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Proper Safety Equipment
What I recommend for carrying with you.

Everyone has a different idea of what you should have with you when paddling. There are "Musts" you should always have and "Likes" which make the experience more enjoyable and will help keep you safe.

First we'll talk about the "Musts". These include items required by law and then "Likes", the items that I think are common sense....


Required by law in most States (for a good reason):

  • An approved life vest - one that fits correctly.
    Wear it. If you dump it may be too late to put it on.

  • A loud whistle - This should always be attached to your life vest with a cord just long enough so you can blow it with out unhooking it.

  • A flashlight - preferably a waterproof, super bright LED, with a strobe mode.
    It's not required so you can see, it's if you get stuck on the water after dusk. You are required to have a white light to shine on approaching watercraft so they hopefully see your location.
    A strobe mode will help attract attention if you are in trouble.
    I like this rechargable one.

Remember, there may be additional requirements depending on your State or Province.

Other Items - For day trips or extended Paddles

These are a few of the additional items I'd have, especially if I plan on paddling in more remote areas:

  • A spare paddle - It's hard paddling with just a stick or your hands.
    If you drop your paddle you can use the spare to retrieve it. If you break your paddle you've got another to get back with.
    I use a double blade on open water to cover distance and windy conditions, and a single blade on quite water, streams, and marshes. I'm covered. You could buy a cheap Emergency Telescoping Paddle to take along. It's better than nothing.

  • Painter Lines - Floating marine rope should be tied to the front and back ot your canoe.
    Bright colors are best and each rope should be at least as long as your canoe. When paddleling leave them loose in the boat. If you dump it makes them easier to grab as the canoe is floating away from you. Do not have any loops tied in the rope as they could catch on things. When carrying the canoe the painters can be bundled up and tied to a hand hold ot a thwart.

  • Vessel ID StickerMake sure your boat has a vessel ID sticker attached with contact information and let others know where you're going and when you plan on returning. A way to contact you or an emergency number if your boat is found may prevent a needless search by rescuers or on a bad day, help them find you.

  • Sunglasses - That sun is bright and reflects off the water. A pair of 100% UV protected sunglasses can save your eyes.

  • Sun Screen - Sunburns are no fun. Skin Cancer is even worse.

  • A good brimmed hat with a chin strap - A baseball cap offers little protection. A nice wide brim with a chin strap for the wind is preferred. Tilly makes my favorites.

  • A large sponge or some kind of container to get water out of the boat.

  • Map and a Compass - Familiarize yourself with your route ahead of time. Study a map of the area you will be in. Make sure you know how to use a compass.

  • Always carry a knife. - Preferable on you or in your life vest. A serrated blade is best. If you get tangled you can cut your way out. Gerber makes some good ones.

The following will all fit in a small pack:

  • Drinking Water - I've forgotten on more than one occasion.

  • Map and Compass - Know where you're going and how to get back.
    Even better, keep a compass in your life vest along with your whistle. I also have one attached to my thwart. The sun is not always out.

  • Small First Aid Kit - You never know.

  • Emergency Blanket - Baby it's cold outside... especally if you're wet and stuck somewhere overnight.

  • Fire Starter - Make sure you get a good one and you try it and learn how to use it ahead of time. Don't depend on matches staying dry or a lighter always working.

  • A small hand saw - For cutting downed branches blocking your way. A small folding saw is easier to pack. Do not cut live branches or trees. Cut only downed, dead wood.

  • Don't forget your favorite snack if you're out for the day.

  • If you're on the canals remember a handheld radio or your cell phone to let the next lock know your almost there.
    Here's the lock phone numbers for New York State.

  • One other thing I take along is a nylon mesh bag for garbage. I'm always pulling trash out of the water left behind by uncaring idiots. A nylon mesh bag with a pull string closure that I can keep rolled up and handy is perfect to have for stashing other's trash until I find a garbage can.

There's some things I've forgotten and a lot more others will recommend. Your phone, a GPS... and then there's all your camping gear. The list is endless and everyone has different wants.

Just remember to stay safe out there, plan ahead, check the weather, and don't go beyond your abilities to get back when scheduled.


If your company or organization is involved in any aspect of canoeing and is not listed yet and would like to be added, contact me. Note that this site is primarily for solo canoes. Web sites dealing strictly in kayaks will not be considered.


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