Regardless of what kind of craft you are using, if you are on the water it is crucial to put safety first. In many places there are strict laws that dictate what you should and should not have while on the water, and safety equipment is no exception. To not only keep yourself safe, but avoid breaking the law, it is important to prioritize safety and always follow the rules.
Hands down, the most important and necessary piece of safety equipment required for canoeing, kayaking and any other water craft, is a personal flotation device or PFD.
Flotation Device: A flotation device is the most important piece of equipment you can have on the water. While no one wants to be put into a life or death situation, it can happen to anyone, no matter how experienced they are. While there are many things you can do and bring to help you stay safe, nothing surpasses the flotation device.
Regardless of whether you are kayaking or canoeing, you have to have a flotation device. In many places you can’t even be out on the water without a flotation device regardless of what you are doing. The punishment can be a warning or a fine depending on your location.
- PFD vs Lifejacket: While the terms may be used interchangeably, there are quite a few differences between the two. It is important to understand these differences and know what each is designed for so you can choose which one will best fit your needs.
One of the biggest differences between the two is the state of the person they are designed for. PFDs are designed to help a conscious person’s head stay above water in relatively calm situations. While a lifejacket is designed to help an unconscious person stay face up and above water. The lifejacket also has much more buoyancy than the PFD, but this also makes them much bulkier than the PFD as well.
Lifejackets are also required to be a bright color like yellow or orange with a whistle attached to it to provide the best chance of being found and rescued. PFDs are much more casual and are ideal for those confident in water.
- Finding The Right One: It is not as simple as just picking the first one you see when it comes to flotation devices. There are several other factors that must be considered before you purchase a flotation device to make sure you are really getting the best one for your needs.
- Which Type Is Right For You: There are actually five types of PFDs. The differences between these are crucial to understand which one you need if you go with a PFD.
– Type 1: Also referred to as the offshore life jacket, the first type of PFD is ideal for rough waters, strong currents, and long waiting periods for rescue. This is because it is very buoyant and highly visible which makes it much easier to be seen to be rescued. While it is the bulkiest of the PFDs it is the most effective for unconscious users because it keeps your face up and prevents drowning.
-Type 2: Near-shore buoyant vests are known as type two PFDs. They as similar to type one in their ability to turn a person face up, but it is not as affective at doing this as type one. This is because it is less bulky than type one and therefore sacrificing buoyancy. Because it is not a guarantee that the PFD will always turn the wearer face up, it is important to avoid strong, rough waters when possible.
-Type 3: Also known as a flotation aid, this type of PFD is ideal for conscious users in situations where the rescue will be quick. This is seen as the most comfortable of all the PFDs because it is less bulky and comes in a variety of styles. But the added comfort means sacrificing some of the safety features. This means you should not wear them in rough waters, strong currents, or any obviously dangerous situations. This is especially true when it comes to unconscious bodies because you must purposely put your head back to avoid drowning.
-Type 4: The fourth type of PFD is the life ring that is often thrown to people once they’ve fallen out of the boat. It is a great thing to have as a backup just in case, but it is important to use this as a secondary aid rather than your primary PFD. This is because it can become difficult, if not impossible to get to if you capsize, and if you get knocked unconscious there is no way it will be able to protect you.
-Type 5: The fifth type of PFD is considered to be similar to the first three types of PFDs in theory, but the actual product is less effective. While it does have benefits in the colder weather, they are not as safe as the other PFDs.
- Other Important Factors: Once you have figured out which type of flotation device is right for you, it is important to consider a few other important factors. This includes your weight and whether or not you will have enough buoyancy to keep you afloat. If you do not factor in your weight and there isn’t enough buoyancy to handle it, you can end up wearing an ineffective PFD. This means you might as well not be wearing one at all.
Sizing is also crucial to your flotation device. The PFD needs to be loose enough to allow your body to circulate properly and move as you need to without too much restrictions. But it is also important to make sure the PFD is tight enough to stay on you without having to worry about slipping out of it or the PFD not being able to do its job.
This is why it is so important to do your research and always try it on beforehand to make sure it will fit properly and function as it should.
