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Let's Go Kayaking...Umm...What Should I bring?!?

Updated: May 21, 2023

What to Pack?!?


No other question gets asked more than “What should I pack for my kayak trip?!?”

Kayaker and her items for packing
Kayaker and her items for packing

There is no exact answer as to what to bring, as every trip is different, and it also depends on how long the trip will be, what the weather is like, and how you feel that day.


There are some essentials that we never leave the house without, regardless of the length of the trip.


We break our gear down into sections to make this as brief as possible: Safety, Comfort, and Electronics.


We are not saying that you must have all of the following equipment, especially recreational kayakers. This list is a compilation of kayaking for several years in the sport and you do not need to rush out and get all this stuff to enjoy yourself at sea for the day.


We are avid kayakers, and guides, which are often at sea for great lengths of time (6/8 hours) and long stretches of coastline (15/20km). We also never paddle alone…


To be brief, this edition will cover only the safety portion. We will publish the other editions in the near future.

Safety First!

heart with bandage
heart with bandage

First Aid Kit and Course

We always have a full kit on us, regardless if we are leading or not, and we recommend you carry one too. Ours is full of bandages, butterfly stitches, cotton balls, super glue, gauze, latex gloves, alcohol, tweezers, a jellyfish kit, an old credit card, even ladies' hygiene products, and much, much more.


First aid kits can be fully customized for each journey and should be looked after, in-depth, after each trip to ensure nothing got wet or damaged.


What good is a kit of gear if you do not know how to use it?!?


We highly recommend that you get yourself enrolled in a proper first aid course offered through Malta Red Cross, St. John Rescue*, or any other registered school. By the way, if you ever want to become a certified guide, you will need a valid two day first aid certification anyway, so, go do it. Your paddle buddies (and yourself) will thank you for it.


*This is not an advert and we are not endorsed in any way or receiving funds for referrals, we only care for your safety and the fastest way to get it done.*


First Aid for Your Kayaks!

chemicals and glue
chemicals and glue

We often talk about first aid for humans, but we hardly talk about proper first aid for your kayaks. Are you prepared to handle a situation at sea like this? You leave Gnejna, heading towards the rock gardens of Riviera Martinique. You are paddling a composite boat or an inflatable, for example. There is a bit of a swell, and you didn't see the giant rock, submersed in the sea. As you paddle over it, the sea drops and you get a small hold in your boat. What do you do?!? Do you have a repair kit? Do you know how to use it?!? There is a repair kit for every boat, no matter the make. Get familiar with how to repair your boat in an emergency.


PFD (Life jacket/Buoyancy Aid)

It is imperative that your PFD is designed for kayaking. Not every PFD is created equally so keep that in mind prior to purchasing. A PFD designed for recreational boating is not sufficient for kayaking due to the fact that the sides are too bulky and may negatively affect your paddle technique. Note the photo of how the sides of this PFD are clear of padding, allowing for your arms to rest and move during paddling.

Note the side has no padding to make paddling easier and unobstructed.
Note the side has no padding to make paddling easier and unobstructed.

When we are on the kayaks, PFDs are on at all times and we require our rental guests to wear them as well, regardless if they know how to swim. Would you be able to swim if you have a stroke or heart attack? No, you cannot. Instead of drowning or sinking below eyesight of other paddlers or potential rescuers, you will remain alive (and visible)...that is what matters. A first responder can get to you without leaving their kayak and potentially save your life. If paddling with a PFD irritates your skin, we recommend wearing an SPF shirt or a rash shirt used for wetsuits and diving. We also tell kayakers it is best to actually try your PFD before purchasing. Some things are fine to buy online, but something like this, needs a thorough inspection for appropriate padding, pocket placement, and comfort.


Safety Whistle

Most modern PFDs come with a whistle attached to them at purchase, you can also find them online, or at your local kayak shop. Ideally, you have a friend with a 3D printer that can make them for you.

A common safety whistle used for sea kayaking
A common safety whistle used for sea kayaking

Sound travels very well on the water and these little things can save you if you are in a pinch of trouble. They are also a fun way to keep in contact with others in your group, especially at night.












VHF Handheld Radio/Normal Walkie

Now that we have ours, we cannot remember life without them. Being able to connect and contact other ships and port control at sea is a priceless tool and we use them all the time. No more guessing if this ship is leaving or not, and if so, when? Is it safe to cross?

Cobra VHF Submersible Handheld
Cobra VHF Submersible Handheld

You do have to take a VHF course to legally use one in Malta, but 100% worth it. We have handhelds and never have an issue with battery life, and they also float ;-)


You do not need a course for normal trekking walkies, but you will not be able to communicate with others on VHF sadly.


They are still quite handy and we used the same set of normal walkies for two summers.


Being able to communicate with others in your group is imperative, and quite handy.


