8 Safety Items Every Kayaker Needs (That Fit In 1 Small Bag)


Here’s something that doesn’t get talked about enough:

Safety equipment for your kayak.

Sure, it’s not cool like a shiny new reel, but these items could save your life (and give you many more years of kayak fishing).

So in this video, I’m sharing the eight items I always have with me on my kayak to keep me safe.

Some are things I like to have for my own peace of mind, while others are items that you’re legally required to have on board.

See what these items are and why you need them in the video below!

Kayak Safety Equipment [VIDEO]

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Below are the eight items I always bring on my kayak.

You should also check your local laws to see what else is required to have onboard, as the laws are different in every state.

8 Kayak Safety Items

Life Jacket

Life jackets are required by law and could save your life if you go overboard.

There are two different life jackets I’ll have on board with me, depending on where I’m fishing.

If I’m fishing flats or lakes where it’s calm and I want to move freely, then I like to use an inflatable life jacket.

Some inflatable life jackets are manual, some are automatic, and some are both, but I prefer an automatic one.

And even within automatic life jackets, there are two different types:

  1. Pressure-activated
  2. Water-activated

I prefer the pressure-activated jackets, even though they cost a bit more, because you might splash the water-activated jackets in your kayak and accidentally activate them.

If I’m fishing in deeper, rough water, like off the beach or in an inlet, I prefer a standard foam life jacket, like the Magellan outdoors paddling life jacket.

Sound-Producing Device

Sound-producing devices, like a whistle or air horn, can help call attention to yourself if you get into trouble.

I prefer a whistle because it doesn’t expire or run out of air.

And I recommend keeping it attached to your body (around your neck or clipped to your belt or life jacket).

If you do happen to fall out and the current or wind takes your kayak away from you, you’ll want to have it on you.


A knife is another thing you want to keep on yourself (not just in a bag somewhere on your kayak).

On your kayak, you’ll have anchor line, fishing line, bungees, and other ropes around, and you really don’t want to get tangled in them if you accidentally flip.

In our recent kayak fishing podcast, Luke shared a story about having to rescue a guy who was stuck in the water for 20 minutes because his kayak flipped and his ankle was tied up in a rope.

It was November and he was freezing — don’t let that happen to you!

Always have a pocket knife or dive knife on you.


Even if you’re only planning on fishing during the day, you should still bring a headlamp.

The weather could turn bad, you could get stranded because of low tide, or you could find a school of fish and not want to leave.

All of these things are definitely possible and could cause you to stay out later than planned.

Headlamps can let you see what’s around you in the dark, as well as let other people see you.

Emergency Kit

orion safety kit

Here’s what I have in my emergency kit:

  • An Orion emergency kit
  • First aid items
  • Flex tape patches

The Orion emergency kit contains:

  • An extra whistle
  • A mirror to use the sun or your headlamp to signal where you are
  • Signal flares

My first aid items include:

  • Bandaids
  • Patches
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Tylenol (or similar pain reliever)

The flex tape patches are surprisingly helpful for temporarily plugging a hole in your kayak in case something happens like you run over rocks or an oyster bed.

Manual Bilge Pump

If you get a hole in your kayak or accidentally leave a hatch open, you’ll be thankful you had a manual bilge pump on board.

Another option is to have a sponge to get the water out.

Waterproof Floating Radio

A radio can help you hear about weather updates and call for help if necessary.

Yes, we all carry cell phones, but you may end up out of range, the battery could die, you could drop it overboard…

Lots of things could go wrong if you’re solely relying on your cell phone.

I use the Cobra HH 350.

And here’s a tip: always be sure to keep the batteries for your phone and radio charged!


I like having a small claw anchor on board to help hold me in place in case of an emergency.

If you cut or injure yourself, you’ll definitely want an anchor so you can stop moving and patch yourself up.

2 Kayak Safety Tips

The items above will help you be prepared in case of an emergency, but here are two other tips that can also keep you safe:

Tip #1: Tell someone about your plans

Let someone know where you’re going, when you plan to get back, and if someone else is going with you.

If you don’t get back at a reasonable time, they can try to contact you or the people you’re with, or start looking for you.

Tip #2: Write your information on your kayak

Write your name, address, phone number, and emergency contact on the hull of your kayak where it’ll be visible.

In case your kayak floats off or an accident happens and your kayak is found, authorities will know who they’re looking for.

You can go to the Coast Guard’s website here to get a sticker for this.


inshore kayak fishing setup

This might seem like a lot, but they’re all little things and they easily fit into a medium-sized dry bag.

