Hypothermia Prevention, Swift Water Rescue and Safety Equipment

Training and good gear can make all the difference in having a safe and enjoyable kayaking trip. Get your gear on.

A well-prepared kayaker can easily dress and carry the gear onboard needed to prevent hypothermia, effect a rescue and provide resources required of unintended delays. Good gear improves safety and improves the paddling experience. Consider this proposed list a starting point in your quest for the ultimate kayaking gear outfit.


The right clothing, matched to your operating conditions, makes a phenomenal difference in cold weather tolerance and comfort. Clothing is the kayaker’s first and best defense against the elements and environmental hazards. Consider clothing as a system were each component contributes to the success of the whole. Build up clothing in layers and avoid cotton fabric like the plague.

  • Underwear – Wear a layer of quick-drying polypro underwear next to the skin and add a layer of synthetic pile over the top of it in colder conditions.
  • Drysuit – Drysuits provide the ultimate in cold water protection. Ensure your drysuit is sized large enough to allow extra layers of clothing to be added. Purchase a suit with attached booties to permit supplementary layers of socks to be worn. Avoid using heavy boots or waders while operating in swift water.
  • Paddle Jacket/Dry Top/Dry Pants – Many kayakers opt to use the combination of a dry top and dry pants for weather protection. Dry pants can help keep the lower body warm near cold water and dry top can be adjusted in response warm sunny weather. These suits will allow some water entry at the waist during an inadvertent swim, but will provide thermal protection. Carrying some additional synthetic fleece or wool clothing for the upper body that can be worn underneath the top.
  • Helmet and Hood – Size the helmet to accommodate use of a neoprene hat or hood. Using a helmet has obvious benefits to a kayaker bouncing of the bottom upside down in a swift current. A tight fitting hood will keep your head warm and water out the ears. Water in the ears and the shock of cold water can really screw up your equilibrium and the ability to roll back up.
  • Gloves – Pogies will help keep hands warm and stave off painful tendonitis. Carry a pair for times were finger dexterity isn’t required. Carry a couple pairs of neoprene fingered gloves for times were full use of the hands is needed.

Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

Purchase a PFD that has adequate buoyancy, is Coast Guard approved and comfortable to wear. Equip your PFD with a whistle and knife. Attaching retro-reflective tape to it will assist with low light visibility.

Rescue Equipment

A item you can add to your mental gear list is participation in a swiftwater rescue class. Effective and safe use of rescue gear requires training. There are many qualified trainers available and it’s always fun to hang your partner out over the river.

Accidental immersion in cold water can be the beginning of a very bad day. Boaters need to understand what can happen with an unplanned fall into cold water.
  • First-Aid Kit – A good first-aid kit can be assembled or purchased. Include any required prescription medicine with the kit.
  • Throw-Bag – A vital swiftwater rescue tool that effectively puts a line to a person in the water in seconds.
  • 60 Meters (200 Feet) of Rescue Line – Purchase a quality 12.5 millimeter (1/2 inch) static kernmantle nylon or polyester rescue rope. Store the line carefully and protect it from exposure to heat and dirt. Retire damaged lines early.
  • Locking Carabiners – Carry several locking carabiners. They are light and many can easily be carried. Carabiners load rated at 25 kilonewtons (5,620 pound force) are reasonably priced and sufficient for most purposes.
  • Prussiks and Ascenders – Rescue can depend on your ability to traverse a line back to shore or hold tension on a line. A Prussik is a knot made from a loop of line wrapped around your rescue line in a manner than grips it. Mechanical ascenders perform the same task using hardware. Rope Prussik loops are inexpensive and easy to carry aboard. Pre-tied loops of line are useful for other purposes.
  • Rescue Pulleys – Carry a couple load rated rescue pulleys. A tight turn in a line reduces its strength. Pulleys are made to reduce this friction and larger diameter pulleys can eliminate it.

Safety Equipment – These are some additional items that can be carried to improve safety while afloat.

  • Paddle Float for Sea Kayaking
  • Signaling Devices like Flares, Strobes or Mirrors
  • Marine VHF Radio
  • Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)
  • Survival Kit

Paddling safety doesn’t occur by accident. Take time to prepare and train before your next trip. It will be more fun and much safer.