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Florida Kayak Safety:
10 Important Tips On How To Stay Safe While Kayaking the Sunshine State (Florida kayak safety)
There’s something about kayaking that just seems so carefree and fun. It’s definitely a great way to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise at the same time. Are you looking to get into the kayaking hobby? Before you hit the water, it’s important to know some basic Florida kayak safety tips. Here are ten tips to help keep you safe while kayaking. Happy paddling!
So, prepare for kayaking as you read these 10 kayak safety tips. By the end of this article, you will feel much more confident on the water!
Safety tips? Does that mean kayaks are not safe? Read our Florida Kayak Safety Tips
Truly, kayaks are quite safe. But like anything, it’s important to be properly prepared, have basic training, and possess adequate gear and equipment. Truthfully, all water sports come with a level of risk. While not as high a risk as some, kayaking is no exception to this rule.
Some of the risks and dangers that every kayaker needs to be aware of.
- Getting Lost (Especially when kayaking at sea)
- In-water Hazards such as Weirs & Low-Head Dams
- Wildlife; Alligators, Bears, or Shark attacks
- Adverse Weather Conditions & Sun Exposure
- Hypothermia and Cold Water Shock
- Motorized boat traffic and other paddlers
It is true that kayaking can be deadly if you’re not careful. While accidents can happen when paddling, the majority of cases are preventable. In fact, statically speaking, driving a car is much more likely to put you in life-threatening danger if you drive carelessly. And while even the odds of that happening are small, they’re far greater than your chance of dying while kayaking.
Indeed, kayaking is safe if you’re aware of the risks and follow basic safety precautions. We’ve broken them down into 10 Safety Tips for new kayakers and those with experience.
Tip #1 – Life Jackets are Essential! Our first Florida Kayak Safety Tip
Wear a Kayaking Specific Life Jacket At All Times. And insist that others with you do, as well. Yes, even your dog needs a properly fitted floatation device.
Even if you are a world-class swimmer, you need a well-fitted, properly maintained, and suitable lifejacket or floatation device. It should fit snugly with adjustable straps. Make sure it is designed for your weight, too. Just as your car seat belt and airbags are there for emergencies, so should your floatation device be.
Our recommendations for a life jacket include:
- choose a brightly colored life jacket for the visibility
- it should have pickets to store emergency communication devices and equipment.
- attach a safety whistle to the jacket
- wear a strobe light for better visibility
- consider type IV PFD’s, especially when paddling in open water. These also help to rescue another person or even your pet.
Tip #2 – Alcohol and Kayaks Don’t Mix
Know the Kayak DUI Law.
In many countries, including the United States, paddling a kayak while under the influence is against the law. You might face a fine or even possible imprisonment for repeat offenses. But DUI / BUI punishments aside, there’s still plenty of good reasons to avoid boating under the influence
In fact, alcohol remains the primary cause of boating accidents with serious and fatal outcomes. As a depressant, alcohol slows your response times and impairs decision-making skills. It also negatively affects your coordination.
As such, you are far more likely to lose your balance, be less aware of hazards, and even take extreme risks whilst out on the water. This might result in you capsizing or creating another dangerous situation that you might struggle to get out of.
Tip #3 – Always Wear Appropriate Clothing
Even kayaking in Florida requires proper clothing for the area, weather conditions, and your personal needs. Choose clothing that provides proper protection from the sun, wind, and other elements.
During Florida’s warm weather, it’s best to wear light, comfortable clothing. And don’t forget your hat. Wear clothes that are made of breathable material. Avoid cotton as it doesn’t allow heat to escape from your body, causing you to sweat more. Also, it takes forever to dry so you will stay cold and wet longer. Even worse, when it becomes heavy from being soaked, swimming becomes more difficult and possibly impossible.
During cooler seasons, you might need to wear a wetsuit and possibly gloves or mittens. Even in Florida, cold days happen and the risk of hypothermia or cold shock exists.
