What piece of safety equipment is required on every canoe and kayak?

Nature can be calm, it can be kind, but most of the time nature is unpredictable. And water is a huge part of nature so it can be super unpredictable too. When out in the water may it be the open sea, a lake, or a river, and when involved in any water-related activity your safety should be a priority.

Pieces of Essential Safety Equipment for kayak and Canoeing

Kayaking and canoeing are two of the most popular water activity across the world. What piece of safety equipment is required on every canoe and kayak? Before you step out and ride the waves, you must ask yourself this question and make sure you are more than prepared.

Here are the essentials.

13 Pieces of Essential Safety Equipment for kayak and Canoeing

Flotation Device

A floatation device is a no-brainer part of the essentials that you’ll take with you once you go out kayaking or canoeing. You’d never expect when you need one but you always would want to have at least a form of floatation device with you.

A floatation device can be a lot of things that can keep at least your head above water in times of need. Whether the situation is relatively calm or not you’d need one good floatation device with you. It’s your life jacket, your life preserver, buoyancy aid, or flotation suit.

Whichever you have access to, once you go out kayaking or canoeing make sure to have one with you.


There are two main types of floatation devices. One is your standard PFD that’s supposed to keep your head above water whenever you or someone is conscious and is relatively aware of what’s going on or their surroundings.

A life jacket, on the other hand, is supposed to keep someone afloat irrelevant whether they are conscious or not. Maybe someone got knocked out cold due to an accident and they got dislodged in their canoe or kayak which is not far out in these water activities.

That’s why one of the most common apparatuses one wears when kayaking or canoeing is a life jacket and it’s also provided by organizers of said activities for everyone’s safety.

A lifejacket can come in different buoyancy weights and sizes. Make sure you wear something that fits you right and the desired buoyancy weight. Common buoyancy weights are 24 and 14 pounds. The higher the buoyancy weight the better you float.

Passenger limit

Most people like to go kayaking alone while a canoe is harder especially for beginners to paddle when you don’t have a partner with you. A usual 14 feet canoe can hold about 700 pounds of passenger weight while a 17 feet model can handle 1160 pounds of weight.

But the most popular sizing for a canoe is 16 feet and it can hold 2 people with a max weight limit of 940 pounds. This is a recreational canoe.

Make sure to take into consideration not only the passenger’s weight of either your kayak or canoe and also take into consideration your gears.

A kayak or canoe’s weight limit varies due to its build materials, manufacturers, length, and width.


Another no-brainer equipment that you should always wear. You wear it inland activities, you should too wear it when in water activities. Your head would always be vulnerable especially in tougher watercourses.

So you never know when accidents might happen and most of the time, people that are not at risk of drowning actually drowns when they are rendered unconscious due to bumping their heads on rocks and anything else.

So, if you want to save your life, wear a helmet!

First aid kit

Make sure to have your up to date first aid kit manual, emergency phone numbers, differently sized sterile gauze pads, adhesive tapes, bandages, splint, and some antiseptic wipes with you all packed in your first aid kit.

Bring also some common medicines used for emergencies for they can be super valuable when necessary. Always be ready.

Spare paddle

You never know when your paddle would break. So be sure to take a spare paddle with you. Also, make sure to buy a good quality paddle in the first place to prevent such breakage from happening. These are some of the extra gears you should consider the weight for.

Bail bucket

A bail bucket is necessary when you need to remove water from your kayak or canoe. It should be part of your rescue gears but together with a pump, they are essential enough for us to separate them and emphasize their necessity.

Float bags

Float bags together with any other floatation device that you have are super essential should there be no rescue just yet in sight and you need to survive on your own. Just make sure that your float bag is designed that in such a way it won’t get entangled with anything else once in the water and defeat its purpose as a rescue device.

Whistles or Horns

When you’re dealing with wild waters, the waves can be deafening. Whistles and horns can produce a sound that can cut through all this noise that’s why you should always have one with you so you too can help rescuers locate you.


Aside from sound, flairs can help rescuers know where you are. Sometimes, when accidents happen, you can get stranded and your chances of survival depend on the ability of the rescuers to find you.

Flairs or flair guns are lifesavers so make sure to pack one with you. They are quite valuable especially when it gets dark.


Speaking of getting dark, flashlights are super essential once it gets cloudy or maybe it’s already nighttime and you are still stranded. It can tremendously help you find your way and eventually get back to safety. Ensure it’s the durable type, battery, or solar operated and something that won’t give up on you no matter the elements.


Thanks to the rapid development of technology we now have a lot of navigation tools that can help us either locate someone who needs rescuing or rescue ourselves in the process. More than just the handy compass which is by the way still super effective.