Diving Knife

You can get a nice diving knife at most boat shops for a reasonable price. We got ours for less than 10 euro, and yes, we have had to use it many times at sea for various reasons.


Always remember, it is better to have and not need than to need, and not have.


Common. lockable, double-bladed diving knife  with strap and sheath
Common. lockable, double-bladed diving knife with strap and sheath

It is important when choosing a knife that you pick one that locks into its sheath, has a nice point to it, a normal blade on one side, and a serrated edge (saw blade) on the other side. Diving knives also come with a strap to attach it to something, or yourself.






Tow Ropes/Other Ropes

We don’t mean just an old rope laying around either. Nowadays, companies like Palm (and others), sell professional-style tow ropes designed for ease of use. They are compact and have a bungie somewhere in the line so when the person you are towing gets a correction, it does not jolt your body as you wear it.

Professional grade kayak tow rope with bungee center, quick release, and easy on/off carabiner
Professional grade kayak tow rope with bungee center, quick release, and easy on/off carabiner

They also come with a quick release system, should a recreational boat, jet ski, or another vessel attempt to go between you and your towee, you can quickly disengage the tow rope, without cutting the line.


We are seeing more and more kayakers wearing tow ropes, and that is a good thing for you, and everyone in your group.


Other ropes can be used to secure boats at rest or at sea.


We even use a rope to assist in rescues at sea. Bungees are also very helpful in securing things to your kayak.


Ballasts/Air Bags

Sea kayak with assortment of air bags
Sea kayak with assortment of air bags

Not all kayaks need these, but it never hurts to have extra protection against a capsize and sinkage. Many kayaks that do not have dry hatches, or bulkheads, can put large airbags designed to fit your kayak will prevent your kayak from sinking if it fills with water. We often put dry bags with stuff inside them in our bulkheads, and we make sure extra air is present to act as extra help, if needed. Many sizes are available from online retailers and local shops.


Bilge Pump/Sponge/Air Pump

Kayaker demonstrating bilge pump use
Kayaker demonstrating bilge pump use

If you have a sit-inside kayak, a bilge pump is a requirement to be able to evacuate water from your cockpit or bulkheads if the hatch was not closed properly.


A sponge is helpful to clean up the extra bits left over. If you have a Sit on Top, a big fluffy sponge is best to help you keep unwanted water off your decks.


If you paddle an inflatable kayak, always take your pump with you in case you need to top up mid journey.


Extra Paddle

Detachable kayaking paddles
Detachable kayaking paddles

We have broken paddles at sea and have had to use spares. Again, it is better to have and not need, than to need, and not have. What would you do if you were paddling alone without a spare and you broke or lost your paddle 15km away from home and no one in sight?!?


We have been on the slipway in the morning with the group, and someone, for example, forgot one side of their paddle at home, or their button broke on their paddle.


Had we not had a spare, that paddler would have had to stay on shore. Everyone should bring a spare at all times, as you never know what can happen out at sea.


Some people prefer a compact spare that breaks into four parts and goes in the hatch, and some prefer a real paddle on their front decks. The choice is yours. Which do you prefer?

Common placement for spare sea kayak paddle
Common placement for spare sea kayak paddle

Paddle Leash

We do recommend everyone have them, whether SOT or sit inside. If you ever go abroad, and paddle in rivers, DO NOT ever use a leash, no matter what anyone tells you, as in rivers, they can lead to serious injury and worse.

Perception Kayaks paddle leash
Perception Kayaks paddle leash

These clever, bungee-style leashes are quite handy and help keep the extra line out of your paddle stride. These are easily found online or at your local sporting shop. What's your favorite brand and where did you get it? Let us know!


Compass

Common compass for kayaking in malta
Common compass for kayaking in malta

This item is not really required, but nice for night paddles and possible mist. We are quite lucky here in Malta. In most places in the world, you must have one and know how to use it, otherwise, getting home is quite difficult. I myself, as a young man of ten years old, stole my uncle's dinghy and went for a ride.


No one saw me leave and I didn’t tell anyone. Mist set in, and I was terrified. I could not see my own hand, let alone remember how to get home. It was a fine day and the mist came from nowhere. Had I had a compass I would have easily managed to arrive home. There is an assortment of compasses to choose from. We have one that hangs from our neck on a lanyard, very similar to the one shown in the photo.


Another handy thing you can do with these is to get a bearing on a vessel that you are unsure about, as far as its direction of travel. Will the boat eventually collide with you and your group?!?


Easy to find out with a compass.


Just take a bearing and wait a minute or two, and keep going in the same direction. If, after that minute, you take another bearing and it has not changed, eventually, you are on a collision course. You can immediate action to avoid collisions at sea.