You can keep everything stored in there so when you leave home to go kayaking, you can just grab the bag (but be sure your radio batteries are charged!).

Hopefully, you won’t need to use these items and tips, but if you do, you’ll be glad you were prepared!

Have any additional safety tips or equipment?

Let me know down in the comments.

And please TAG or SHARE this with your kayak friends so we can all be safe out on the water!

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Mario Relvini
9 days ago

Lot of great info Tony! I especially like those seal patches because I worry I will hit something hard underwater and crack my hull. I also like to bring an external battery for my phone in case it dies and sunscreen. Especially if the fishing is good and you stay out much longer than anticipated. And of course toilet paper lol. Fortunately have not needed it to this point.

Andy Hong
9 days ago
Reply to  Mario Relvini

T.P. is a great idea!!!

Andy Hong
9 days ago

Great video, Tony! You covered a heck of a lot in 12 minutes!!!

Two additional points:

Don’t forget to tether the items you think you’ll need on you if (when) you flip. I tether my whistle, rescue hook-knife, phone, and radio to my PFD. (I also tether my fishing pliers and line snip too, but only because I want them in a handy place when I’m releasing a fish or tying a knot.)

Also, when I’m kayaking at night where there’s boat traffic (like under a bridge), I keep a small compressed-air horn in the side pocket of my kayak. Even though I’ve fitted my kayak with USCG-certified navigation lights and a 360° light on a mast, I’ve had plenty of drunk boaters not see me with their beer goggles on. A whistle is pretty much useless in that situation, but the blast of an air horn can be heard over the noise of motors.

Patrick Allen Harrington
9 days ago
Reply to  Andy Hong

Air horn is the way to go

Mario Relvini
9 days ago
Reply to  Andy Hong

I don’t go out on my yak at night but definitely good points Andy. One thing I forgot to mention below is I usually carry a Knipex wire cutter in my tackle bag in case you ever hook yourself. They cut through hooks like butter.

Andy Hong
9 days ago
Reply to  Mario Relvini

That’s a great idea Mario!

Similarly, I chose my fishing pliers because they have a hard wire cutter on them. (I carry a separate line snipper for tying knots.) I’ve used the integrated wire cutters plenty of times to cut hooks. For example, if I hook a fish near its eye or through its gills, I cut off either end of the hook so I can pull (or push) out the hook without the barb or the eye of the hook further injuring the fish.

I imagine if (when?) I hook myself, I might do the same.

9 days ago

As alwaysTony, very well done and good info.
To Tony,Joe, and Luke. how about you guys putting out for Insider Members a “packet” that has the most important safety items. Just a marketing idea. You have almost 30,000 members, and a 8% interest would be 2400 “packets” sold. Just saying.
Keep up the good work. you guys are incredible.

Patrick Allen Harrington
9 days ago

Sadly, when you bring up safety in the kayak fishing world the name “Karen” gets thrown around. My family has suffered through a loss of a loved one from drowning. In deference to my wife and children all of the items you mentioned are on my kayak. I fish the Hobie PA12 so turning it upright after a flip is difficult at best. So, I carry a length of 1″ tubular nylon webbing to fashion a rescue stirrup to flip the boat back over. Every safety item is in my storage bag on my seat, that way if I turtle I wont have to open a hatch to get to it. There is an app from the Coast Guard where you can email your float plan. I also text my wife with pictures of my kayak and my fishing buddy’s boat just in case. The biggest things that have kept me safe have been the buddy system, and practicing emergency maneuvers before I go out.

Malcolm Hayward.
8 days ago

At last, someone who understands.

Andy Hong
9 days ago

Hi Patrick, first of all, I’m sorry for your family’s loss. 🙏

On the topic of flipping, where do you tie the webbing so you can right your PA? And are you using the strength of your legs, with your feet on the hull, like you would to right a small sailboat.

Dan Meyer
9 days ago

Good points! Kayak reentry reminds me, Paddle Float. This device is very similar looking to a child’s water wing. Except it slips over the paddle blade, Once inflated, paddle handle is set over yak edge. You now have a floating bridge to climb onto.

Andy Hong
8 days ago
Reply to  Dan Meyer

Cool! I had no idea about this technique. I googled and found plenty of articles and videos describing how to use a paddle float for reentry. Thanks for the tip, Dan!

Patrick Allen Harrington
9 days ago

Make sure your knife is sharp too

Dan Meyer
9 days ago

Great article, plenty of valuable points! Thank you.

