Here a checklist I put together...
Kayak Safety Checklist
The kayak is quickly revolutionizing the sport of fishing, but prior to tackling this new and exciting endeavor, it is very important to understand the role of safety to always ensure your times on the water are ones of enjoyment and not of disarray and fear.
One aspect of kayak fishing that attracted me to the sport was the community´s serious commitment to safety detail. Regardless of the kayak fishing website or publication, safety, as it should be, is considered of utmost importance and is preached with regularity by the sport´s ambassadors.
Prior to your first paddle on the water, it is very important to understand and adhere to the safety recommendations provided below. I recommend you spend the money on the necessary products to ensure you are prepared for any unfortunate mishap, which for most, is inevitable.
I have broken down kayak fishing safety into two major categories: 1) "Must haves", and 2) "Nice to haves." This may not be the "official" list for all, but I believe most will agree this is a great place to start.
"THE MUST HAVES"
PFD (Personal Floatation Device) - This is the most important and most necessary piece of safety equipment for kayakers. For those concerned with the "discomfort" of wearing a PFD while paddling and fishing, there are many makes and models designed specifically for you. I strongly recommend you spend the extra cash and purchase a quality PFD that will provide the necessary comfort and protection. If you decide to go the cheap route, you will most likely regret your decision as less expensive models are generally quite uncomfortable and cumbersome.
Bilge Pump (for Sit-Inside-Kayaks only) - As is the case with any boat, Sit-Inside-Kayaks spring leaks, and despite the cozy protection of the cockpit, will also take on water, especially in rough seas. In times when water begins to build inside the hull, a bilge pump may be the difference between losing your boat and potentially your life and reaching safety.
Bow Line - You´ve been stricken by a nasty flu bug or injured, losing your ability to paddle. A bow line will be required for towing purposes.
Clothing/Waterproof Storage Bags - Always dress for the water temperature and NOT the air temperature. Always be prepared for immersion. During the cool/cold seasons, dry suits and other forms of waterproof apparel are a must. In cases of immersion, always have access to clothes stored in a "dry bag." Hypothermia settles in rather quickly and access to dry clothing is not only a "nice to have," but also a necessity. For further details regarding hypothermia, please visit this article written by Nils Christensen.
Dry bags are multi-purpose as they protect your cell phone, batteries, keys, wallet, bug spray and sun glasses from harsh conditions.
Compass - Nothing is more frightening than realizing you´ve drifted off course or when fog quickly encompasses your fishing grounds. Immediately, your sense of direction will become distorted and your ability to orient to the shore will be lost. Both of these situations have occurred to me on more than one occasion, and in both circumstances, my compass has led me to safety. If possible, install a deck-mounted compass and a pocket compass to aid in navigation during these difficult times.
First Aid Kit - How many times have you hooked yourself? How many of you have injured yourself to the point medical assistance was required? If you´re a mile offshore and something happens, there is nobody there to help you. Many stores carry first aid kits specifically for boaters and kayakers and can be purchased for around $20. It´s worth the investment.
Lighting - Like many serious anglers, a majority of your fishing time will be conducted under dark skies. Stern lights are a "must have" in these conditions. Not only will your lights alert nearby boaters of your existence, but they also help your fishing partners identify your whereabouts. This is simply a no-brainer and fishing at night without lights is a huge no-no. All kayak anglers wishing to fish at night should also own a headlamp. These fairly inexpensive products allow you to "rig up" and release your catch with ease, and also provide another light source for surveying the area around you. Many headlamps provide a flashing warning light that can serve as a secondary emergency light source. I always carry a pair of headlamps in case one malfunctions or I run out of batteries. If you only own one headlamp, glow sticks can be used as a backup. Flares are also recommended to aid in any search and rescue missions.
It is law to use lighting on all marine craft between sunset and sunrise.
Mirror - Can be used for reflectivity to garner the attention of passerby´s.
