Kayak Fishing Safety Gear. 26 Essential Items and Tips.
Kayak fishing is a great hobby and sport all rolled into one. But, because you are on the water, there can be some potential dangers. However, we can improve our safety by having the correct kayak safety gear and tools.
Also having a correct mindset, knowing how to use the equipment and practicing some techniques can make kayak fishing safer.
Let’s look at some safety items for fishing in a kayak or canoe. (For those who are not sure of the difference between the two, visit – What is the difference between a kayak and canoe?)
No. 1 What is an anchor trolley?
An anchor trolley is like a pulley system that goes along side of the kayak. The anchor rope is attached to the trolley line and it allows you to change the angle that the rope and anchor are coming off the kayak. You can easily position the anchor rope off the bow or stern, without moving from the cockpit.
The anchor trolley also allows you to anchor in different angles and not be anchored side on, which is dangerous in windy or rough conditions.
An anchor trolley is not only a great safety feature, but also makes it more comfortable and productive for fishing as you can angle the kayak for where you want to cast. When fly fishing from my kayak, it makes it so much easier to cast the direction you want to.
For strong currents and rougher conditions the anchor trolley is a great system.
You can easily build a DIY anchor trolley with just some cordage. Or you can buy stainless steel pulleys and fasteners, or by a complete anchor trolley kit.
On my short kayaks, I don’t have pulley wheels, just the cord going around the bow and stern lifting handle. It is not as smooth as a wheel pulley type, but saves me putting holes in my kayak and works fine.
Have a quick release system on the anchor trolley, so if you have to release the anchor at any stage you can do it quickly.
No. 2 Lifejackets (PFD)
Gone are the days of the big blocky yellow lifejackets that were awkward to wear. Today there are a lot of good, comfortable fishing life jackets for the kayaker and canoeist.
Even if your state or area regulations don’t require you to wear one, it is advisable to put one on. You soon get used to it.
Another advantage of wearing one, if it is designed as a fishing PFD, it will have pockets that are good for storing some fishing tackle, polarized sunglasses, tippet material, line snips, and more. Which is handy with limited room in a kayak.
A bright colored life jacket as doubles up for safety, as it can be seen easier on the water.
No. 3 What is a Paddle Float?
The paddle float is secured around the paddle. The paddle is laid horizontal on the water and extends out from the kayak, which is put under the deck lines and bungee cord of the deck.
The kayaker uses the paddle to help put their leg on and help scoot back in the kayak.
You can get an inflatable paddle float that you blow up like a balloon. Other models are made of foam. Some have a pocket were you put it over the paddle blade, other types have some straps and clips.
With some dry bags you can use them for a makeshift paddle float. Clip it around the paddle throat or shaft for buoyancy.
No. 4 Safety line cutting tool
As well as having a fishing knife, a rope knife or line cutter strapped on the fishing PFD is a sound idea. This type of safety knife might be called a rescue tool, like a seatbelt cutter and it has the ability to cut away tangled fishing line and cordage safely, without an exposed blade.
The covered blade is important for safety in rough or choppy water as you are being rocked about in the kayak.
No. 5 Extra rope
Spare rope or cordage is always good to have on a kayak. You can use it for a tow rope, or for a replacement anchor rope (Or additional length.)
I use a floating rope that I place a small heavy buoy on one end of the rope.
This allows me to use it for a throw line. Which is handy to throw to other kayaks if they get into trouble, or to throw to a boat. The other end of the rope has a loop and large brass snap lock carabiner on it to quickly clip or unclip it to the kayak.
No. 6 Kayak anchor tips
Make sure you have the proper anchor and anchor rope set-up. As a short anchor rope is for hazardous freshwater and saltwater fishing as the kayak (or boat) is at a dangerous angle and the waves can swamp the vessel.
A longer anchor rope on a vessel will change the angle the rope comes off the sea bed attached to the kayak. The kayak has more leeway to ride up and down the waves and swells at a more natural angle.
Use the correct anchor for the area.
I have tried dumbbell weights, old pieces of heavy metal and all types of makeshift anchors. In reef areas, some of these work well, but you really have to match the anchor to the type of sea bed you will be fishing. Such as if you are fishing on sand beds you would use fluke anchor or sand anchor.
If you are not sure of the type of sea bed or bottom you are going to be fishing, it might pay to have a spare different design anchor in the vehicle.
A chain attached to the anchor can help the anchor rope sit at a lower angle in the water. The chain helps position the anchor better.
Be aware of tides changing and the water levels getting higher or lower.
I place a float on the anchor rope so if I have to ditch the anchor, the rope and anchor can be retrieved later as the float marks its position.
For fishing trips that I have to travel along way to get too, I have a spare anchor and anchor rope in the car. That way if I do lose the anchor and rope, it doesn’t ruin my whole fishing trip as I have a spare set up.
No. 7 Rope ladder
A rope ladder stirrup can be used to help get back on the kayak. You can clip it on the kayak side carrying handles and it is like a rope ladder to help put your feet on and boost yourself up.
I fashioned some orange webbing that has clips on it. I put some knots in it so it can be adjusted for length. I put a section of plastic pipe around seven inches or so, for a foot to step on, without the webbing collapsing in.
