Kayak Safety Guide

Whether sea kayaking for a few hours or a few days preparation is essential. It can make all the difference between an enjoyable outing or a perilous exercise in survival. In areas with rapidly changing weather conditions, high winds, or water that stays cold year round, an oversight or accident will compound quickly with poor planning. So research your trip and have a contingency plan by planning for the unexpected!

Frontenac Outfitters Canoe & Kayak Centre’s 7-Step Sea Kayak Safety Guide has been compiled to help you safely enjoy sea kayaking to its fullest. Along with the recommended gear, we strongly suggest education through approved instruction and regular drills to hone your skills.

1) Mandatory Gear – Required by Canadian Law

  • Approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD) in bright colours (Red, Yellow or Orange). Wear your PFD! Canadian approved PFD’s must have an Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC) Maple Leaf Label and a whistle with lanyard attached
  • Kayak Paddle – I know it’s obvious but the stories we could tell!
  • Bilge Pump with Float
  • Throw Bag with 15 metres (50′) of floating line
  • Flashlight – waterproof with WORKING batteries

2) Sea Kayak Gear – Day Outings

  • Sea or Day Touring kayak
  • Spare Paddle – store within reach on bow deck
  • Paddle Leash – attach to paddle & kayak deck rigging
  • Paddle Float – store within easy reach on bow
  • Tow Line – ensure functional and keep within easy reach on board
  • Spray Skirt
  • Topographic Map in Waterproof Cover – attach within easy reach under bow bungees
  • Sponge
  • Knife – attach to PFD

Note: It is important to know how to use your gear properly! If you don’t, we recommend taking a course in order to learn. 

Snacks & Personal Accessories

  • Energy Food Rations (energy bars, gorp, dehydrated fruit, salted nuts, chocolate)
  • Drinking Water
  • Water Bottle – 24 oz
  • Sunglasses with Floating Strap
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect Repellent
  • First Aid Kit
  • Dry Bag


  • Sun Hat / Rain Hat
  • Water Shoes or Sandals
  • Wool Socks
  • Polyester T-shirt
  • Shorts & Pants
  • Cycling Gloves
  • Water Proof / Windproof Jacket & Pants
  • Change of Clothing in Watertight Bag

Cold Water / Weather Gear

  • Dry or Wet Suit
  • Neoprene Boots & Gloves or Poggies
  • Balaclava or Polar Fleece Cap
  • Fleece or Woolen Skirt

Note: Even in summer the water is colder than the air temperature and conditions can change without warning. Always dress for the water temperature!

3) Big Waters or Coastal Excursions

  • Sea Kayak (minimum length of 15 feet or 5 metres) – Day Touring & Recreational models WILL NOT suffice
  • Compass
  • GPS – include new, spare batteries
  • Cellphone – for use in urban areas
  • Walkie Talkies – include new, spare batteries
  • VHF or Weather Radio – include new, spare batteries
  • Up-to-date Marine Weather Forecast
  • Marine Chart (waterproof)
  • Chart Ruler
  • Tidal Table (waterproof)
  • Distress Flares – be sure they are not expired
  • Air Horn – include new, spare gas cartridges
  • Strobe Light (white)
  • Radar Reflectors
  • Signal Mirror
  • Binoculars
  • Multi Tool
  • Duct Tape
  • Mylar Survival Blanket

4) Excursions – Overnight & Longer

  • Tent
  • Ground Sheet
  • Shelter Tarp
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Therm-a-Rest Pad
  • Day Backpack
  • Camp Stove & Appropriate Fuel
  • Matches (waterproof)
  • Pots, Pans, Dish Cloth & Towel, and Pot Scrubber
  • Plates, Cups and Utensils
  • Kitchen Kit (salt, pepper, tongs, biodegradable soap, matches, can opener etc…)
  • Food – bring appropriate quantities for duration of the trip
  • Garbage Bags
  • Small Shovel

Toiletries & Personal Items

  • Wallet with Identification & Keys  – store in personal items bag for safety
  • Watch &/or Alarm Clock
  • Toothbrush & Tooth Paste and Dental Floss
  • Soap & Shampoo
  • Hairbrush
  • Advil & Tylenol
  • Lip Balm
  • Toilet paper
  • Towel