Paddle Leash - You´re just about to re-rig your favorite rod and reach back into the live well to grab your favorite lure. You return to your seated position and realize the paddle, which was resting over your legs, has slipped into the water and is drifting away from you. What do you do? Well, if your leash is attached securely to the paddle, all you have to do is reach down and grab it. Not only do you avoid the potentially dangerous situation of drifting away from shore, but it also allows you to retrieve your paddle and continue fishing. Possessing a spare paddle is another great, and in my opinion, necessary option. Leashes are made for both paddles and fishing rods. Note: It is highly recommended that an anchor is also present on your boat at all times. In a situation when you are stranded or lost, the anchor will allow you to hold ground and prevent your kayak from drifting off aimlessly into the night.
Pliers/Knife - Pliers are not only necessary for cutting line and de-hooking fish, but they are also a "must have" if a hook suddenly becomes enlarged in your hand or finger. To remove the hook, you may be required to use pliers to cut the hook. A knife may be necessary to cut tangled fishing lines, drift socks, or anchor lines.
Self-Rescue Technique - Before deciding to venture out on your own, practice re-entering your kayak. You may look foolish during this exercise, but it could save your life. To see complete instructions of a "wet entry," go to: www.kayaklakemead.com/wet-entry.html
Water/Gatorade - One aspect of kayak safety that is sorely overlooked is the threat of dehydration and the ensuing effects it has on the body. Always carry enough water to allow for one drink every 15 minutes. Don´t be fooled when the air is cold as you are just as susceptible to dehydration during these conditions.
Weather and Conditions - Nothing spoils fishing more than bad weather. Prior to leaving for the fishing grounds, check the latest weather, tide, and winds conditions. All of these variables can play a major role in determining safe and unsafe conditions.
Whistle/Horn - Always carry a noise making apparatus to ensure that if capsized or lost a nearby vessel or fellow angler on shore can hear your calls for help. This is a very cheap, but very necessary piece of equipment. The Coast Guard, in most states, requires all kayak anglers to be in possession of a noise making apparatus. Please check with your state´s local Coast Guard office for more details.
"NICE TO HAVES"
GPS (Global Positioning System) - Nothing is more helpful during trying times than the information provided by a GPS unit. Most GPS´s will provide your exact location, drift speed, and a digital compass, which entails much of the information needed to return yourself to safety. In times when you are stranded, you can radio your whereabouts to the Coast Guard, resulting, in most cases, in a quick recovery. The GPS will help you find your way when lost and provides the angler with the reassurance of a safe return to shore. Warning: Do not solely rely on your GPS unit. Malfunctions often occur. Carry an old-fashioned compass as backup to prevent complete disorientation on the water.
Bug Spray - There are times during the day and night when anglers are under siege and unable to escape hordes of flying, attacking insects - many of which bite. Carrying bug spray will alleviate (some, not all) your angst during these times.
VHF Radio - Although I place this in the "nice to have" category, I would never leave home without it. Submersible VHF radios (kayak anglers generally use the handheld models) allow you to call for assistance from nearby boaters or the Coast Guard. NOAA weather updates are also available via VHF, which serves incredibly useful during the humid, summer months. As many of you know, weather can change quickly on the water, and it is reassuring to know storm warnings will be issued in a timely manner.
Lip Gripper - There´s nothing more nerve-racking than attempting to remove a hook out of the mouth of a toothy critter. In my region (northeast), trying to retrieve a plug or hook from a bluefish´s mouth is not only frustrating, but can be very dangerous. The lip gripper allows the angler to handle fish much more easily while allowing one to focus on the task at hand.
I will be the first to admit, when I decided to invest in the sport of kayak fishing, I didn´t understand all the dangers one could encounter on the water, and thus, I didn´t understand all the hoopla surrounding safety and the precautions taken while kayaking. It is important that you take heed of the advice above, as this will provide you and your family with the reassurance of an enjoyable fishing trip, and more importantly, a safe return home.
Tight lines to you all.