Why a wet suit? A wet suit traps a layer of water next to your body. This helps provide insulation from heat loss. However, when temperatures drop below 60°F, a wetsuit begins to lose its thermal effectiveness.
If you will be paddling in very cold water, or if the air temperature drops below 50°F, you probably should wear a dry suit. But it’s important to remember, although a dry suit will keep you dry it provides limited insulation. The wise kayaker knows that in those conditions, thermal undergarments should be worn.
Tip #4 – Always Let a Friend or Relative Know Where You Are Going and When You Expect to Be Back
You’ve taken all the proper steps. You’ve chosen a suitable kayaking location, mapped out a good route, and identified any hazards. You have also checked the weather and water conditions. Great planning! But even the best plans can falter. What happens if something goes wrong? How will you get help?
The Essential Float Plan for Florida Kayak Safety
Just as an airline pilot files a flight plan before taking off, so should you as a kayaker file a float plan. A good float plan includes:
- A list of who is going
- The location that you plan to go to
- Your estimated time of return
- What steps should be taken if you don’t return
How detailed does your float plan need to be? It depends. If you plan to kayak for a couple of hours in a safe, well-traveled area, you probably can just text a trusted person where you are headed and when you’ll be back.
However, if you’re planning a longer or perhaps less safe boating excursion, you should create and file a float plan
You should include concrete details and specifics about your outing. This gives the authorities a head start if you fail to return and they need to launch a search and rescue mission in an emergency.
File the float plan with at least one trustworthy friend or relative. Choose someone you can trust to contact the authorities if you don’t arrive within a reasonable time of when you are expected. You might even file with the local marina.
Of course, if your plans change during your trip, alert your trusted person so they can avoid unnecessary emergency response teams. Changes may happen due to bad weather or some unplanned delay. Keep everyone updated for your safety and that of emergency responders.
And when you return, remember to close out the float plan. Check-in with the person you left your float plan with so they know you have arrived safely.
Tip #5 – Make Sure You Can Be Easily Seen
A part of staying safe out on the water is ensuring other people can see you – especially in low light such as in your kayak or under poor visibility. Remember, if you are kayaking on large bodies of water such as a lake or ocean, it’s likely you’re going to be the smallest boat or vessel.
Top tips of being seen;
- Make sure your kayak is brightly colored and not camouflaged by vegetation or the color of the water.
- Reflective tape is a good way to make your kayak even more visible at night. Many kayakers apply reflective tape in front, back, and around the straps of the PFD; as well as a strip on each of your paddle blades, the bow, and stern of your kayak. This helps ensure that you will be seen by other kayakers or boaters from a distance at night time.
- If kayaking at night, you also want to make sure you have red and green running lights on the kayak. These lights let other vessels know your direction of travel
- Always carry some form of noise alert mechanism such as a whistle or air horn to alert other watercraft of your presence. Just as your car’s horn helps alert other cars, so does the whistle or horn alert other boaters should they fail to see you and stray too close
- You should also wear bright clothing which is easy to spot from a distance.
- Use kayak lights to make you and your vessel as visible as possible to others on the water.
Tip #6 – Always Carry an Emergency Kit
Even if you are planning a short trip, make sure you have your emergency kit with you. It is a critical tool for beginners or advanced. In fact, it might just keep you alive until help arrives.
Your Emergency Kit Should Include:
- First-aid kit (make sure you keep it well-supplied)
- Signaling devices (such as . signal mirror, flare gun, and flares)
- Whistle or air horn (having an extra is a good idea, too)
- Food supplies for several days
- Water containers or filters – to provide fresh drinking water from waterways, especially the ocean’s saltwater
- Compass or GPS unit – including maps of your area on it in case you get lost
- An ax or hatchet
- Sleeping gear and emergency shelter
- Marine VHF Radio
- Your mobile phone or, if possible, a VHF radio. Remember to store it in an easily accessible dry bag.
