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Kayaking Preparedness: Know Before you Go

Kayaking Preparedness: Know Before you Go

What you should know before you go Kayaking

Ocean River Sports encourages you to ‘Get Out There’. To help you have an enjoyable and safe experience, consider the following tips before heading out on the water in your kayak.

Learning the Right Skills

It is important to have the skills to safely get out on the water in your kayak. Know what conditions you can paddle safely in, and stay within them. Ocean River teaches all levels of kayaking and Stand Up Paddle Boarding skills. Are you just starting out and looking for an introductory course? Perhaps you are looking to turn your paddling into a career and looking to take instructor training. Learn valuable self and assisted rescues techniques. Learn to navigate on the ocean and recognize any limitations you have in navigating. Learn paddle strokes to enable you to control your craft, even in adverse conditions. Learn how to launch and land safely in different situations, such as beaches, docks, or rocky shorelines. Learn to use a tow line to assist another paddler.

No matter what your skill level, we have a program to help you expand your skills and knowledge in a kayak or on a stand up paddle board. We know our stuff, and wish to share this with you to keep you safe and happy when out exploring. Check out some of our courses.

kayaking before you go

Know the Weather and Conditions 

Get the marine weather forecast before heading out on the water so you know what wind speed and wind direction you can expect to encounter. Marine weather forecasts are issued by Environment Canada and can be found at Marine Weather Forecast. A VHF hand-held marine radio can receive updates to the marine weather forecast while you are out paddling.

Additional information from the following websites can also help you find out about the upcoming weather: Wind Finder, The Weather Network, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Tides and Currents

Learn how to read tide and current tables. Know how the tides and currents will affect your planned route during the time frame you will be out. Tide and current tables are produced by the Canadian Hydrographic Services and are available online at: Tide and Current Tables.  Additional information on tides and currents can be found in handy apps, such as Aye Tides for smartphone.

Avoid Wildlife Conflicts

Keep your distance from wildlife. Use binoculars to view wildlife from a distance Stay 200 meters away from whales. Be respectful of wildlife by following these viewing guidelines: Be Whale Wise: Guidelines for Watching Marine Wildlife.

getting ready to go kayaking

Two is Better Than One

It’s best to paddle with a partner. The ocean is unpredictable. By paddling with others, it is much safer if something goes wrong. We realize that it can be wonderful to paddle by yourself, but please remember that shoreline paddling is where all the good stuff is – and also the best place to rescue yourself if something happens. If you are looking for people to paddle with try joining a paddling group.

SISKA South Island Sea Kayak Association, is paddling club for kayakers. There is also the South Island SUP group on Facebook.

Leave a Float Plan

Leave a float plan with a responsible adult, who can alert the authorities if you don’t return on time from your paddling trip. A float plan will dramatically reduce the the search area that rescuers need to cover, thereby increasing the odds that someone will find you.

A float plan includes the following:

  • the place you are launching from
  • your vehicle make and license plate number
  • when you plan to launch and when you will return
  • what route will you be taking
  • the number of people in your group
  • the types of emergency communication devices you will be carrying.      

Follow the route in your float plan, and let someone know about changes. Contact the person you left the float plan with as soon as you get off the water to let them know you’re safe and sound.  

Required Equipment

The following is the basic equipment you should have for every trip:

  • Boat in good operational condition
  • PFD or lifejacket
  • bailing device (such as a pump)
  • signalling device (such as a whistle)
  • a buoyant heaving line – 15 meters in length
  • and a white light if you’re paddling after dusk.

kayak gear

Suggested Equipment

For longer trips, you should also carry a spare paddle, matches or a lighter, a waterproof flashlight, a nautical chart, navigation tools (e.g., a compass or GPS), signalling and communication devices (e.g., VHF radio, or cell phone with waterproof case), water/food, first aid kit, emergency blanket, pocket knife, extra warm clothing, sun protection, and shelter.

A detailed equipment list can be found at the end of this document.

Identify Your Kayak

The Coast Guard recommends that you put personal identification in your craft to help them search for you in the event that your boat is found adrift. A simple sticker with your name and contact info on the rear bulkhead is a very good idea.

Alerting Search and Rescue

VHF handheld marine radios are an easy and effective way to communicate with members of your group on your own selected channel. Channel 16 is monitored by emergency services personnel, such as the Coast Guard, marine police units, and other recreational boaters. Channel 16 is also the hailing and rescue channel used by the Coast Guard and other rescue authorities.

Taking a Maritime Radio Course is highly recommended to ensure proper and effective use. Although marine radios are often waterproof, saltwater will degrade all connections; so, it’s a good idea to rinse your waterproof radio in fresh water regularly. Store your radio in an accessible place, such as a pocket in your PFD. In this case, it’s important to tether your radio to your PFD. A cell phone in a waterproof case is also a good communication device to have on board.

Other devices, such as Garman’s InReachSpot, and Personal Locator Beacons are becoming much more popular and when used properly, are saving many lives.  For more information on electronic communication devices check out our post: Electronic Communication Devices for Paddlers

Wear the Right Clothing

When dressing for paddling, remember to dress for the conditions. Although you do not plan to capsize, make sure you’re wearing the proper clothing should you unintentionally capsize.