Two other, also small items, I like to pack: a map and compass. Map, adequate to cover 10X the range of travel for that day, more if current present. Compass, even a cheap one serves the same purpose. They are often part of those cheap Walmart combo ‘emergency’ devices. Usually attached with a reflector, magnifying lens,… Between direction and approx. speed, you can guesstimate your location. With these items you can use dead reckoning to recover.

I attach many of my emergency devices to my PFD. If I were to capsize and lose stuff, I will still have a knife, compass,… and

Oh, one of these attachments would be a battery powered strobe. These have tremendous visibility. At night, reportedly visible to satellite…

Malcolm Hayward.
8 days ago
Reply to  Dan Meyer

I have an RAF safety knife on my BA.
Designed to cut entanglements and cord to length but not to puncture things that are inflatable. Civilian versions are now available.


9 days ago

Good reminders and I know what I have missed and will get those items before next trip.

9 days ago

Great info, thanks. A good water proof strobe, i would add.I realize you said a head lamp, but a blinking light gets more attention, something i learned in the
Navy. Enjoy all your, and Salt Strong vids. Thanks so much.

Malcolm Hayward.
8 days ago
Reply to  Perry

Prepare an older Petzl, cavers style. They reject the current stuff, ridiculously complicated, and upgrade the Duo.
Think personal EPERB. We always carried one.
Working with an RAF expedition instructor always helped.

8 days ago

Just looked into some of the available ones online. I’m not real familiar with these, what would you recommend, value and quality. I’m a older guy, has been awhile since i was in the Navy. Thanks in advance.

Brett Coates
8 days ago

Don’t forget Zip ties! Light weight and have saved my backside a few times.

Jeffrey Wilson
8 days ago

Great video Tony! I also consider food and water safety equipment. I always bring a big bottle of water and a few cliff bars or something like that

Joe Fafalios
8 days ago

I would add a light weight rain outfit and a small light weight collapsible umbrella. The rainwear can protect you from hypothermia if you get wet and are injured and need to stay out all night. The umbrella could provide protection from the sun. Both are items I carry while backpacking for the same reasons and can be very small, packable, lightweight and inexpensive.

Adam Bailey
8 days ago
Reply to  Joe Fafalios

For the same reasons you mentioned, whether for kayaking or hiking and backpacking, consider adding an emergency blanket too. It’s inexpensive, lightweight, and essentially a sheet of mylar that is the size of a deck of cards.

Malcolm Hayward.
8 days ago

Kayak needs to be in the red / orange / yellow spectrum.
No arguments. You must be visible to the poor sods sent to rescue you.

You, will be as visible as a melon.

At sea, speed is your biggest safety asset.

Spare two piece paddle on deck. (Practice with it.)

Paddle float to assist re-embarking when knackered.

Risk of thunderstorms, use wooden paddles.

Get someone to teach you to paddle effectively.
Everyone thinks they can paddle anything. Most are total crap.
Power comes from the shoulders and trunk. Down at FULL STRETCH for single blade.
A foil flight rotation to the side with a double blade, after above.
The boat will lift and jump forwards on the catch.
All trunk.
If you bend your arms, stay in bed for everyones sake.
Blade only passes the hips when manoevering.

“Less than three there shall never be”.

Rafted boats make radar targets.
Paddle too close, you may well be tossed on top of each other.

Practice rescues.
From 5 yards away a rescue should take <15secs.
Over 40secs, you shouldn’t be out there.


Malcolm Hayward.
One time water sports mngr. and expedition leader.
Note the e-mail address.

David Wamsley
8 days ago

Tony: I have enjoyed and learned from your “how to” fishing videos in the kayak.
But to me this us your best video yet on kayak safety. As a fellow kayak user there are items that you mentioned in the video that I will definitely add to my kayak.
Thanks for the thoughtful video

Robert Torrisi
8 days ago

Excellent! Thank you. One additional item for consideration is crocs or other water shoes with sturdy soles. I have had several kayak mishaps by myself but one major event with my family. the kids (teens) didn’t think this was important. I had a difficult time justifying wearing crocs to them as they were jumping in swimming around the Delaware River. Then we went over a small dam/waterfall, no more than 18″, 2 yaks out of 3 of us got rolled and washed away in a strong current. Once out of the current, it required us to walk on sharp rocks to get to land to regroup. It was a far walk in shallow water and then on rough terrain. Since I was the only one wearing crocs, I had to carry my wife and kids, one at a time of course lol! lesson learned! We had a good family discussion afterwards and all agreed that we will research and use safety practices from that point on. This article is very important. Thanks again!