Additional Clothing

  • Pants
  • T-Shirts
  • Fleece or other Synthetic Shirt
  • Sweater
  • Waterproof Pants
  • Walking Shoes
  • Thermal Socks
  • Synthetic Underwear

Food & Personal Accessories

  • Food – quick preparation types including extra rations
  • Extra Drinking Water or Water Purification System
  • Personal Medication
  • · Extra Sunglasses or Contact Lenses
  • · Kayak Repair Kit
  • · Sewing Kit
  • · Line – 20 metres x 3 mm
  • · Extra Flashlight Batteries
  • · Candle(s)
  • · Waterproof Dry Bags for all gear

Entertainment Items

  • Swimming Gear
  • Face mask & Snorkel
  • Camera & Film
  • Reading &/or Writing Materials
  • Cards
  • Fishing Rod, Tackle and License

5) Excursion Trip Planning

Your personal safety and the safety of the group begins with you! Choose a destination suitable for the abilities of the group. Make sure the least experienced &/or slowest paddlers can cover the distance you have chosen to paddle. Ensure no one in the group ever paddles alone. Winds or currents can greatly alter your trip, so watch for changing conditions.

You benefit from pre-planning on even the shortest excursion, so whether your headed out for a few short hours or a few days, it is important to do the following:

  • Designate Leaders, Assistant Leaders, and Tasks
  • Know Who’s Got What (lunch, first aid kit etc…) – make sure everyone in the group is aware of this
  • Determine the Weather Forecast & Conditions – have a plan in case they change
  • Know what Winds or Currents need to be taken into account
  • Identify Potential Exposure to the Elements
  • Determine what Vessel Traffic
  • Plan a Reasonable Trip based on the Group’s Abilities and Potential Conditions
  • Bring Essential Equipment and Accessories
  • Pack enough Water and Energy-Rich Food
  • Include Several Communicate Methods (walkie-talkies, cellphones, etc…)
  • Pack First Aid Kit
  • Bring extra warm clothing
  • File a Kayak Trip Float Plan

Note: A Float Plan only takes a few minutes to file. So do it!

In your Float Plan, provide:

  • Number of People in your group
  • Departure & Planned Destination
  • Estimated Arrival Time
  • Route with Contingency Plan. 

Give a copy to a friend(s), the harbormaster, or the general store clerk, and leave a labeled envelope on the dashboard to your automobile. Failure to follow the above safety precautions may lead to serious injury. The use of drugs or alcohol will effect both your coordination & judgment and will impair your ability to kayak  safely.

Click here for a copy of our Float Plan form.

6) Sea Kayaking & Our Environment

Sea Kayak’s efficient, silent movement, low unobtrusive waterline and shallow draft enables people to get into closer contact with nature than is often normally possible. While generally well intentioned, kayakers may unknowingly have severe negative impact on wildlife and environment. Some parks and wildlife reserves may have specific regulations &/or codes of ethics. The following should be taken into consideration before you paddle:

  • Animals get disturbed if you get to close
  • If repeated disturbances upset animals they leave their habitats and their young
  • Never chase them animals and keep your distance
  • Avoid abrupt sounds, movements, and changes in direction
  • Avoid fragile ecosystems and nesting areas
  • Camp above the high water mark – this is in your best interest as well as the environments
  • Use a camp stove not a fire
  • Pack out everything you brought in
  • Bury latrine pits

Note: It is everyone’s responsibility to keep areas pristine during and after our visit to ensure enjoyment for future generations!

7) Ethical Conduct

This Sea Kayakers’ Code of Ethics can serve as a general set of Kayaking Guidelines:

  • Respect fellow Kayakers and other vessels – it’s in your best interest as you are the “little guy” 
  • Offer help to those in difficulty
  • Respect private property
  • Move away if you see signs of nervousness or panic in wild animals
  • Ensure everyone knows the “Kayakers Code of Ethics”

Click Here for our Sea Kayak Excursion Check List.

If you have any questions or recommendations on how to improve this article, please call 613.376.6220 or email [email protected]

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