You can now bring a GPS device with you or even just your smartphone which should be of course, waterproof. A simple map can also help you out tremendously in times of need and when you are not familiar with the terrain.

Rescue Tools

Aside from your pump and bail bucket, you may also bring rescue lines or towing lines. These are heavy lines that may help you help other kayakers in times of need. In wild waters, these rescue lines can be super essential and practical when being or performing a rescue.

Re-boarding devices such as a stirrup or sling are also recommended for you to take with you. Also, make sure you let people or the proper authorities know that you or a group of friends are out kayaking or canoeing in certain areas.

Life jacket laws by state

As expected life jacket laws by state differ but there are a few common rules that apply to everyone. These laws are mostly concerned with children’s safety specifically when in a moving boat or vessel.

There can be states that don’t have life jacket laws and what the US coastguards require is for kids under 13 years of age to always wear approved life jackets and make sure it fits. This rule though does not supersede life jacket laws of states with existing ones.

Life jacket laws will cover or state the age that someone must wear a PFD, some exceptions, vessel length, approved PFDs, and when said PFDs should be worn.

Conventional Vs. Inflatable PFD

There are a few types of personal floatation devices that are approved by the US coastguards but the ones primarily used for kayaking or canoeing are your standard PFD as well as the inflatable PFD.

You also need to consider the fit and size of your chosen PFD. As well as some other features and specifications that you might need and that are well suited for your upcoming activity.

What are the main differences between the two?

Standard PFs are:

  • Low maintenance – all you got to do is to make sure that it’s clean and dried out properly out in the sun when it’s not in use.
  • Easy to use – provides buoyancy right away once worn.
  • Versatile – can be utilized for a lot of other water activities aside from kayaking and canoeing.
  • Pockets – standard PFDs will have pockets readily available for use.

Inflatable PFDs are:

  • Very comfortable – the slim profile of an inflatable PFD is a quality most people love for they have more freedom in terms of movement and it won’t obstruct your motions while you paddle.
  • Wearable all day – they cover relatively lesser parts of your body so you will be cool and comfy even during hotter days. They are meant for extreme water sports that require a lot from you.

Age and Operator Restrictions

Children should always be accompanied by an adult when kayaking or canoeing. Proper precautions must be observed at all times when involved in paddleboarding activities. Most restrictions apply to kids under 15 years of age that will operate a canoe with an installed motor in it.

Other than that, there aren’t any restrictions specified for standard kayaks and canoes. Go check with your local boating agencies before you paddle with a minor.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Which of the following is required equipment for personal watercraft?

A properly fitted life jacket, wetsuit, gloves, protective gears for your eyes, head, and foot are some of the required equipment that you have on your watercraft.

Plus, a helmet with trusted quality should always be worn. Signaling and rescue devices should also be brought at all times for you won’t know when accidents will occur.

Are PFDs required for kayaking?

Yes. All kayaks, canoes, and any other paddleboards are required by the US coastguard to have at least one approved and wearable PFD on board. That’s one for each person aboard the said vessel.

This is regardless of age, skill, or the toughness of the water you’ll be riding on.

Is there an open container law for kayak or canoe?

Can you be charged with DUI when out canoeing or kayaking in the water? The answer is, yes. There’s a legal limit to the amount of alcohol content in your blood when you are kayaking or canoeing.

That should be 0.08% BAC or 80 milligrams of alcohol content per 100 ml of blood. Factor in your body weight and gender among other factors then no you can’t just drink while you do water activities.

The penalties for BUI or boating under the influence can be different per tier of a violation. The first offense usually entails a fine with successive violations already invites some prison time from 2 weeks to 90 days of prison.

What does law enforcement consider as a vessel?

The law though can get a bit vague when it comes to implementation for it gets a little bit undefined whether when can you be charged with BUI because of what’s considered a vessel under the eye of the police.

The easiest way to consider something a vessel especially for law enforcement is when a kayak or canoe has an installed motor. When it is motorized then it’s considered a vessel thus you can be charged with a BUI when intoxicated.

The police then will have to make a judgment call if your kayak or canoe is manually rowed.

Final Thoughts

Kayaking and canoeing are two of the most enjoyable water activities we can do to unwind, explore, and stay healthy. These activities are good for the mind and body. But we must always ensure that everyone involved is safe so our fun never stops.

Being responsible ensures that we get the peace of mind that we yearn for. So check with your local laws and regulations, comply, and bring all necessary safety equipment whenever you go out kayaking or canoeing.

Stay safe and have an awesome time everyone!

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