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Safety kit

So, with so many anglers deciding to take the plunge and take up yak fishing, just what should you take with you on your fishing expeditions? 

The two most basic items that you absolutely must have with you are a means of staying afloat and some means of attaching your paddle to your yak, so the two stay together if you fall in.

Staying afloat

In the kayaking context, some means of staying afloat means a device known as a PFD or personal flotation device, and most of these look like a waistcoat with some form of buoyant foam lining. They differ from life jackets in that they are intended primarily as a means of keeping you afloat, but enable you to swim, the life jackets you are likely to see used by yachties are mainly the self inflating type, and on a kayak, where you are very likely to get wet without falling in, this type of jacket is of limited use.

Kayak PFDs are generally cut so that there is good freedom of movement around the shoulder area, so that you can still paddle, and are rated according to their buoyancy, usually measured in Newtons, more is generally better. There is a huge choice of PFD out there, but most ranges are split according to their intended uses, and for fishing most people tend to opt for a touring  pfd. Make sure you try before you buy, after all you might end up wearing it for eight hours or more, and ensure you try it out sitting down, some PFDs can be very comfortable to wear when standing but ride up around the neck when sitting down. I use a Palm Kaikoura for most of my fishing, which fits me well, has a back pocket for a water bladder, and decent sized front pocket along with loads of loops and tying points. For those on a tight budget, Fladen do cheap but comfortable PFDs which are widely available.

When you end up in the water, for example when you are practicing getting back on your kayak, you will notice that your PFD tends to ride up. This is why it has to fit properly and you must make sure that all the straps are done up.  If the PFD has a strap below the main zip, then this has to be done up to let the PFD do its job, similarly, if it is fitted with thigh straps, make sure they are properly adjusted and done up whenever you are on your kayak.


Keeping your paddle attached

A paddle leash  is simply a method of keeping the paddle attached to the yak if you fall in, if you then hold onto the paddle, you ensure that you won’t become separated from the yak. Expect to pay around £15 for a decent paddle leash, at one end it will have a Velcro collar that fits the shaft of the paddle, and at the other end you’ll find some method of attaching it to the yak. Some leashes have a plastic clip that attaches to an eye on the kayak; I’d stay clear of these as I’ve seen this type of leash come away from the kayak. Either go for the type where you have just a loop and have to pass one end back through the looped end to secure it, or go for one with a carabineer type clip. Cheap leashes are available, and can be used to secure rods and other stuff to the kayak, but wouldn’t recommend them for securing your paddle,  as this is such a vital part of your safety equipment. Some people also leash themselves to their yak, but I wouldn’t recommend this if you are going anywhere near surf, as being attached to a tumbling kayak can be very unfunny, although a yak leash can be useful if fishing at anchor on your own, or fishing at night where you might, literally, fall asleep!

RNLI recommended kit list

Once you’ve got your PFD and a paddle leash, what else should you be taking to sea with you? As a guide, I use the RNLI recommended kit list. As it’s these guys that are likely to be the ones coming to get you if things go wrong, then it makes sense to ensure you take heed of what the experts think you should have with you. The RNLI produce a leaflet outlining some of their thoughts on kayak safety, and it can be downloaded from their website, it also includes a picture of Paul, who was my trainer when I did my sit on top safety course, so I like to think that I was trained by the best!

The RNLI kit advice is split into two sections, one for sheltered inshore paddling and one covering the stuff you’ll need when you start to venture further afield.
For inshore trips, as well as a PFD, the RNLI recommends ‘a suitable means of calling for help’ and mentions either a portable VHF or flares. Note that although excellent for back up, a mobile phone, even the water proof variety, isn’t really up to the job, a marine VHF will tell everyone in the vicinity that there is a problem and will enable you to talk directly to the rescue services, it also has the advantage that you can listen in to other boat users, often other fishermen, and can even talk to your mates in other kayaks, so you will find that almost all kayak anglers carry a hand held VHF. It’s worth noting that you should carry your radio on your PFD and not on your kayak, it’s no good mounting the radio on the yak, only to watch yak and radio drift away after an accident.

Need a link from here to another section which explains more about VHF radios, and then has the radio reviews below it

You’ll also find that most serious kayak anglers also carry flares, and carry them as well as, and not instead of, a hand held VHF radio. The most popular flares by far are an inshore pack, usually carried on the kayak itself. Such packs nearly always come in a waterproof tube and this tube is easily attached to the tackle box or crate that most people carry in their tank well. While this pack is excellent, some anglers also carry personal flares, attached to their PFD or in a pocket, so that in case they are separated from the kayak, they still have flares available to call for help. The combined day and night personal flare, which sells for around £40, is again a very popular choice.

The other item that I always take fishing with me is a decent knife, attached to my PFD, so that if I end up in the water and tangled in lines I can quickly cut myself free. A knife can also come in handy for getting rid of your anchor in a hurry should the need arise. It’s best to get hold of a proper  rescue knife, with a rounded tip to the blade so you can’t stab yourself by accident. Either buy the folding type and attach it to your PFD with a lanyard, or  the type in a quick release scabbard, and mount the scabbard on your PFD.

Once you start to venture further afield then the list gets longer, the RNLI recommends a whistle attached to your PFD,  a two piece spare paddle, a waterproof torch with working batteries, a waterproof GPS, a waterproof compass and a waterproof watch, a tow rope, a basic first aid kit, sunscreen/sunglasses/sun hat, spare clothes and an exposure bag.

The RNLI also recommends that you plan your trip and carry the appropriate trip plan with you, as well as appropriate charts.

On the face of it might seem like overkill, and I’m sure that there are some of you out there who just want to paddle out from the beach for an evening and catch a few mackerel, and would like to do so in swimming trunks. The problem with this approach is that you are going out to sea, and the sea is unpredictable and can change very rapidly, even with a good weather forecast. I think that if you want to really enjoy your kayak fishing, then it makes sense to think long and hard about safety before you go out. You should always get the appropriate training and kit, that way you can relax and enjoy yourself, knowing that if the unexpected does occur, you’ll have planned to cope with the worst.

Recommended book

Discover Kayak Fishing
by Andy Benham

Purchase online!