phone in a waterproof case - To raise the alarm if it's needed or to let people know that you’re having too much fun and will be back late. 


Moving Water

For moving water, my buoyancy aid equipment is almost identical to my whitewater kayaking equipment, as I’m performing in the same environment. The only addition I would make is pulleys to assist in the job of removing a boat from a pin.

Open Water

This is an interesting one for me as its often overlooked, but there is a difference between flat water and open water or sheltered and very sheltered depending on which definition you’re looking at. For the British Canoeing Leadership awards, the documentation covers distances from shores, wind speeds and environmental descriptions to help you get your head around it.

To gain a real idea of open water rather than flat water, if it all goes wrong do you get blown to the shore relatively quickly, or can you swim to shore relatively quickly? If the answer is “No” to these questions, you’re in open water. A rescue here could be potentially quite tricky so why not carry some useful bits in your buoyancy aid to make this easier and increase your knowledge to make these rescues slicker.

As a suggestion why not carry:

  • Rescue Tape - Many uses - a makeshift painter if a boat doesn’t have one, for example.
  • Knife - Similar to the above, its main use will be cutting rope. Rather than in a moving water scenario, this could be a boat moving entrapment scenario, for example, group sailing or towing.
  • Whistle - For gaining attention in an emergency and for camp-based 90’s-style raves.
  • Tat - This is random lengths of prusik cord or old throwlines or climbing ropes. These could be carried in your drybags as well in your buoyancy aid and have endless uses from boat fixes to group sailing rigs to equipment lashings. Make sure you’ve brushed up on some common knots and their appropriate uses too!
  • Pruning saw - Not a total necessity on open water, but I carry one should a fitting need removing in an emergency, or if I want to set up a lunchtime fire or fuel up the Kelly kettle.
  • Sun cream 
  • Phone in a waterproof case - To raise the alarm if it’s needed.

Sea Kayak

A few more additions here to meet the requirements of seafaring in safety:

  • Sun Cream - Probably the most important place for sun cream as there’s often nowhere to hide from the sun.
  • Small day and night flare - A simple but effective method of highlighting a location if help is needed.
  • VHF radio and a mobile phone - Both have their uses for logistics and communications between you and the coastguard (not just when in trouble but also to inform when getting on and off the water) or members of the team if a split journey is being undertaken.
  • Insulation tape - Useful for sorting blisters, nicks to paddles and dinks to boats.
  • Pencil and waterproof notebook - Often contains all the information about your planned trip and could be useful if you're asked for your location in a rescue situation.
  • Whistle - Useful for gaining attention.
  • Rescue tape - Again, many uses…. in sea kayaks I’ve used the rescue slings to help people back into boats.
  • Small boat repair kit - Sometimes you may not have the luxury of landing before being able to fix a boat, so I always carry a couple of spare bolts, cable ties and something to fix a small hole or crack in a boat; this could be something like surf wax, cling film or plumbers’ tape.

As you can see, there are some similarities and some differences between the disciplines. Hopefully it means there’s a good chance of saving you some pennies by not having many sets of the same things, instead it can just go between your buoyancy aids. Make the most of your time spent house-bound to evaluate what you carry and maybe consider removing the unnecessary and adding in some essentials. Have you got something you see as essential that I’ve not included? Leave a comment or get in touch; I’d love to see what you’ve got.


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