It can also be used for a short rope and help lash two kayaks together.
No. 8 Boat bailer
A water boat bailer is essential as you can empty excess water in the hull. Even for sit on top kayaks, a small bailer is useful if the scupper plugs are in and there is water on the bottom.
You can buy a commercial made boat bailer, or make one yourself.
I made a bailer out of an old plastic milk container. I cut the milk container diagonally about a third of the way. Keep the section that the milk container has the handle on it.
A sponge or an old cloth / rag can also be handy for mopping up the bottom and getting rid of excess water as well. It seems nicer fishing when the bottom is dry and clean space, rather than your legs sitting in inches of water.
(A cloth is good for cleaning up fish scales, mess and stuff as well. A damp cloth is also great for holding a slippery fish, especially if it has sharp spines.)
For the larger sit in touring and fishing kayaks, a bilge pump or electric marine pump might be worth looking at.
No. 9 Multi tool and fishing pliers
No. 10 Hand held flares
Some states or countries may require you carry emergency marine flares onboard for boating safety equipment. Especially for saltwater boating where you might be fishing off shore a fair distance.
Check your kayaking / boating regulations for what safety items you should have. Even if flares are not required, it is still worth having them if you do a lot of offshore fishing or fish in remote places.
Hand held flares have a used by date on them, so check them a few times a year to insure they are serviceable.
No. 11 Emergency whistle
A whistle is inexpensive and valuable item to have for safety gear when kayaking. You can attach it to your life jacket (PFD.)
The whistle is a lot louder than yelling, especially above waves and wind on the water.
Before you throw it into your safety kit, check the whistle out and test it too make sure it is loud enough. Some cheap whistles are quieter than a mouse.
A decibel rating of 110, 120 decibels or above is a good rating and is pretty loud.
If you are fishing with friends, you can have a signaling code using the whistle. Such as two whistle blasts, means comes here.
The international safety distress call is, three blasts of the whistle.
Some kayaker and canoeist like the pealess type of whistles. As apparently the pealess design is less likely to freeze up with water.
No. 12 Appropriate clothing
Not only is appropriate clothing a safety issue, as it protects you from the cold and heat, but it can make you more comfortable fishing. When you are comfortable you can concentrate on fishing and hopefully catch more fish.
For hot weather, a wide brimmed hat, polarized sunglasses, long sleeve shirt and long pants is sensible. The pants and shirt should be lightweight and loose fitting. Leave the shorts and t-shirt behind, as fishing for a few hours on the water, it can be easy to get sunburn.
Gloves not only help you prevent blisters from the paddle, but also help protect the back of the hand from sunburn and the wind.
For cold weather you might chose a separate wetsuit bottom and top that gives you more freedom when paddling.
A wind proof jacket can stop the icy winds from blowing through you and chilling you to the bone. Not fun when fishing for several hours.
Take multiple layers so you can put on or take off clothing if you get to hot or cold. Place them in a dry bag.
When starting off paddling, I wear a little less clothing, because I know I am going to get hot paddling to the fishing spot.
Give yourself plenty of time to paddle to your favorite fishing spot. If you physically exert yourself, you are going to overheat and sweat when paddling. Then when you reach your spot to fish, you are going to cool down and get cold. Not good on the water in cold environments.
No. 13 Practice kayak capsize drills.
While not safety gear, practicing capsize drill and getting back in the kayak or canoe is a valuable skill.
This is one thing I need to practice more. And I suspect most kayak fisherman and recreational kayakers should do as well for safety and peace of mind.
If you haven’t trained getting back on the kayak before, you might be in for a surprise.
It can be harder than you think, especially with fishing gear on the kayak and in full clothing. Even the sit on top kayaks can be a challenge.
If you haven’t done it before, practice with a friend on a warm day in calm shallow water. (Not on a windy day as the kayak can get blown away.) Initially don’t have all your gear on board. After you have tried getting back on a few times, add some fishing gear.
You might find your PFD, fishing rod holders, tethers and rods, fishing gear, etc., can get in the way of trying to get back in. So it pays to practice those capsize drills.
No. 14 Spare clothing in the car
We have mentioned having appropriate clothing when in the kayak, but is also pays to have extra dry clothing back at the car. Especially in cold weather and environments, as being wet and cold can be dangerous.
Changing into dry clothes is nice and pleasant after a hard day on the cold water. Having a towel or microfleece towel is handy for drying yourself.
Hot chocolate or a coffee in a thermos at the vehicle, can be another little boost to keep you warmer.
If you are kayaking or canoeing in a remote wilderness area, have some fire lighting tools and dry tinder in case you go for a swim. Visit What Should I Take in A Survival Kit for more information on a wilderness survival kit.
No. 15 Spare paddle
For saltwater fishing trips way offshore, or touring a long way in large lakes, it might pay to have a spare paddle. You can get two piece paddles that take up little room for their value.
Remember to tether your main paddle to the kayak.
For canoe fishing in the backwoods waters, a spare paddle is handy.
No. 16 First aid kit
Fishing in a limited place, with hooks, and fish with nasty spines and teeth can be an accident waiting to happen, so a first aid kit is good to carry.
