Safety: Sea | Ocean | Big Water

Sea | Ocean | Big Water Safety

Big Water safety is a topic that needs attention. Accidents happen. These accidents often result in two safety related stages of aid.

  • Rescue: Extricating/rescueing persons and recovery of boats & paddles.
  • First Aid: Taking care of wounds and injuries.

Two of the most ocurring problems on big water are hypothermia and getting seperated from your kayak. Hypothermia occurs when wet, wind, and cold overwhelms the body’s ability to produce and to retain heat. Hypothermia can arise from a several minute unpredicted rescue in cold water; from days of rainy, cool conditions.
The first step is to be prepared for these occasions, with both tools and knowledge.
Preparation starts by checking rescue- and first aid kits whilst your still able to replenish your necessities. Make sure you know how to use the kits. Practise your rescue techniques and know how to find things in your first aid kit. When you are ready to board, check for any known health issues within the group that can cause complications during the trip. Also check if all boats have adequate buoyancy blocks & air bags. Last but not least, agree on signals to use in an emergency situation. Whilst on the water, kits need to be easily accessible. Make sure kits are strategically located within the group. The most experienced paddlers are likely to be able to help first when things go wrong.


Satellite Messenger / Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

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The first item I pack (for personal ánd group safety) on every outdoor activity is my Satellite Messenger / Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). The Zoleo satellite communicator, can send an SOS alert to activate Search & Rescue, with 24/7 emergency monitoring and dispatch included (provided by GEOS). Both the device and the app have a dedicated button for this.
Not to be used lightheartedly as it will result in the activation of a (helicopter) rescue team, guiding them to your location: When GEOS receives your SOS alert, they’ll know the GPS coordinates of your ZOLEO communicator. They’ll contact the appropriate emergency response authorities for your location, and reach out to the emergency contacts you designated when creating your ZOLEO account.
Using the ZOLEO App, you’ll also be able to message back and forth with GEOS to exchange updates, until your emergency situation has been resolved. Two-way SOS simply isn’t offered by one-way communicators, PLBs and EPIRBs. Even if you’re using the ZOLEO communicator on its own, without the app, you’ll get confirmation that your SOS message was received (via the LEDs on the device).
Most relative techspecs: weight: 150g, IP68 water-resistant to 1.5 m for 30 min, battery life: 200+ hours.

Besides that, the Zoleo will:

  • Send and receive messages anywhere over Wi-Fi, cellular and satellite, trying in the following order: Wi-Fi, cellular data, then over the Iridium satellite network, via the ZOLEO device. (Basically the least cost route for the message.)
  • Messaging is possible by SMS, email and app-to-app.
  • Send Check-in messages with one touch, to let others know you’re OK. Both the device and the app have a dedicated button for this. Your check-in message will be sent to your check-in contact(s). You can also include your GPS coordinates if desired.
  • Get DarkSky weather forecasts.
  • Share your GPS location with others, via messages. (The Zoleo doesn’t provide a following/tracking feature.)

Availability: European sales will kick of in April 2022, starting in the UK and Nordic countries.


Make certain you have the right kayak for the trip!
Check usability, security and strength of grab-handle and deck lines. Make sure that the kayak will float when full of water by adding adequate airbags or compartments. Check all screws, bolts, footrest and/or bulkhead. Ensure that your spray skirt has a pull-cord for release and is a tight fit.


Wear a CE-approved buoyancy aid when on or near water, check its floatation and make sure it is in good condition and the correct fit. Ensure all buckles and zips are fastened. I use a Stohlquist Descent Rescue vest (not sold in Europe….) and/or a VSG Code vest.

Stohlquist Descent Rescue
(Big River, Rock Hopping)
VSG Code vest
(Big Open Water, Sea, Ocean)

Towing tether

Towing tether is a very useful tool to recover a kayak ‘on the loose’, depending on the conditions and your abilities. Use the proper minimum length required for towing and only use it with a release buckle system. I use a 5 m, CE approved, polypropylene line, fitted with a kayaking carabiner (position-secured by a Petzl ‘String’ webbing protector).

Do NOT use carabiners with snagging noses.
Green: a non-snagging nose. Red: a snagging nose.


When rockhopping, wear a CE1385 approved, fastened, kayaking helmet. Ensure it fits correctly and snug. It helps if the colour stands out on the river (unlike mine). I use a Shred Ready Halfcut Carbon Helmet and a Predator Lee Helmet.

Protective clothing

Wear and/or carry sufficient warm protective clothing for the trip. I always wear/carry a paddle jacket, neoprene shorts and rashguard shirt in summer. In winter I add a long john wetsuit, neoprene paddle jacket, a neoprene hat and pogies. A dry suit would be a great addition.
Wear footwear suitable for carrying your kayak. Footwear should be free of anything that could catch.

Restube Rescue Aid

My Restube Active is an important part of my touring, sea kayaking, flat water setup. Either to have extra boyuancy myself or to help others. A neat little package providing loads of safety! Just pull the trigger and the yellow Restube buoy inflates within seconds. Restube active provides enough buoyancy (75N) for adults, which makes it the ideal companion in open water. It is reusable by screwing in a new original 16g CO2 cartridge and easy to repack. Specs:

  • Buoyancy 75N (~7.5kg)
  • Buoy length 65cm, diameter 13cm
  • Inflatable also with mouth valve
  • Easy to repack
  • Convenient to wear doing active sports
  • Horizontally and vertically attachable
  • Comes with a belt


Knives are an essential piece of gear, especially when working with rope. Your knife needs to be easily accessible with one hand. It should cut rope easily (serrated blade) and not have a sharp point. Do not tether the knife as this is not ‘Clean’.
I use a NRS Co-Pilot Knife (that is small enough to fit my current PFD) and a Wichard Rescue Knife (which is slightly bigger and better cutting).

Spare paddle

At least one member of the group should carry a spare paddle. Any decent paddle will do, but mind the weight. I carry an rescued 4-piece old Robson (?) 220cm paddle, which I split myself. Kevlar Carbon blades and carbon shaft. Weight: 1008 g.

Emergency Shelter

My Lomo Emergency Storm Shelter is a 2-3 man ‘Bothy Bag’. It provides protection from the wind and rain, lightweight, easy to carry and can be pulled over 2-3 people to help keep the elements off them in an emergency. High-viz orange, PU-coated polyester, two large retro reflective patches reflecting, a viewing window and two clossable air-vent snorkels aid ventilation. Packs as small as 21cm x 10cm and weighs 360 grams.

First aid kit

My First Aid Kit is targeted to treat cuts, bleeding, broken limbs and pain.

Signalling gear

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Pyro signalsLaser signal

For every specific trip I decide which Pyro signals to pack. My Laser signal is always on me.

Cell phone and WalkieTalkie

My Baofeng UV-9R

In addition to my PLB, I carry my cell phone and, for communication within the group, a walkie talkie is a proper safety device.


For communicating on water, when your voice isn’t strong enough. I use an Acme Tornado 2000 professional referee stadium whistle, which blows out any water easily and has loads of volume (up to 122 decibel).

Gaffa/Duck tape

For al unforeseen repairs and whatnot.

Abilities and knowledge

  • All the gear above should be used by trained individuals. Follow a sea rescue course. Practice regularly and keep refreshing your knowledge!
  • Be prepared to self rescue, including sea swimming and a reliable Eskimo roll.
  • Know Basic Life Support and have a current first aid certificate.