A first-time kayaker may not realize what kayaking accessories he or she may want or need when getting into kayaking. In the first part of this article, Kayaking Accessories for Beginners, I listed items that I think are necessary for beginners. In this list, I’ll highlight items that an entry-level kayaker may want to buy right now. Eventually, most kayakers end up with some of these items, especially those who want to paddle further than swimming distance from shore and in less than perfect weather.
- Tow rope: Believe it or not but your paddling partner may get too tired, too sick or too hurt to make it back to the put-in. Most beginners don’t believe something like that could happen, but it does. I’ve been there and experienced it. It’s a bad place to be in trying to figure out how to get someone home. Out of all the kayaking accessories, the only one that’s going to help you get your friend back to the car is a tow rope. Tow ropes come in three flavors: fanny-pack style, lifevest mounted and boat mounted. For a beginner, buy a fanny-pack style tow rope. They’re versatile, because you can trade them off when you get tired of towing. You don’t need to modify your boat and you don’t need a special lifevest. I like North Water Sea Tec Towline. It’s expensive, but it features everything you need and nothing that you don’t. It’ll last you years.
- Knife: Imagine being trapped upside down in your kayak, because a rope, net, fishing line or something else is keeping you there. Now imagine your loved one or your kid trapped in the same way. How do you release them from the rope, net or fishing line if you don’t have a knife? Good luck. The Gerber River Shorty Knife is the standard knife for kayakers. It has a blunt point to help prevent stabbing wounds or holes in drysuits. It mounts to a lash tab on your lifevest which keeps it ready-to-go. The blade is sharp out of the box and its fully serrated edge cuts quickly through a rope.
- Flares: Aerial flares come in handy during an emergency. You let one off and nearby boat traffic may see them and come to your rescue. In some areas, the Coast Guard requires you to carry flares.
- VHF Radio: When you want to communicate to nearby boat or ship traffic, the only good way to do it is with a VHF radio. These two-way radios allow you contact other boaters or other members of your kayaking group. They also allow you to communicate an emergency to the Coast Guard. I like Icom IC-M72 Waterproof VHF Marine Radio. It fits in my lifevest and stays there. I’ve had it for about five or six years, and it’s still going despite staying in the pocket even during rolling. Learn How to Use a VHF Radio.
- Strobe light: During an emergency at night, rescuers need to find you. By mounting a powerful strobe on your lifevest, you can help them see you from far away. ACR’s Firefly Plus Strobe projects up to 3 miles away. It’s waterproof and comes with everything you need to mount it to your vest.
- First Aid Kit & Emergency Kit: When something goes wrong or someone gets cut or hurt or if your boat gets a hole, you need to fix it in the field. I suggest carrying first aid and emergency gear. You can buy kits, but I make my own custom First Aid Kits and Ditch Kits.
- Signal mirror: You may have noticed that many of the kayaking accessories on this list deal with emergencies. The reason they do is because if you’re cast into the water and can’t get to shore unless you get someone’s attention, you’re as good as dead. A signal mirror works during the day to catch the attention of passing aircraft. You flash it at them. The ACR Hot Shot Signal Mirror features a sight that allows you to site it accurately at the craft. It’s also durable and comes with a whistle.
- Flashlight: If you get caught out at night, you’re required by the Coast Guard to have a white light that you can show another vessel. I suggest a headlamp.
- Paddling shoes: Sure you can wear sandals or your hiking shoes, but those suck in a kayak. And, sandals can get stuck on the foot peddles which could entrap you after a capsize (See Knife above). Look for simple neoprene shoes with enough thickness in the sole to pad your feet when you walk across rocky shorelines. I like NRS’s Comm-3 Wetshoe, but you have many options.
Stuff you might already own and should carry include:
- Sunblock: Some kayaking accessories such as sunblock are the same as you’d use anywhere else. Protect your skin from the sun coming down from the sky and reflecting up from the water. If you haven’t paddled before, you might not realize how much sun reflects off the water. Make sure to apply plenty of sunblock to your nose.
- Hat: Keeps the sun off of your head. On a hot, sunny day, you’ll be glad you have one. Plus, you can dip it in the water to cool down; the wet hat acts like air conditioning.
- Water bottle: Hydrate.
- Sunglasses: These protect your eyes from all the sun reflecting off the water into your face.
- Bug spray: Yep, bugs.
- Cell phone (in a waterproof case): On the water, a cell phone is not an emergency device. It might function in that way or it might not. You’re better off with a VHF radio, but if you have a cell phone and are in an area with coverage, you might want to bring it along in a waterproof case.
This list and my other Kayaking Accessories for Beginners list doesn’t cover everything that you can get, but it covers the main bases.