Safety is our priority at Irish Kayak Angling. First stop, the RNLI. The RNLI has a page dedicated to Kayaking & Canoeing with Kayak Safety Packs available from your local RNLI shop. The RNLI is currently running an drowning awareness campaign called Respect the Water which specifically mentions Cold Water Shock.
The RNLI has a detailed explanation of Cold water shock, simply put, the waters of our lakes, river and sea are cold enough year round to cause cold water shock. You should never kayak without a wetsuit or preferably drysuit and always wear a personal flotation device.
In no particular order, most of the IKA Committee and Moderators won’t launch without these:
More expensive than a wetsuit but it’s one of those items that once you get it, you’ll never go back. No overheating in the sun, no getting cold as the water evaporates off it. Get one that is breathable, & preferable with a crotch zip also known as relief zip.
Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
Any PFD, correctly sized, is better than none. There are a number of companies manufacturing fishing PFDs with pockets & eyes to tie & hold your PLB, VHF, Phone, Strobe, Camera etc.
Handheld, Floating, VHF
Get to know the features and the range of whatever VHF (Very High Frequency) radio you choose & keep it tied onto you. Great for communicating with pretty much anyone else on the water, be it a fellow kayak angler, a ship or even the coastguard. Be aware that these are limited in range and to line of sight only. Channel 16 is the Coastguard Channel.
(Note: Technically speaking you need to have a licence to operate a VHF radio. You also need a Ships Radio Licence to broadcast. A licence is then related to your “call sign” and you can input your MMSI Number (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) into your DSC (Digital Selective Calling) VHF radio. You will then be able to send out automatic distress signal if necessary. People use VHF every day without licences. However it is important to familiarise yourself with the correct procedures and etiquette.)
Personal Locator Beacon – PLB
Register your unit with ComReg & add 3 emergency contact numbers. Simple to use, keep it tied onto you. Battery Life is 6 years, so while you can expect to pay in the region of €250, if you’re out 20 times in a year, that’s €2 a go. When activated a signal via satellite will give your position to 100m or less. A VHF relies on someone in line of sight and range to be listening when you make a distress call, a PLB links directly to satellites.
Waterproof Phone or Pouch
Bringing your phone is no use unless you can use it when you’re in trouble. It won’t last long if you’re in the sea without protection. There are loads of options out there. If you have a touch screen, make sure you can use it through whatever pouch you pick and be aware that touch screens are difficult to operate when wet.
Emergency communication devices need to be tied to you. This kayaker had a phone but it was in a hatch he couldn’t reach.
If you end up in the water tangled in fishing/ anchor/ drogue lines, you need to be able to cut yourself free.
Costing €2 or less it may help to draw attention.
There is always a chance of fog on our coasts, & if you don’t have phone signal, how will you know which way is home?
First Aid Kit
Cut yourself while cutting bait, get scratched by a dog fish or cut/spiked by something else. If it’s bad, you’ll need to be able to seal it.
Food & Water
Keeping yourself hydrated & your energy levels up can make the difference between getting home safe & calling for rescue.
You’re not getting home if you lose your paddle.
If your kayak doesn’t have one add one. Why? You’re paddle is out of the way, & locked in position.
Kayaks are low in the water and many are neutrally coloured. A bright flag waving in the wind assists passing vessels in spotting you.
Torch & spare
There’s always a chance if being caught out at dusk.
Depends on the weather, but bring them anyway. It’s Ireland! You never know what the weather is going to do.
Winter or summer, a hat is a must. A winter hat keeps you warm, a summer hat will stop the top of your head burning.
Every trip! There are plenty of winter days where a low sun reflecting off the water is blinding.
Some of the UV rays from the sun reflect off the water, so even in winter you may need sunscreen. The sun acts differently on the water, you need to think differently.
Multi functional they’re sun protection in summer, thermal insulation in winter. Lose your hat, you can cover your head and worst case you’ve an emergency bandage.
As with other emergency equipment keep them tied to you.
It’s a good habit to bring one.
Precautions and Planning
Check the Weather
Use several websites. As a rule of thumb most don’t launch in over 10 knots (11mph/19kph).
Check the tide & current
Don’t just check high & low time, check the range (difference between high & low) as this is an indication of current speed. Check the charts as most have the Spring Tide Current. Ask locals or IKA members who have fished there before.
Tides Near Me will give tides for a week ahead and is also available as an android app.
Navionics Charts are also available as a paid app. (R – Rock, S – S&, M – Mud, etc.)
Check the Live Sea State:
Use a search engine to find a webcam for where you are going, here’s an example
Paddle with others
Not being hypocritical as obviously, if you read the forum, some members will paddle on their own. When possible, paddle with others. Is travelling to a different venue really that big a deal?
Make sure someone knows
Let someone know when you launch, where you are, and when you’re off the water.
Always be ready to change the plan.
If conditions are not what you expected, don’t launch.
Dress to swim, rig to roll.
Bring more than one form of emergency communication.
Learn how to use them.
Vacuum pack yourself in your drysuit.
Put on & zip your suit, put on your PFD. Pull the neck seal open, crouch down, most of the air will be pushed out. Or do the same thing while sitting up to your chest in water.
If you’re not confident to land where you launched find somewhere else. You can always walk back to the car.
Practice self rescue
There are plenty of videos on YouTube. If you plan fishing on your own & can’t get back in your kayak on your own, don’t fish on your own.
Practice assisted rescue
There are plenty of videos on YouTube. If you’re fishing with someone who can’t get back in on their own, you’ll have to help them in.
Learn how to use your VHF
You can’t ask for assistance if you don’t know how it works. There are many courses available all-round the country.
Learn how to use you PLB
You can’t ask for assistance if you don’t know how it works.
If you think it’s not safe, don’t launch. Apply common sense. Stick within your comfort zone until you are ready to venture further out or to target species that may be troublesome on a kayak. Go back to shore if you don’t feel right or don’t like the conditions.
Respect The Water! Don’t just follow the crowd in search of fish. It doesn’t matter if the person you’re with wants to keep going. Every year kayakers are rescued because they pushed thing too far. Just because the person you are with has kayaked more doesn’t mean they have the correct respect for the sea and what it can do.