Kayaking and canoeing

Kayaking or canoeing is one of the most popular watersports in the UK and Ireland, with more and more people paddling each year. Whether you’re a start-up novice or a seasoned pro, our safety tips will help you to paddle safe.
Kayaking sea safety lesson

Photo: RNLI/Nigel Millard

Kayaking search and rescue training exercise with Torbay RNLI

Understand the risks and paddle safe

The number of rescue incidents involving kayakers and canoeists has increased over the last few years.

In many cases, kayakers were not able to call for help themselves.

One man, lucky to be alive, was rescued by Port Erin lifeboat crew and a Fisheries Protection Vessel off the Isle of Man in March 2014. He capsized and was unable to get back in his boat – he spent about an hour clinging to his upturned kayak, trying to attract attention before being spotted. Read about the rescue on bbc.co.uk.

How to stay safe

  • Always carry a means of calling for help and keep it within reach: If it can't be reached in an emergency, it's no help.
  • Wear a personal flotation device
  • Check the weather and tides.
  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you'll be back.
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the conditions and your trip.
  • Get some training: Contact your local canoe club and look for coaching sessions run by a British Canoeing or Canoeing Ireland coach.

Keeping you safe

Here are ways we’re working to help you get the most out of kayaking and canoeing and keep you as safe as possible while enjoying your sport.

Safety campaign: Always carry a means of calling for help and keep it within reach

Working with local retailers and our volunteers, we’re raising awareness amongst kayakers and canoeists about the importance of carrying a means of calling for help and keeping it within reach.

If you can’t reach to call for help, help can’t reach you.

Watch our safety campaign video here:

When heading out onto the water, you need to be able to call for help. Having the appropriate means to tell the coastguard exactly where you are is the quickest way to save your life. Here are some options:

Waterproof handheld Digital Selective calling (DSC) VHF radio

A waterproof DSC VHF allows you to send a distress message with your location direct to the coastguard with a single button push. You then follow this with a voice call on channel 16, which is broadcast to all VHF radios in the area.

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

A PLB can send a distress message to the coastguard from anywhere in the world, providing there is a clear view of the sky. The distress message and your location will be sent to the coastguard, who will launch a rescue service to your GPS position. You can also use a PLB anywhere on land, so they can be used as safety kit for other outdoor pursuits.

Tracker

Some GSM or satellite trackers have an SOS function which allows you to call for help from a Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC). They will then pass on your distress message to the Maritime RCC who will task the appropriate rescue service for you. 

All trackers are different and costs, specifications and network availability vary.

Mobile phone

Always take a fully charged mobile phone with you and keep it stored in a waterproof pouch. If you get into difficulty, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard. You may also want to use the RYA Safe Trx (UK) or ISA SafeTrx (Ireland) apps to track and log your passage.  These apps will also alert your emergency contacts if you fail to return before your ETA.

Remember: Not all coastal areas have mobile phone signal, so you may need an alternative means of calling for help.

Kayaking safety: Useful links and resources

Figures taken from:

  • The National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID UK) 2011-2015.
  • RNLI lifeboat return of service data UK and Ireland 2016.
  • RNLI commissioned causal analysis of fatalities in water around the UK and Ireland, 2010-2013.

Don’t be a statistic

18 uk kayaking and canoeing fatalities between 2011 and 2015

270 lifeboat launches to kayakers and canoeists in 2016