Whenever you venture onto the water you should take precautions. After all, water is not static – it’s a moving entity that has its own rules. Even with greatest amount of knowledge and experience things can sometimes go wrong, but understanding kayak safety is ESSENTIAL.

Paddling a kayak is a fun activity and to improve and progress you should not only develop your skills around the craft, but should also aim to understand your environment as much as possible.

Tidal waters

If you are aiming to paddle on the open sea then the biggest topic to have a grasp of is tides. The ebb and flow of the world’s oceans can be either a massive hindrance or a great tool.

The basic rule of thumb is that tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and, to a lesser extent, the sun. Water flows in and out roughly every six hours, although this is not set in stone and local effects can affect this massively.

Wherever you are thinking of paddling, get an update tide table or relevant tide prediction and take into consideration what effect the different states of tide will have on your location.

It would be unfortunate to launch your ‘yak on a seemingly open beach, only to return to find that the beach has disappeared and is now completely submerged!


‘Yaking in a surf environment has yet more lessons to be learnt. Some of these are almost Zen; where nothing accounts for as much as experience. That said, there are ways to reduce risk.

The obvious one is never paddle out when conditions are beyond your capabilities. If you think the waves look ‘big’ then they generally will be. A good indicator of the size is how many water users are out in the line-up. Sizeable conditions generally thin out crowds, as many people don’t have the skills or experience.

If you are thinking of heading to a surf beach then it is always best to paddle where lifeguards are on hand. Popular beaches are now over seen by professional lifeguards and this should give you some peace of mind, although this service shouldn’t be relied upon.

Understand the flag system that lifeguards use: this information will be displayed on the side of the lifeguard hut. Failing that – ask!

White water/rivers

Rivers and the white water environment present their own set of unique challenges. Depending on conditions, you could find a raging behemoth or a tranquil, steady flowing stretch of water.

Rapids, eddies and stoppers are all caused by fast flowing water running over an uneven riverbed. These kinds of anomalies are what sit on paddlers aim for as, with the correct experience, they can provide lots of fun.

Sit on kayaks are not the best tool for challenging fast flowing rapids, but for moderate flowing rivers they should be fine.
If attempting anything like this, make sure you are wearing the appropriate clothing and have the necessary safety equipment.

Getting back on your sit on kayak

One of the biggest things with sit on top kayaking is knowing how to get yourself back on board if you get dumped into the drink. The amount of paddlers who head out without this knowledge is testament to the ease of the sport. However, no prior understanding of getting back into your paddling position can stressful at least and dangerous at most.

The following video gives you an idea of what you should be looking to achieve and how to get back onto your sit on kayak.

Kayak safety checklist

Here is a quick safety checklist:

  • Wear a buoyancy aid (BA)
  • Have a throw/tow line ready to hand – usually attached to your PFD
  • Wear a helmet if appropriate (particularly if sit on kayaking in a rocky environment – rivers, sea caves)
  • Wear appropriate clothing – wetsuit, wind breaker or surface immersion suit/drysuit
  • Understand your environment – tides, update to date info about river flows
  • Paddle within your skill set – don’t attempt conditions that are too extreme – if in doubt don’t go out
  • Tell someone when you head off for a paddle – location, time expected back
  • Make sure your equipment is in good working order – check your sit on kayak regularly
  • Understand and know how to get back on your capsized sit on top kayak