Kayaking is a favorite pastime of nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, as participants can explore amazing places and enjoy the scenery from a whole new perspective. But if you are new to kayaking and paddling, it is important to understand the safety measures that will make your day exciting yet ensure everyone gets home without incident. Let’s get started with your kayaking safety check!

Understanding the basics of kayak safety is essential, and every paddler should run through their safety checklist before going out onto the water, regardless of how nice the weather is or how experienced they feel.

Sarasota kayaking safety check

Safety Check: 12 Basic Guidelines

  1. Grab a Friend: Especially when you are still new to kayaking, it is imperative that you never venture out alone. Even if you are familiar with kayaking, you can quickly get into trouble if the weather suddenly changes, you get sick or injured, or you get lost. Something as simple as a strong wind can blow you off course and make it difficult to paddle. If a dangerous situation does arise, you are always safest in a group.
  2. Pack Essential Safety Gear: Like any water sport or activity, kayaking can put your health and safety at risk. Although kayaking may seem serene and safe (and it generally is) there are always inherent risks that can be mitigated simply by bringing some basic equipment along with you.
  3. Wear a life jacket: Even if you consider yourself a strong swimmer, it is imperative to wear a well-fitted personal flotation device (PFD) at all times.
  4. Be able to communicate: Be sure to fully charge your phone before heading out for the day. Put your phone in a waterproof case so that you can call for help if necessary. If you know you will be paddling someplace without service, hang a whistle on your PFD. On the water, one whistle is meant to get someone’s attention, and three whistles mean “Help.” If you are in trouble, keep whistling until someone arrives to help. Until you are very sure of your abilities, staying on routes and in areas where other people are also paddling is recommended.
  5. Prepare a dry bag: Dry bags protect valuable equipment from getting waterlogged and should include extra clothes, sunscreen, drinking water, and a first-aid kit.
  6. Be aware (and stay aware) of the weather: There is a saying in South Florida – “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes. It is sure to change.” While tongue-in-cheek, it points out the fact that a beautiful, sunny day can quickly become stormy. Always pay special attention to the weather and water temperature, keep an eye on the skies, and check your phone periodically to make sure that an unexpected weather system is not rolling in.
  7. Share Your itinerary with someone: Someone on land should always know your plans for the day – when and where you put into the water, the route you planned on taking, and when you were expecting to return. Follow your plan and let someone know if you decide to stay out longer or paddle to a different area. Be sure that a friend or family member is aware that you are out on the water. If you rent a kayak, the company providing the kayak will know where you launched and when you are expected to return.
  8. Stay alert and keep your eyes open: While it is easy to get caught up in the beautiful scenery, you should also watch for potential hazards such as nearby boats, changes in currents, or weather events.
  9. Dress appropriately for kayaking: Kayakers should dress for both the weather and the water. Those who are not used to Florida sunshine need to be aware of the dangers of UV rays – whether sunburn or heat stroke, you must be prepared. If you’re going to stay on the water for a few hours, a sun hat and a long-sleeved, lightweight shirt are highly recommended. And don’t forget to apply sunblock! While hypothermia is typically not a concern during most of the year, the water can get quite cold over the winter months – making spare clothing in your dry bag even more important.
  10. Choose your location wisely: No kayaking safety check is complete without realizing that some locations are better than others when it comes to staying safe. The ideal location to kayak is where there is some protection from wind and waves (such as a cove or lagoon), an easy area for launching and landing, more than one area where disembarking is possible, and few other boats. Choosing a calm and less crowded location eliminates many of the hazards of kayaking. When renting a kayak, the guides will have excellent information and advice as to where to paddle for your best experience.
  11. Try it out first: If you are very new to kayaking, you may want to spend some time closer to shore before you set out. Taking a little extra time to get the feel of the kayak, practice your stroke, and gain confidence can make the rest of the day more enjoyable.
  12. Don’t drink (except water, of course!) You should never drink alcohol before or while operating a kayak. If you are in a boat while drunk or intoxicated, the Coast Guard or local police may arrest you – but even if that doesn’t happen, you are at greater risk of capsizing or getting hurt. Also, alcohol impairs your judgment, and you may take unnecessary and dangerous risks – or get lost. When the heat and dehydration are added to the situation, you could find yourself in a perilous situation. Save the cold beer for after your paddle!

Although knowing about the items on this safety check list is important, kayaking is overall a very safe and enjoyable way to explore Siesta Key. To learn more about scheduling YOUR day on the water, call the team at Ride and Paddle.