Are you carrying the correct emergency equipment?

by Mark Hirst:

As we now find ourselves at the beginning of a Northern hemisphere season, a quick glance at various social media outlets are awash with various stories of epic high water runs and carnage.

Most of us will have been surrounded by snow all winter and are counting down the days until it begins to melt and all of our local runs start to rise for the season. During the winter you have found yourself watching countless amounts of online kayak porn with our minds mentally writing out mental cheques that we now want our body to pay off on. What can go wrong?

I noticed a comment  on social media the other day that California is finally experiencing a high-water spring. This quote sent a shiver down my spine

“We are experiencing some of the highest levels in 10 years, a whole generation of kayakers have not experienced these rivers at these levels before, it’s not pretty.”

The next day I opened up my Facebook page and watched in horror some of the world’s current well known expedition kayakers chase boat and swimmer down a tree infested run in flood. The life of the swimmer was at risk along with the team of accomplished kayakers that were chasing him.

Are we honestly thinking that we can not paddle all winter and pick up where we left off from last season? Are we not warming up on easier class runs first!

Let’s imagine for a minute that a paddling buddy takes a swim and looses his or her boat and you both find yourselves stranded on the river. Help is going to be a good few hours away and long walk out. Worse case scenario you may even have to spend the night next to the river and wait for first light before you can hike out. To top it all off your buddy has badly twisted an ankle and is unable to walk.

The odds are now stacked heavily against you.

Do you have a back up plan & are you carrying the correct emergency kit if you need to spend a little extra time on the river?

Are you carrying the correct amount of emergency kit in your kayak to ensure your own personal safety and that of your injured friend ?

I do notice time and time again kayakers spending money on the latest kit: drysuit, kayak, paddle, PFD, sprayskirt and not investing in the correct emergency safety kit or training.

By simply investing  some time and money into the correct training and emergency kit you can rapidly re-stack the odds in your favour.

I personally carry the equipment below in the back of my kayak each time I go kayaking or if I am working as a safety kayaker on a commercial trip. The kit fits neatly into a watershed Ocoee drybag (besides my split paddle).


  • Samsplint
  • Headlamp / Maglite
  • Lightstick
  • Energy bars
  • Lighter, matches, kindling
  • Rescue saw
  • Leatherman / multi tool
  • Mobilephone
  • GPS/ SPOT device
  • Small first aid kit with note book and pen, water purification pills
  • Survival blanket / jacket
  • Woollen hat.
  • Group shelter (optional)
  • Duct tape
  • Spare split / breakdown paddle
  • Water bottle

Let’s have a look at some of the items in detail and justify their inclusion.


Sam-splints are a lightweight reformable splint that can be used to splint a wide variety of injuries. Sam splints can also be cut and used in kayak repair or to block the drainage hole if you have lost your bung. Samsplint have some amazing tutorials on their website.


The ability to see and for others to see you is going to help you lots when it gets dark especially if outside help is needed. Hiking out when its getting dark will be a lot easier when you can see where you are going. A headlamp is also going to come in handy if you need to inspect a wound that needs treating or removing a foreign object from an eye.


The batteries on your headlamp or torch will eventually run out. A lightstick is a good back up. Military light sticks normally last for up to 24 hours & can make you even more visible to rescue teams.

Energy bars

Once the adrenaline has worn off you are going to need to eat in order to keep warm & restock energy levels. I like to carry both an energy bar and a drink solution as it will go further.

Lighters/ matches Kindling

Its getting dark and you are cold, wet & tired. You need heat & light, its time to get cracking on with building a fire. A fire will also provide you with a source of light that will make you noticeable to the emergency services. The task of simply building a fire will also keep your mind occupied whilst you are waiting for help. Lighters will also help if you a paddling in areas prone to leeches.

Rescue saw & Multi tool 

A very handy tool to deal with small trees blocking the river or worst case scenario getting through a piece of wood that is causing an entrapment of a paddling buddy. Also will come in handy if you have to make that fire or improvise a walking stick or stretcher for an injured paddler. The multi tool can be used for lots of tasks, it really is a must take piece of kit on all trips.

Mobile phone

If you have reception a phone is indispensable in an emergency situation . For those working in a commercial environment or providing first aid treatment the ability to film and record any treatment given may help you post incident if the courts become involved. I was once taught:

“No Notes, No defence”

GPS / SPOT device

As modern technology progresses satellite communication and tracking is becoming more accessible and most of all affordable. The ability to give someone your exact location or see a route out is going to help you lots. SPOT devises not only allow you to log your tracks they also offer an affordable way to contact emergency contacts or help when there is no mobile phone coverage.

First aid kit

The ability to support an injured limb, stop bleeding and dress a wound or give pain relief is a must.


Survival blanket / jacket

The technology in survival blankets has increased 10 fold in recent years to the point where ultra marathon runners are now carrying modern survival bags instead of traditional sleeping bags. Foil based bags not only keep you warm & work in the prevention of hypothermia  they will also make you highly visible as they reflect the light. I personally use and recommend Blizzard survival blankets. If they are good enough for the Norwegian airforce and mountain rescue they are good enough for me.

Woollen Hat

2/3 of all body heat is lost through the head, if its going to be a long night you should try your best to keep warm.


Group shelter

Coming originally from the UK I cannot understand why the rest of the world have not started using group shelters. A group shelter weighs around 100grams and can keep people protected from the elements and provide shelter.  A rolled up group shelter can also work as a great improvised stretcher.




Duct tape

Gaffa tape, Duck tape, Jesus tape say no more!

Spare paddle / Breakdown paddle

I am amazed to see the amount of kayakers with all of the latest bling kit and eventually loose their paddle I have carried a spare paddle for years. Luckily I have never had to use it myself. I have loaned it out to kayakers who have broken or lost their paddles multiple times. A split paddle can also be used as an improvised splint.

Water bottle

Its important to keep hydrated on a trip. I carry puritabs in my first aid kit. Nalgine water bottles are also water tight which means water cannot enter them so a perfect container for your first aid kit!

If you feel this is too much to carry on one person the kit could be split within a group of boaters. A good pre-trip plan & communication between team members will ensure that most eventualities can be catered for. All up my kit weighs less than 2kg.

Most of all practice,  practice, practice the following as one day you may need them:

  • First aid skills and knowledge
  • Fire making skills (in a controlled environment please)
  • Navigation and electronic navigation skills
  • Pre-trip planning and communication skills

Happy safe paddling!
See you on the water,