When a new paddler decides to enter the sport of kayaking, they are often faced with a mind boggling myriad of kayak accessories from a large number of suppliers such as paddles, personal flotation devices (PFD’s), spray skirts, cockpit covers, dry tops, dry pants, dry suites, foot ware, ect. Thus, it can seem like there is an endless number of items you need to purchase! However, despite the fact that most of the available kayak accessories are very useful items to have, they are not all necessary. Consequently, the beginning kayaker can often get by with the bare necessities until they can afford to purchase the additional gear that is part of what makes this sport so interesting. Therefore, below you will find a short guide to which kayak accessories are absolutely necessary for the beginning paddler as well as some other items that are nice to have along.
So, once you have a kayak, you then need some means of propelling it and thus, you also need to purchase a paddle. However, you should be aware that kayak paddles are divided into three distinct types consisting of “Euro-blade” paddles, Greenland styles paddles and, Aleut style paddles. In addition, you should also be aware that “Euro-blade” paddles, which are the kayak paddles with the long, narrow, shafts and the short, wide, blades, are by far the most popular type of paddle among beginning and intermediate paddles but, they compete for popularity with Greenland style paddles among advanced and expert paddlers. In addition, it should be noted that single piece paddles are favored over multi-piece paddles for rigidity and strength but, multi-piece paddles are much easier to store and transport inside of a vehicle.
In addition to a paddle, you also absolutely must have a United States Coast Guard Approved Personal Floatation Device (aka “life jacket”) on board if not on your person. Thus, while the classic, blocky, orange, life vest will work, they don’t work very well! Therefore, you should consider spending a bit more for a better quality PFD that will wrap around your entire body and then adjust to that it will fit snuggly against your body so that it won’t ride up when you are floating in the water. However, it should also be noted that while this type of PFD is comfortable in the Spring and Fall months, it is excessively hot in during the Summer months and thus, a viable alternative is to purchase an inflatable PFD instead. Although they generally cost a bit more, inflatable PFD’s usually consist of either a horseshoe shaped tube that wraps around either side of your neck and extends down your chest to your belly where it is secured with a nylon harness and plastic, quick-detach, buckles or, a small rectangular package that you secure to the front your waist via a nylon strap and buckle. Thus, inflatable PFD’s are significantly cooler to wear than standard PFD’s.
Then, another item that you absolutely must have if you paddle a sit-inside kayak is a bilge pump because, if you ever capsize the kayak, you will need some means of emptying the water out of it after you reenter the cockpit. Although this is not a problem that paddlers who paddle sit-on-top kayaks have due to the self-draining scupper holes that are usually molded into the bilge, all sit-inside kayak paddlers need to either install a bulkhead-mounted foot pump, or a hand operated deck pump or, they need to purchase a separate, hand-operated, bilge pump.
Furthermore, although a spray skirt is mostly an optional accessory depending on what type of kayaking you intend to do, it is a nice item to have at hand especially when the weather is a bit cool or the unexpected thunder storm passes overhead and drenches you with its torrential downpour. Therefore, you should be aware that spray skirts are made from either nylon or neoprene and, while nylon is cooler, neoprene is much drier. In fact, not only do nylon spray skirts fit more loosely around the cockpit rim, they are also made from a woven fabric that is not waterproof and thus, water will slowly seep through them if is allowed to puddle on the skirt. However, neoprene spay skirts fit far more tightly around the cockpit rim and they are completely waterproof and thus, although they hold more heat inside of the cockpit and the tunnel, they exclude the very large majority of the water that might otherwise flood the cockpit in the event of a capsize.
Related Kayaking Safety Items
Last, there are a couple of safety related items that you should certainly carry with you with when paddling. For instance, if you choose not to learn to roll or, feel like your roll might not be reliable on open water, then you need to have a means of self-rescue. Therefore, you will need to purchase or make one of several different types of paddle floats. With this device on board, in the event of a capsize, you can retrieve it from underneath your deck bungies or, from inside of your cockpit and slip it over one blade of your paddle. Then, you can slip the other blade underneath your rear deck bungies to form an outrigger that you can use to support yourself while you renter the cockpit.
In addition, while flashlights and headlights are handy to have when kayaking, a strobe light is a very handy safety item because the strobe indicates to other mariners that a watercraft is in distress. Thus, they should only be activated in the event of an emergency. Furthermore, carrying hand held marine flares in the front pocket of your PFD is an excellent idea as well as carrying both a marine VHF radio and a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). That way, if you become separated from your kayak somehow, then you will still be able to call for help.
So, although additional kayak accessories such as a helmet for surfing or playing in rock gardens, dry tops, dry pants, dry suites, and specialized foot ware are wonderful kayak accessories to have, they are not truly necessary for you to get your feet wet so to speak. Instead, all you truly need is a kayak, a paddle, and a PFD to get started in the fascinating sport of kayaking!