Scupper and Drain Hole Care

Common placement of drain holes
Common placement of drain holes

This has happened to countless people, but it only happens to them once ;-) Always check your drain plugs if you have them! Also, to add to your kits, if you have a SOT, carry one or two corks from wine bottles with you in the eventuality that you lose a plug at sea. We have had to fashion countless plugs from wine corks at sea, using our fancy diving knife (#5). You can use the blade to make the skinny side of the cork fit right in the plug.

General scupper hole placement and plugs
General scupper hole placement and plugs

Yes! It works wonders and can save the day!


Quick chat on scupper holes and their plugs.


These are optional, but we always tell people to take them out. Nine times of ten, beginners often feel a bit of panic when they see water pouring in from the sides or bow (front of the kayak).


Something to keep in mind is that kayaking is a wet sport, and getting water in your sit-on-top is normal.


By removing the plugs, as you glide across the sea, the water that is inside your kayak, will go out of the scuppers. If they are plugged, the water cannot escape. As this happens, more water is coming in, and panic sets in. Relax, pull your plugs, and paddle.


On the contrary, some people prefer to leave their plugs in, or, they self regulate by putting one plug only, and they control the water flow this way.


The choice is yours.


Sit inside kayaks and Spray Skirts/Decks

We see many people using spray skirts, and that is fine of course, but if you plan to do any rolling of your kayak or paddle through rough waves, you should really invest in a proper neoprene spray deck.

Lomo neodeck
Lomo neodeck

Ours are Lomo and we absolutely love them. Get familiar with using the front pull, especially underwater. When we roll, we also practice leaving the kayak underwater upside down and sliding through our skirts, pretending they are stuck and will not come off.


Knowing how to exit your kayak underwater, upside down is a priceless skill to have.


Guessing on how to do something versus knowing how to do it are not the same, and practice makes perfect!


The main issue with a spray skirt is that they allow water to rush into the cockpit during a roll, or capsize. Depending on the weather and where you are paddling, this can possibly ruin your day.

Generic spray skirt
Generic spray skirt

Although the model shown with the blue kayak (pictured) does prevent splashes from entering the kayak, it will not protect water from entering the cockpit in a capsize or roll. If you use one of these types of spray skirts, we do recommend using neoprene trousers for winter kayaking to protect yourself from cold waters and high winds.


It is never fun being cold on a kayak.



Lighting

If you are planning to do any kayaking at night, as we do, please invest the time and money into proper lighting.

It is imperative that others can see you at sea. We outfit the kayaks with outdoor fairy lights and we also wear water-resistant head-torches. Per Maltese Law, a vessel moving must have one white light, lit, while moving.


Recently, we had another full moon tour with 15 kayaks!


All are equipped with similar lights to these. It is very interesting and fun to see how people solve the lighting dilemma being that we are on the sea.


If you would to watch the video, please click here and you will be taken to our YouTube channel.


Feel free to subscribe and hit the bell icon to be notified of future uploads.


We often paddle at night and find it so fun! If you would like to join us on our free events (for kayak, sup, and canoe owners), please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/getoutandkayakmalta.


Mobile Phone (IP67 or cover)

This fancy device isn’t just for documenting your journey ;-) It also works as a GPS and also you can call emergency services with it. If you need to contact someone at sea, and you don’t have a signal and are under or close to cliffs, just paddle out a bit and you should get a signal. If you are at sea with a visual line of sight to land and do not have a signal, paddle closer to shore.


Personal Location Beacon/App of Your Choice

Did you know there are apps like the Glympse app that can send your GPS coordinates in real-time to anyone in the world for a period of time that you set?!? It is a very cool app, and there are many like it. Do you use one similar? Let us know which it is.


As guides, we went a bit further and purchased (and registered with several authorities) a personal location beacon, which is a device very similar to an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) that you see on sailboats and other seacrafts.

Common EPIRB, note the massive size
Common EPIRB, note the massive size

These beacons are identical in almost every way, except size and price. The EPIRB is a massive device in comparison and one would be hard-pressed to find a place for it on a sit-in kayak.

PLB1 Personal Location Beacon (mini)
PLB1 Personal Location Beacon (mini)

The Personal Location Beacon (rescueME PLB1) fits in your pocket with ease. It comes with a retractable antenna, seven-year battery life and a seven-year warranty are nice. It is important to register the device int eh country you plan to paddle in. Without doing so, when you activate the device, no one will be called.


Is kayaking in groups not your thing? Like smaller, intimate settings? That’s awesome too, but you still should have these items and skills.


It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that your group members are advised on proper kayaking skills, techniques and emergency procedures.


When you kayak in groups, we have a duty of care to provide safety to those that kayak with us. It is also your responsibility to ensure you have the skills and knowledge to help if the situation ever arises.


Let’s elevate our sport and the people that practice it.


Thanks for reading, and we will see you next time when we discuss the comfort and electronic items we bring with us on our adventures.


Cheers and regards,

G.O.A.K.

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