What to carry when you go sea kayaking

By Eila Wilkinson - May 01, 2020

“What kit do you carry?” is a question I get asked frequently. The answer will vary depending upon where I am paddling; what the air temperature is; what the sea temperature is; am I paddling alone, or coaching a group. Even coaching a group my kit may have additional items - it will depend on what I am coaching or specialising in at that time.

There are some key items, that whenever I am paddling I will always take with me and this is what I have concentrated on here. If you have a bit of kit that you haven’t used for a long while consider why you carry it and is it really necessary. This wouldn’t relate to certain items of safety kit which you may carry and hopefully never have to use!

A cautionary note:

What works for me, might not work for you. I am sure you have seen as many posts as I have on the internet asking the kayaking population for advice, perhaps “what kayak should I buy?”, “which tow line shall I buy?”, “which paddle shall I buy?”

The answer will always the same. “The one that is best suited to you and works for you”.

If in doubt as a starting point speak to a good qualified coach. Some shops are excellent however, be wary of ones that may sell you what they want to get rid of. Ask local coaches where they’d recommend! I can recommend the kit I use as I have tried and tested it in all conditions and pushed to the end of its limitations and I have confidence in how it works and that it works for me. It is so important to understand the limitations of each bit of kit and how to look after it.

For example, I unpack my tow belt after each time I use it. Why? 2 reasons - the first is that rope has a “memory”, after weeks or months of being packed tightly away, when you finally get it out it is all crinkled. Does this matter? It matters because when we come to engage our tow line in a real situation or even in practice, we want the line to be a clean as it can be, any kinks and the rope will be more likely to knot and twist back on itself. By unpacking the line after each paddle, it helps prevent this and makes me pack it before each use. I know then that it’s armed and ready for action when called for!

There is no perfect bit of kit. It all has failings. The more we use it, experiment and practice with it the more we understand its failings, so when we have to engage it “for real” – we already have the expectation and understanding of what may go wrong, and in all the practice we have done know how to overcome it.

I have suggested what is stored where based on what works for me, and what access I need to it. Don’t forget the importance of trimming your kayak and making sure your kit is evenly packed and balanced; time spent experimenting with this will keep you in good stead for some much more enjoyable adventures on the sea.

The Paddler

  • Padding clothing / shoes or boots - your choice of what to wear on the water. Make sure it’s appropriate to the season and the conditions you are going out in, and always be prepared to take a beach stop and have the options in your kayak to add or lose a layer.
  • Hat or bandana
  • Sunglasses
  • VHF radio
  • Tow Belt
  • Helmet
  • Buoyancy Aid (BA)

In Your Pockets

  • Handheld compass
  • Waterproof notepaper and a chinograph pencil
  • Denso tape for kayak repair. This is a petroleum-based sticky green cloth invented to fix underground pipes, which makes it perfect for effecting repairs on the water and getting your kayak paddle-able again.
  • Loud whistle
  • Lip balm
  • She Wee (you know if you need one!)
  • Knife
  • Small plastic ruler – to help release a jammed skeg; I sometimes see knives being used for this purpose, which has a very high risk of injury if the knife was to suddenly slip
  • Day/night flare
  • Watch
  • Camera
  • Spray Deck
  • Paddle Leash (I choose one, you may not!)

On the deck of my kayak

  • Split paddles
  • Contact Tow
  • A reusable water bottle - no single use plastic please!
  • Maps / chart in a waterproof map case & clip-on compass

if navigating. I will always have a map of where I am paddling in my day hatch.

Remember – if it isn’t tied on, you will lose it. Always ensure any items you put under your deck-lines or bungees are tied on!

In the Cockpit

  • Sponges - several sponges to stop water sloshing around
  • A pump – make sure there is at least one in your group (I may also carry this on my back deck)

Additionally, it can be very useful to carry an inflatable paddle float clipped in behind the seat of your kayak. Why? Do you have a bombproof roll that you can guarantee will work? If you were tired and low on energy or cold a self-rescue using a paddle float for additional support may be a welcome tool.

Day Hatch

  • Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
  • Electronic flare
  • Extra water – again, no single-use plastic bottles please !
  • Snacks
  • Day kayak repair kit
  • Waterproof box containing mobile phone, vehicle keys, money or credit card
  • Lightweight storm cag
  • Hot drink flask (for cooler days when I might welcome something warming)

Front Hatch

  • Emergency Shelter (with space for 8-10 persons)
  • A spare storm cag for group use (or other spare clothes for warmth)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Extra paddling clothes
  • String bag for carrying kit

Back Hatch

  • Sit mat for lunch break
  • MSR stove
  • Lunch
  • Extra lunch!
  • Trolley wheels if needed.

Finally, it is very important that you understand what you are carrying, how to use it and why you are carrying it. Kit can be expensive, and it’s worth taking the time to think about how you will use something, what use you will get from it, and which item will suit you best. As always, if you are unsure, ask a coach the next time you are on a course, or get in touch with us and one of the team will be happy to help.

Good luck, and remember to look after your kit – one day you may need it to look after you!

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