R.I.P. – Essential Safety Gear for Kayak Fishing on the Ocean
It’s far too often that we hear about tragedies involving kayak anglers. In recent years kayak fishing has exploded in popularity and during pandemic years the Coast Guard reported an increase in the number of kayaking fatalities.
If you’re considering kayaking on the ocean, there are many important preparations besides the gear that we’ll recommend here: planning a trip, practicing self-rescue, understanding basic oceanography, etc. all come into play. But for this article we just want to focus on some very basic, absolutely essential equipment. These three things can prevent death and are absolutely essential for kayaking on the ocean.
Here’s a corny acronym we came up with that’s surprisingly appropriate:
P.F.D (Personal Flotation Device)
P.F.D (aka Life Jacket)
According to the last Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics report (from 2021), out of all the victims that drowned in boating accidents, “…83% were not wearing a life jacket”. And out of a total of 142 kayaking deaths, 122 were drownings.
So there you have it. Wear a life jacket. Having one strapped to your kayak doesn’t count.
The life jacket I use is the NRS Chinook Fishing Life Jacket. Any life jacket that is coast guard approved for your weight is fine. I recommend getting a bright color to make yourself visible.
While the Coast Guard report doesn’t state the cause of the other kayaking deaths, I think it’s safe to assume that some of these were hypothermia. That leads us to the next part of the corny R.I.P. acronym:
If you fall out of your kayak and you float, the next step is obviously to get back into your kayak. But lets say you can’t quickly – maybe you haven’t practiced re-entry, or maybe your kayak gets away from you. Maybe your kayak sinks. Here in the northwest and in many places in the world, there is a potential for cold shock and/or hypothermia. No matter the situation – appropriate immersion gear is absolutely essential.
Immersion gear means an appropriately thick wet suit, or a dry suit. I prefer the comfort of a dry suit.
I use a Kokatat Supernova Angler Semi-Dry Suit. A wet suit or dry suit is a substantial expense – I get that – but don’t plan on kayak fishing on the ocean if you can’t afford the necessary safety gear. The cheapest option is most likely to find a used or older model wet suit. Ask a local dive or surf shop about appropriate wet suit thickness for your waters.
So lets say you’re in the water and you have immersion gear and a life jacket. Your warm enough and your floating, but you’re separated from your kayak and you are too far from shore to swim. To be rescued, you need to be able to call for help. Relying on your cell phone isn’t a good idea – some places you fish may not have cell phone service, and a phone just isn’t a reliable device in harsh saltwater conditions. This leads us to the third piece of gear: a marine radio.
I can’t stand seeing kayak anglers out on the ocean without a marine radio. It’s like a back country skier not having an avalanche probe. Or like a road biker not having a helmet.
The only possible explanation for not having one is because of the cost. If you’re going to invest in a kayak to fish in the ocean, factor in the cost of a radio or just don’t bother. It’s the only practical way to call for help if you have an emergency, and it’s also just a basic responsibility for any boater on the ocean to have one so that they can help others that are in need.
I’ve had to help power boaters navigate to safety in the fog. I’ve witnessed leaking, sinking kayaks. Stuff happens. Luckily I’ve never had to call the Coast Guard, but I would never want the life-long weight on my shoulders of knowing that I should have been able to help someone in need.
There are other important reasons to have a marine radio. This is how boats communicate with each other and how authorities like the harbor master and the coast guard communicate with boaters. If you’re in the way, or if someone has called for help, you may not have a clue if you don’t have a radio.
Here’s the radio I have and recommend: Standard Horizon HX890
There are a lot of options for handheld radios – I have had good luck with Standard Horizon radios and I like that this radio has GPS incorporated into it.
In conclusion, I have to repeat that there a lot of other important factors to kayaking in the ocean safely. Learning to understand the weather and ocean forecasts, practicing self rescue, leaving a float plan, and bringing a safety flag and sound device are just some of the many things to consider.
Kayaking with a buddy is probably the best thing a beginner can do, especially if you can find a buddy that has experience on the ocean.
If you’re interested in fishing on the ocean but don’t have a buddy, try to find a kayak fishing group in your area. There are a lot of groups on Facebook. Reach out and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to find other kayakers that want to go!