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Whether you’re going on a short paddle or an overnight adventure, certain safety equipment is essential when you canoe or kayak.

This canoe and kayak safety equipment checklist covers the items you’ll need for calm water paddling adventures. If you’re planning a whitewater adventure you’ll need additional safety equipment gear like a kayak helmet.

It’s important to remember that certain paddling gear is required by state and federal law enforcement agencies like the US Coast Guard. At the bare minimum, carry the safety equipment required by law. You don’t want a ticket while you’re out enjoying the outdoors. Yes, you can get a ticket. I commonly see canoes and kayaks stopped for spot checks.

Canoeing and kayaking are relatively safe when you’re educated in water safety and have the right safety equipment. Let’s take a look at what you’ll need.

If you want to learn more about the differences between canoes and kayaks check out the article Canoe vs Kayak.

Canoe & Kayak Safety Equipment Checklist for Shorter Outings

A woman in the front of a canoe paddling across lake.
  • Personal flotation device (PFD)
  • Safety whistle attached to PFD
  • Navigational light (in case you’re out after dusk)
  • Headlamp with extra batteries (in case you’re out after dusk)
  • First-aid-kit
  • Dry bag with water, food, sunscreen, first-aid kit, personal items, etc.
  • Spare paddle
  • Bilge pump
  • Throw bag  and/or throwable flotation device
  • Towline

Additional Gear for Longer Canoe & Kayak Outings and Overnights

  • Maps, permits, licenses, and any other needed paperwork (keep in a dry bag or another waterproof container)
  • Phone in a waterproof case
  • Compass that floats
  • GPS
  • Weather radio
  • Emergency flares or strobe
  • River knife
  • Extra clothes for a change of clothing or for layering. Dress for the water while paddling and change as needed for overnighters.
  • Tent and camping gear
  • Dry bags for protecting gear, clothes, and tent

Other Paddling Safety-Related Equipment to Consider

People canoeing on a lake. One canoe carries the safety equipment.

The following safety and safety-related equipment should be considered. these items go one step further to keep you healthy and protected on your canoe or kayak adventure.

  • Water-resistant sunscreen and lip balm
  • Spray skirt
  • Two-way radios for communicating with others in your group
  • Large sponge
  • Paddle leash
  • Paddle float
  • Paddling gloves
  • Water shoes or neoprene footwear
  • Float bags
  • Repair kit
  • Polarized sunglasses like the ones I wear from Bajio with eyewear retainer if you don’t want to lose them
  • Hat to block the sun
  • Nose plugs for kayaking
  • Insect repellent
  • Food
  • Water in a reservoir or bottles
  • Matches or other firestarters
  • Cash and possibly a credit card

Supplies to Keep in Your Repair Kit

A female kayaker wearing appropriate safety equipment on a slow moving river.

When building your repair kit, consider your adventure. If you’re on an overnight adventure or in cooler temperatures, you’ll pack differently if you’re on a day paddling trip on a warm day. Make sure your repair items are in a dry bag or waterproof container.

Items you might include in your repair kit:

  • Multi-tool
  • Alcohol swabs for cleaning damaged areas
  • 5-minute epoxy
  • Small fiberglass repair kit if your boat is fiberglass
  • Static deck line
  • Bungee cords
  • Duct tape (I prefer gaffer tape. It’s stronger and thicker.)
  • Patches or sealant for tents, sleeping pads, wetsuits, drysuits, etc
  • Cable ties in assorted sizes

What else can you think of for your repair kit?


Canoeing and kayaking come with inherent risks. It’s part of what makes paddling fun!

Some dangers are unavoidable. It’s just the nature of things. Bringing along the necessary safety equipment will help avoid crises and make your paddling adventure far more enjoyable.

Err on the side of caution but don’t take too much gear. You don’t want to exceed the maximum capacity of your canoe or kayak or compromise its stability.

Happy and safe adventures!

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Canoes and kayaks at a dock on a lake with a view of mountains in the background. The image text says... Canoe and Kayak Safety Equipment Checklist.
Steve Hood

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