Capt. Ray Markham
8 days ago

Very good advice for any vessel.

Steven Free
8 days ago

Yes Tony I agree safety is very important and to me common sense is important to but I do carry safety gear on my boat a first aid kit an extra prop for both trolling motor and my outboard line cutters as well as a knife lure retriever spotlight small flashlight I even carry both an extra spinning and baitcasting feel raingear and while I don’t have a whistle my boat does have a very loud horn and yes a life preserver but great advice that some anglers should pay more attention to thanks for the info and all you do😁

Mark A Sadler
7 days ago

Pratical and informative!…good job Tony!

I keep a medium sized dry bag inside the hull of my kayak all the time (Tarpon 140 but not sure it will fit in my new Nucanoe Pursuit as easily though). In it, i keep firstaid kit, rain pancho, emergency blanket and a small survival kit. Before each fishing trip i check the items just to make sure they are in good working order.

Adding an identification tag to kayak is a GREAT idea that i will be looking to complete this weekend as long as this crazy TX weather breaks long enough.

I use a small soft tackle box for my fishing stuff but i also pack it with some safety items like blanket, whistle, mirror that would help in case i flipped my kayak and the current/wind took it. For this reason, my tackle box is about the only item that is not tied or strapped down on my kayak.

Great video content…keep them coming!


Joseph Gallagher
7 days ago

Great video as always. Another item I always carry is a Garmin inreach mini. It is a sat messenger. On the water, I always have a satellite signal. It also has an SOS button. Push the button and the cavalry comes. It is water resistant . I typically attach it to my PFD.

Andy Hong
7 days ago

To add to Joe’s excellent comment…

I’ve had several inReach communicators over the years (including the O.G. one before Garmin bought DeLorme), and I currently own a GPSMAP 66i with inReach and routable mapping. During my various outdoor activities, there have been plenty of times that I’ve been “off the map” when it comes to cell service, but the Iridium satellite network covers 100% of the globe, so inReach offers great peace of mind.

When I’m doing something that might lead to a situation that prevents me from hitting that SOS button, I turn on tracking, so my position is being uploaded via Iridium to the inReach service every 10 minutes. That way, my wife and my sister (and the friends/relatives of others in the group, if it’s a group outing) will be able to see my position on the inReach website.

The downside is that inReach doesn’t transmit a 121.5 MHz signal, so a SAR team won’t be able to pinpoint me using a homing signal. They have to rely solely on the last GPS position successfully uplinked to Iridium.

Stephen Teetor
6 days ago

Nice! As a lifetime boater and relatively new to kayaking, these are excellent tips. I’m in Jensen Beach and mostly Kayak around Lake Eden in the Savannas for bass and pan fish. This year I have ventured out to the Sailfish flats for flounder and pompano. Got a 25 inch flounder two days ago. Always learning! I saw a guy that used a couple of boat fenders like training wheels to help stabilize his kayak and I have some spare fenders from my big boats. I’m trying to figure it out without adding a ton of weight.

Becky Mooney
6 days ago

Hope I’m not posting twice…My Husband are thrilled to have joined your team. I actually caught a nice Sea Trout about 15″ and shortly thereafter FELL out of the boat. Long story…Had a heart attack getting back in the boat but made it and all is well. Can’t wait to fish again although I’ll be watching videos for three months first. When I came home from the hospital I saw your post about boating safely which was ironic as we had all the necessary equipment and I always wear my life jacket PERIOD! Thankfully we are safety conscious. The reason I fell out is because Hubby’s seat broke and he went in first throwing me off balance. We were only in two feet of water but the muck will suck you in, beware. I’m very much enjoying the daily post and can’t wait to get back out on the water. Thank you so much for all the great tips. Your new friend Bec

Chris Murphey
2 days ago

Love this

Chris Smisek
2 days ago

A water jug that NEVER leaves the boat (maybe once a yr to replaces?) should also be on ones list?

Luis Arana
1 day ago

Great info as always, Tony! I would recommend against putting your home address for POC information on the kayak as this provides disreputable people with information on where you live. I would leave it out or use something like your place of business if you would like to include this. For the phone number, I would also use something like a Google number that can be forwarded to your cell phone or house phone that doesn’t expose your home phone either. I usually provide a detailed float plan to at least two people with comms deadlines when I head out even in my boat. Florida Bay, 10K Islands and ENP backcountry are desolate enough to warrant a backup plan.


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