It doesn’t have to be a large first aid kit with everything. A few Band-Aids and some compression bandages and a few other odds and ends can patch up most mishaps.
Interestingly on some fish, they have spines that when you prick yourself you keep bleeding. Some of these fish also have the remedy to stop the bleeding, as the slime on the fishes belly can also be a coagulant and help stop the bleeding.
No. 17 Phone overboard
Put your cell phone in a dry bag and make sure the battery is charged before you head out.
I shudder to think how many times I have nearly lost my phone overboard when using it, so maybe a waterproof floating cover might be a good idea.
You might pre enter the local search and rescue, or coastguard and maritime police number on speed dial.
(These services might also be good for local information about where is safe to paddle and where not to venture out. Such as areas with exposed reefs, bad rips and currents.)
No. 18 Communications
A marine hand held radio is another great safety tool for the saltwater fisherman.
For kayaking and canoeing in lakes and rivers in the wilderness, a satellite phone is worth looking at. They are getting cheaper every year and you can also rent them out.
If you are fishing with other groups, walkie talkies, or two way radios can be a good way off communicating, if there is no cell phone service.
No. 19 PLBs and electronic safety gear
Depending on your state and countries rules and regulations, a kayak might fall under the definition of a boat. And for maritime vessels fishing so far offshore, you might have to have an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) attached to your little kayak. Check out your local fishing rules and boating regulations.
Even if you don’t fall under the boating regulations, having a smaller PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) attached to your life jacket is a good idea if you do a lot of offshore fishing or big lakes.
Navigation equipment like a GPS (Global Positioning System) is also another item to look at if you kayak in remote locations. A back up map and compass should be in a dry bag. As well know how to use a compass.
No. 20 Tell people were you are going.
Write and tell your partner or friends were you exactly are going fishing and when you are returning.
Ideally you should be paddling with a friend, so include that information as well to give to your partner. Give your fishing friend’s phone number and details as well for extra communication options.
No. 21 Extra floating devices.
Underneath my kayak seat, I have a swimming kickboard. This raises my seat height by about an inch or so and makes the seat more comfortable and stops my butt from getting wet. (Well sometimes.) It doesn’t affect the balance of the kayak much.
The swimming kickboard can be taken out and can be used as an extra flotation aid.
I also put a few pool noodles in my hull to increase the buoyancy.
No. 22 Check the weather
Check the weather before you go fishing and when you get there. You can always go another time if the weather is bad.
As kayak fisherman, we get that excited to go fishing that rational thought goes out the window. All we can think about is landing the big fish, not that the weather can be bad or get worse.
I remember a few times, I checked the weather and it was going to be very windy. But I convinced myself that it wasn’t that bad. I would just fish in a more sheltered bay, or the weather forecast was probably going to be wrong and the wind would ease up. This was wishful thinking on my part and looking back was a silly attitude. Don’t put yourself in a dangerous position, just because you want to land a big fish.
The weather reports are getting more accurate and reliable all the time, however they are not 100% fool proof and can be wrong. So allow for conditions to change at the drop of a hat and change dramatically.
Click on – Night Fishing for my story about a freak wave when I was boat fishing one night. (The story is about 3/4 way down in the article, called the “Lucky to be alive story”.)
No. 23 Reflective tape
I have put reflective tape patches on my paddles and pieces on my kayak, as I do a lot of night fishing.
Even if you don’t do any fishing at night, you are probably like most fisherman and fish or paddle and dusk and dawn when the light is dull.
So the reflective tape helps stand out when a light is flashed on it.
No. 24 Safety flag and lights.
The flag is also handy for checking the wind direction when fishing.
You can buy some nice little waterproof safety lights that attach to your kayak or flag mast.
Check your local safety rules, you might be required to have flashing, bow and stern and / or port and starboard lights when fishing at night.
You could also put some reflective strips high on the flag mast for added visibility.
No. 25 Headlamp for night fishing
A flashlight or headlamp is not only for baiting up a hook, but it is also crucial safety equipment at night.
Even if you don’t plan on fishing at night time, it pays to have a torch. As you might get held up fishing or lost at dusk and before you know it is dark.
Carry a waterproof one, or look after it, as the water and especially the saltwater will corrode the flashlight easily.
If you do a lot of night fishing it pays to have a spare flashlight or headlamp. Check or replace the batteries before you go fishing.
No. 26 Secure the kayak properly to the racks
Each year I see a lot of anglers and kayakers not securing their kayak to the vehicle properly. Going fast on with a bulky item on the roof can catch a lot of wind and fly off. So learn How to tie a kayak to roof racks properly.
Use four or more straps and ropes to tie it down. Use a bow and stern rope so the kayak doesn’t catch the wind and angle off the roof racks.
Don’t use ratchet straps as these can over tension and damage or warp your kayak or canoe.
Conclusion – Kayak fishing safety gear
With a bit of thought and some equipment we can be safer on the water.
It only takes a bit of planning, for the rewards of longer fishing time on the water and a more enjoyable experience.
Be safe, appreciate the outdoors and I hope you catch plenty of fish.