Kayak Touring: Safety Considerations

The reason a lot of us got into kayaking is because Kayak Touring is one of the most wonderful activities you can do. And to top it all off here in BC we have one of the world’s best kayaking areas right in our back yard.

We have collected a few general tips and tricks and safety considerations that can help you get started with Kayak Touring.

But one word of caution: Kayaking is a wonderful and rewarding activity, but it can also be dangerous. Make sure you get training (for example take a lesson with us), paddle with others (for example by joining a club), and make sure you always use sound judgment, good risk assessment, take responsibility, have technical competence, and have the appropriate gear.

Basic Gear

We have a complete Packing List for overnight trips in our Kayak Touring Resources section, but here is a list of some basic safety gear and considerations.

Make sure you always have:

  • a kayak in good condition with plenty of secure buoyancy (i.e. your kayak should have bulkheads)
  • a paddle and accessible spare paddle
  • a sprayskirt that fits your kayak
  • a personal flotation device (PFD) with a whistle attached
  • clothing suitable for the conditions (see our what to wear section)
  • a bailer pump
  • 15m of buoyant heaving line

We also highly recommend bringing:

  • self-rescue aids (e.g. paddle float)
  • rain gear, and extra clothing in a waterproof bag
  • extra food and extra water
  • a tow line
  • charts and tide tables, current tables if appropriate
  • a compass
  • a knife
  • matches or a lighter
  • a flashlight (even if only planning a daytime paddle)
  • a sleeping pad (helps against hypothermia but also doubles for a comfy lunch break)
  • first aid kit (including hypothermia wrap)
  • a VHF radio
  • an accessible flare pack

Basic Precautions and Considerations

  • The greatest single danger to sea kayakers is hypothermia. Cold water kills. Dress appropriately. Learn about hypothermia.
  • Thoroughly familiarize yourself with your boat.
  • Start gradually in moderate weather, close to shore, with an experienced companion. Experiment with strong winds only when they are blowing toward shore.
  • Develop your paddling skills, including turning and bracing.
  • Learn and practice a self-rescue method appropriate for you and your boat, including a deep water re-entry
  • Practice a group rescue so you can help others.
  • Make a habit of carrying safety equipment. It will be easier to carry your safety equipment if you keep it stored in one bag.
  • Leave a float plan. Let someone know where you’re putting in and when and where you plan to return. Leave a full description of your car.
  • Read all you can on the subject of sea kayaking, weather, oceanography and cold water survival.
  • Get a weather forecast each day you are out.
  • Avoid paddling alone.
  • Be sure you are using a boat for the purpose for which it was designed.
  • Like any mariner, you must know the principles of navigation and seamanship.

Environmental Hazards

Make sure you understand how weather conditions and ocean conditions affect you as a kayaker. Consider taking our Trip Planning Course to get more details on those topics.


Avoid paddling when whitecaps are visible ( = more than 10-12 knots of wind).
Wind can 1) upset a kayak, 2) make it difficult to turn, 3) create unmanageable waves, 4) prevent you from holding a course, and 5) slow you down or stop you.


Avoid any currents higher than 0.5 knots (unless you have appropriate training).

Current can create challenging conditions to paddle in such as 1) having to fight the current and being slow or not even able to paddle into the planned direction 2) eddylines that are tricky to cross and might capsize you 3) whirlpools that capsize you 4) current aggravates conditions caused by adverse weather, particularly when current and wind are opposing.

Before paddling in less than protected waters we recommend you learn how read your chart as well as current tables. Know how to calculate slack. Make sure you get training on how to paddle in current.


Topography affects wind and water conditions in shallows, beach surf, headlands, cliffs, and river mouths.

  • Surf: Waves steepen and break on beaches and shoals. Generally, try to avoid landing in surf with a loaded kayak. Avoid surf on rocky beaches.
  • Shallows: Waves steepen and break heavily on shallows. Avoid those areas when waves are large or strong currents are forced to flow over them.
  • Inlets: On sunny days you will experience strong inflow winds (anabatic winds) in inlets. They tend to come on fairly suddenly around mid-morning and last until the early afternoon.
  • Headlands: Conditions are frequently more difficult off headlands with the increased wind (funneling), accelerated current and re-bounding waved. Seas become chaotic.
  • Cliffs: Cliffs limit landing sites and can cause chaotic rebound wave conditions.
  • River Mouths: Difficult wave conditions occur when a river outflow runs against the ocean waves.


People are some of the biggest risks when kayaking. This includes ourselves as well as others. We like to overestimate ourselves, give in to peer pressure or run into power boaters on the water who might not be aware of us.

Watch for powerboats, ships, tugboats with barges and all other watercraft. Make yourself visible and never assume you have been seen or have the right of way.

Make sure everybody in the group feels comfortable going out and you practice proper risk assessment as a group. Everybody should have a say in whether you go out and whether they have any concerns.

If you are interested in kayak touring and enjoying some of the amazing nature BC has to offer please consider taking a lesson.

You can also find a lot more tips and tricks in our Getting Started section as well as in our Resource section.