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Safety Tips

Revised 31 July 11

 Summary Statement:

Kayaking is generally a very safe sport and it is not difficult to get started. Often times novice kayakers can get over confident and place themselves in situations which are not safe. The key to kayak safety is having the knowledge of which situations are potentially dangerous and the skills to get you out of these situations if they cannot be avoided. However, it takes time to develop the required experience and skills. In the mean time, you must remember to paddle within your limits. When stretching your known limits, go with a buddy who has the experience and skills which you may lack.

The best way to ensure kayak safety is:

  • Wear your pfd
  • Paddle with a kayak buddy
  • Know capsize rescues and practice them
  • Watch the weather closely - before you start and after you launch
  • Never paddle in conditions which will stretch you beyond your comfort zone unless you are with a kayak buddy who is experienced in those conditions
  • Improve your kayaking skills
  • Ensure that you have the proper emergency and safety equipment

Group Leadership:

A group of more than three paddlers should select a leader to make decisions in critical situations. Usually this is the most experienced kayaker.

Safety Equipment

See TBSK Equipment List

Recovery/ Rescues:

Know several recovery and rescue techniques and practice them in the type of water in which you will paddle.   These rescue techniques are best learned from a local professional kayak instructor.

Knowledge of Knots 

The knowledge of knots is very useful whether for rescues or securing items or when camping. Here is a website that can help


Most fatal accidents result from the kayaker capsizing and coming out of his/ her boat and then succumbing to hypothermia. Most people do not realize that water cools the body 50 times faster than air. A person can die of hypothermia in water which is 80 degrees F. When the body is emerged in water, it starts diverting blood from your extremities to your body core to slow down the cooling process in your vital organs. While this is good because it will help you live longer, the lack of blood feeding your muscles quickly makes them very weak - perhaps too weak to get you out of the water and into your kayak. Therefore, fatalities can results from:

 Failure to exercise a recovery/ rescue caused by:

  • Due to lack of practice
  • Insufficient rescue equipment
  • Inadequate kayak flotation
  • Separation from kayak and/ or paddle
  • Failure to dress properly for the weather/ water conditions

 Extra Equipment for Cool Weather/ Water:

  • Prepare a Hypothermia Kit: It should consist of extra clothes, a light "space" blanket and fire starting equipment.
  • Carry a sling which allows a person to use the sling to "step" into their kayak.
  • Paddle leashes help ensure that you do not lose your paddle in a capsize.

Symptoms of Hypothermia:

Mild Hypothermia (core temperature 91 to 98 degrees F):

  • Shivering and shuddering
  • Slurred speech
  • Memory lapses

 Severe Hypothermia (core temperature 90 to 82 degrees F):

  • Lack of coordination (erratic paddling)
  • Poor judgment
  • Blurred vision and drowsiness
  • Ashen face and hands
  • Muscle rigidity and loss of manual dexterity

 Severe Hypothermia (core temperature less than 82 degrees F):

  • Shivering may stop
  • Breathing and pulse very slow and shallow
  • Exhaustion
  • Incoherence and collapse
  • Becoming unconscious
  • Death

 Treating Hypothermia:

It can take several hours to warm a person who has only mild hypothermia. Therefore, treat each capsize as a potential case of hypothermia.

  • Get the person out of the water as quickly as possible (in very cold water, do not attempt to empty the boat of water first)
  • Once you have capsized, avoid swimming in cold water (this increases your heat loss)
  • Give the person water and food to help warm them
  • Get the person to shore to have them change clothes and warm up
  • Avoid overexertion or you will be in danger of heart failure
  • Refrain from stimulations such as rubbing the limbs or giving the victim hot drinks
  • Attempt to warm the core body slowly and evenly


Most of us know that Florida (and the Tampa Bay area) is the lightning capital of the U.S. Lightning causes about 73 deaths and hundreds of serious injuries each year. As boaters we should be knowledgeable about how to lower the risks of being hit by lightning.

 Before Going on the Water:

  • Check weather reports closely before starting your trip
  • Paddle with a buddy
  • Know CPR basics
  • Have a communication device (cell phone/ VHF radio) to get outside help in an emergency
  • Realize that all storm clouds have the potential for lightning (regardless if you hear thunder).

While on the Water:

  • Watch for dark clouds and wind increases
  • If you hear thunder, you are in danger because lightning can travel 10 miles from the storm (Flash to bang - from the time you see the lightning, count the seconds. Lightning travels a mile in 5 seconds. If there are 15 seconds between the lightning and the thunder, then the storm is about 3 miles away.)
  • When you hear thunder, get off the water, if at all possible
  • Avoid being the tallest object around
  • Don't bunch up (if lightning strikes, you don't want to all go down)
  • Avoid metal
  • Avoid going out on the water for 30 minutes after the storm has passed (you no longer hear thunder).


For more information on lightning safety -

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