Dressing in layers allows us to modify our temperature for the conditions. Using mostly synthetic or blended fabrics, we can create a wicking system that will keep you dry, even when wet or damp.

Although we should dress for the water temperature instead of the air temperature, it is not always possible. In hot conditions, stay cool and protect yourself from the sun by wearing a light, long-sleeved shirt and hat.

Warm air and cold water present a difficult situation for paddlers. A neoprene farmer john/jane wetsuit insulates you when wet, as the water entering the wetsuit acts as an insulator. This type of wetsuit doesn’t get in the way of paddling and is an inexpensive option for immersion wear. Because of this, wetsuits are still very popular and work well in all but the very cold conditions.

A drysuit is designed to prevent water from entering the suit and getting you wet. Drysuits are more suitable for use in cold water below 15ºC (60ºF), but can be uncomfortably hot in warm conditions.

kayaking clothing


Dr Gordon Giesbrecht coined the phrase 1-10-1 to describe the three critical phases of cold water immersion. 1–10–1 means, if you are immersed in cold water, you will experience 1 MINUTE of cold shock; 10 MINUTES of meaningful movement; 1 HOUR before losing consciousness.

Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it. If the body’s core temperature drops too low, it will become a life-threatening situation. Avoiding hypothermia is far easier than treating hypothermia. Good planning can help keep you safe on the water, while paddling skills, such as bracing, can prevent a capsize. Learning how to roll can help you recover from a capsize.

Eat frequently to ensure a constant supply of fuel for your body.

Keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Drink before you feel thirsty.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Pack out all trash, food, toilet paper, and hygiene products. If you need to wash, use a minimal amount of biodegradable soap. Leave any lunch spot or camping area the way you found it. Leave rocks, plants, and other objects as you found them. Do not transport non-native species to a new area.

Watch for campfire bans, and follow them. If you can have a fire, minimize campfire impacts by having the fire in an existing fire ring or by having it below the high tide line. Where permitted, use existing fire pits/pans for small fires. Put out fires completely by burning it to cool ashes and scatter the ashes below the high tide line. Use a stove for cooking and candles for light.

kayak gear

Detailed Equipment List

The following is an equipment list. Please avoid wearing cotton clothing as it keeps you cold when it’s wet, and takes a long time to dry. Please wear clothing designed for outdoor wear and made from Merino (wool), silk, or synthetic materials, such as polyester, polypropylene, or nylon.

* indicates optional

Paddling Gear

  • Paddle.
  • Sprayskirt.
  • PFD (Personal Flotation Device): Canadian Coast Guard approved.
  • Whistle.
  • Hand pump.
  • Throw-line (buoyant heaving line at least 15 meters in length)
  • Paddle float.
  • Spare paddle
  • *Sponge: for drying out hatches
  • Wetsuit or drysuit
  • Paddling jacket.

Safety Gear

  • First aid equipment.
  • VHF Marine Radio.

Navigation Equipment

  • Chart of your paddling area.
  • Chart case
  • Chart 1: Symbols, Abbreviations and Terms.
  • Tide and Current Tables
  • Orienteering (hiker’s) compass.

Personal Gear

  • Glasses retainer strap if you wear glasses.
  • If you wear glasses or contacts, please bring an extra set in case of loss; also, don’t forget contact lens solution and a carrying case for your contacts or glasses.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Sunscreen: waterproof, sweat-proof, SPF 30 or higher.
  • *Waterproof or disposable camera.
  • *Moist towelettes for a quick, waterless cleanup.
  • *Extra car keys in case you lose yours.


  • Comfortable outdoor pants and/or shorts (depending on the time of year), such as what you would wear for a light hike.
  • Long-sleeved, non-cotton shirt or long underwear top to protect from the sun.
  • Warm fleece pullover or Merino (wool) sweater to keep you warm in cooler weather.
  • Hat for sun, rain, or warmth, depending on the weather. A broad-brimmed hat works best.
  • For your hands, you may wish to wear cycling-type gloves to help prevent blistering. These should be snug-fitting, as loose-fitting gloves may actually cause blistering. To keep your hands warm in cooler weather, you may wish to purchase neoprene gloves or pogies (a special paddling mitt).
  • Extra gloves (wool or fleece) to wear at lunch or after paddling.
  • Windbreaker (e.g., nylon jacket that can shed the wind).
  • Rain jacket (with a hood, if you don’t have a broad-brimmed rain hat). Gore-texTM or other breathable material works well.
  • Rain pants.
  • A change of warm clothes placed in a marine dry bag (available at Ocean River Sports).
  • Footwear for wearing while paddling (that can get wet); e.g., sports sandals (with heal strap), wetsuit booties, or reef shoes with good soles.
  • A change of footwear for wearing before and after paddling, such as a trail running shoe, light hiking shoe, or rubber boots. Waterproof footwear is preferable.
  • Wool or fleece or cap (in the spring or fall; significant body heat is lost through the head and neck).
  • Additional warm fleece pullover or Merino (wool) sweater to keep you warm in cooler weather.
  • *Baseball cap.


  • Water bottle (filled): large enough to hold about 1 litre or 1 quart of water so you can keep yourself well-hydrated.
  • *Thermos with a warm drink. 
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