- Standard vs Inflatable PFD: There are inflatable options for PFDs as well, but it is important to once again consider the differences and weigh the pros and cons to help you decide whether to go with an inflatable PFD or a standard one.
Standard PFDs are ideal for those who don’t want to deal with a lot of hassle or upkeep to make sure they are working properly. It is very clear when a standard PFD is not in acceptable condition because you will see holes, rips and feel soggy or deformed padding on the inside of it. Inflatable PFDs need to be checked out regularly and you need to calculate CO2 cartridges and make sure there will be enough for every journey and won’t run out. Standard PFDs are also much easier to clean and pack away.
But if you are willing to take on more responsibility with an inflatable PFD there are many benefits over the standard PFD. Two of the top reasons to go with an inflatable PFD are comfort and body temperature. Inflatable PFDs puff up when water hits it so while you are sitting in the boat you can move much more freely while it is deflated. Unlike the standard PFD that is bulky and can be awkward to move with, you will retain full range of motion without issues. The inflatable PFD also keeps you much cooler than the standard model of PFD. With the standard PFD body heat is able to be retained, which can be beneficial when it is cold out, but can make you uncomfortable in the warmer weather.
Inflatable kayaks are a great option, but it is important that you don’t use them in high impact and chaotic trips. While they are very durable, the inflatable PFD has its limits and it is best to not push it when it comes to safety equipment.
Other safety equipment you should bring with you are:
Communication: While almost everyone has a cell phone, it may seem like there is no need to invest in other modes of communication. But it is important to remember that there may not always be a signal where you are. This is why it is important to consider other means of communication like a radio or satellite phone. If something goes wrong it is crucial you are able to reach out and get help when you need it. You should also always tell someone where you are going and when you should be back so there is a starting point for where to look for you if need be.
Signals: When you are lost or in trouble it is crucial to be able to get help. The best ways of doing this is both visual and auditory so you are greatly increasing your odds of getting someone’s attention.
- Whistles or Horns: In may places a sound signaling device is just as mandatory as a PFD. This is because it is one of the most convenient and effective signals of distress on the water. The sound must be loud enough to make it to shore clearly and it must be something that will gain attention. Whistles and horns are ideal because it allows you to save your voice and energy calling for help.
- Flairs: You should have at least six flares with you if you are travelling more than one nautical mile out into the water. Flares are ideal for getting someone’s attention visually, but it is always important to bring enough so you never need to rely on just one flare to get the job done.
- Flashlights: While they are great to help you see through the darkness, the flashlight is also a fantastic way to communicate from large distances. We have all heard of SOS but it is important to familiarize yourself with how to do it and be able to utilize it in times of danger.
It is also important to remember that being on the water when it is dark means it can be difficult, if not impossible for others to see you. So to protect yourself from other ships and make sure you can be spotted in case you need help, it is important to have lighting of some kind, reflective paint on your boat, and anything else that will work to keep you visible no matter how light or dark it is.
Navigation: Depending on what type of body of water you are going on it may seem relatively straight forward as to how to get back and forth from shore. But people underestimate just how easy it is to get lost. To keep yourself on track and out of harms way it is important to always know where you are. The best way to do this is with navigation devices.
The best navigation devices to bring with you are a GPS system, a map of the local area, and a compass. While all three may not seem necessary, it is important to have options and back ups if one fails. This is especially true on the water because it is easy to drop things and lose them to the water.
Rescue Gear: When things go wrong it is important to have the right tools for the job. Pumps and bailers are a great thing to have because it not only helps you remove water from the kayak in an emergency, but to remove any stray water that gets into the boat. Rescue lines like towing lines and heaving lines are also key in being able to save fellow kayakers or for them to be able to help you. A re-boarding device like a stirrup or sling is also recommended so getting into the boat becomes much easier and safer for you.
So whether you are kayaking, canoeing, or travelling in any other water craft, it is important to not only know the dangers that you need to protect yourself against, but the rules and regulations in your area. When in doubt, you can contact the coast guard or check out their website for more information.