Tip #7 – Choice A Good Kayaking location
It’s important to pick a kayaking location based on your skill level and ability. Consider both your physical ability and your kayaking skills. In fact, trying to paddle above your skill level is a real risk that should be avoided.
Beginning kayakers should start with an area they are familiar with. Keep to shallow waters such as quiet lakes or rivers. When on the ocean ways, stay close to the coastline and within calm bays to be shielded from the winds. These winds can turn quiet waters into choppy ones rather quickly. When they do, they might capsize your vessel and create an emergency situation.
As your skills improve, try new areas. That way, you ensure you stay safe as you expand your kayaking hobby.
Be diligent in planning your route. Look for hazards and identify safe places to retreat to, if needed. Also, consider any wildlife encounter areas. Florida is home to alligators, sharks, snakes, and other wildlife that are interesting to see but not safe to encounter.
Tip #8 – Learn Basic Florida Kayaking Safety Skills Before Your Trip
Knowledge is power and our Florida Kayak Safety tips include this.
Learn the basics before you head off on your first adventure. You might take a class. Or perhaps you join a group kayaking trip for the first few ventures out.
You need to learn the basics of handling rough water, the equipment needed for various types of water, and the basic paddle techniques. Two of the most essential skills to include are how to roll a kayak and how to perform a wet exit and then re-enter your kayak.
Most experts recommend practicing the re-entry many times until you can do it quite naturally. This makes a big difference in your safety, especially if you capsize in cold water.
Tip #9 – Know The Weather And Water Conditions
Part of the planning includes checking the weather and water conditions. You should check them when you begin planning, then again before beginning your trip. It’s better to cancel or postpone your trip than to find yourself in inclement weather.
Being prepared is key to maintaining a safe kayaking experience. Plan ahead and always review the weather forecast and sea conditions before you set off on your trip. And be willing to cancel your excursion if the forecast is unfavorable.
Before you leave, know:
- The speed and direction of the wind
- Waves: the size and height, and any alerts
- Check for any storm or high-risk weather front from NOAA
Florida is known as the Lightening Capitol for good reason. Be aware of impending weather to ensure an enjoyable kayak adventure. If there are any changes during your trip, be ready to find shore, seek shelter, or turn back. Of course, if this happens, you also need to alert the person keeping your float plan.
Tip #10 – Avoid Kayaking Alone: Florida kayak safety
Yes, I know. Sometimes you just want to get away from everyone. And there might be times when you can paddle alone. But the risk increases greatly if you are alone and something goes wrong.
An accident is called an “accident” for a reason. They aren’t planned, although often they can be prevented. But you might not know that the manatee is going to upset your kayak, causing you to bump your head on that fallen tree. We can’t plan for everything.
Your best chance is to kayak with a partner or group. It offers the best chance for a safe and enjoyable venture.
Kayakers cite some other benefits of the buddy approach, too.
- You share your enjoyment with a friend or relative
- It allows a chance for friendly conversation (or quiet, if you prefer)
- You have help, in case of an accident
- Photo opportunities! You and your buddy can take photos of each other and your journey
To Summarize our Florida Kayak Safety Tips
Above all, remember SAFETY FIRST. If you stay safe, you live to paddle another day.
Kayaking provides a great way to enjoy the natural part of Florida outdoors. However, it does require some planning and preparation. By following these kayak safety tips, your Florida Kayaking adventures will be enjoyable and safe!
- Never kayak alone. Instead, enjoy the journey with a friend or two.
- No alcohol while kayaking. It’s dangerous and against the law
- Pack an emergency kit that includes your communication device
- Dress the part and consider investing in a drysuit or wetsuit.
- Make sure you can see and be seen. Kayak lights are an excellent investment.
- Master the basic safety skills, including paddling stroke, rolls, and self-rescue technique
- Always wear a life jacket, ALWAYS. And make sure it fits properly.
- Pick a suitable location according to your experience and ability (and the weather)
- Check the water and weather conditions, both as you plan and on the day
- Tell someone your plans and create and file a float plan