GTE Helmets 6

Is the colour of your helmet important?

Iceland 2010 Godafoss waterfall – “Mark fu@k!n go get him!” … Me: “I would if I could bloody see him!”

We were a group of kayakers (all raft guides too ) taking a day off and paddling the famous Godafoss Waterfall in Iceland.

For those who don’t know Godafoss, it is a horse shoe shaped waterfall with multiple lines, ranging from 3m to 12m in height. A popular tourist destination, the ultimate park & huck spot I would say.

Spot the swimmer – IRF workshop Thailand 2017

We had been warming up on the small 3m drop when we noticed 2 kayakers  on the opposite bank lining up to run the 12m drops. We watched as the first kayaker ran the fall pretty cleanly. The second kayaker ran the fall quite quickly afterwards and went deep. Counting in my head  I knew that once I had counted past 6 there was trouble. As he had failed to re surface I felt the adrenaline starting to kick in as I took the calm-down breath all in the same second

Although we were not with the other kayakers we were their only possibility of rescue for at least the next 6 hours. There are not many water rescue teams in Northern Iceland.

Both myself & Karu, a Nepali kayaker jumped into our kayaks and went to try and help. The kayaker had been missing for around 5 minutes by the time we got to the bottom of the drop. I remember shouting  to Karu as we paddle across the pool “Don’t rush in, lets take care of each other’ s safety first.”

We both paddled to the PLS (Point Last Seen) and saw nothing. I looked up to literally see hundreds of tourists reaching for mobile phones to make emergency calls. I tried to remember what kit he was wearing. I remembered seeing a black jacket and a white helmet. (Not much contrast with whitewater and black rocks.) I could not get any type of visual reference.

Isere River France 2016 – the white helmets are hard to see in this environment

Eventually we heard a scream from behind the drop as he jumped out from behind the fall where he had been trapped. The panicked swimmer grabbed our kayaks and we towed him to safety (phew). I was right – white helmet & black jacket.


Working as a guide & safety kayaker over the years I have been involved in lots of rescues of swimmers both from rafts & kayaks. The amount of times I have said to myself that I cannot see them mainly because of the colour of there helmet is huge. From my own experience I have noticed that there are a few colours that are hard to see in moving water they are.

  • Bosnia 2017 The Blue / Green helmet is hard to see


  • Black
  • Brown
  • Black
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Grey

My question is why are the manufacturing companies using these colors. I have found that the following colors are much easier to see and track when chasing a swimmer through big water.

  • Orange

    Tara River 2017- much easier to see.
  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Pink
  • Luminous green / yellow.
For those that work around the emergency services we tend to know that the colour of your helmet represents the level of your training.
  • White = I/C or person in charge.
  • Red = Technician level  trained.
  • Yellow = Responder level trained.

A really good trend I am starting to see within the commercial rafting industry are companies using   different color helmets  for customers with certain needs, eg:

  • Red helmets for non swimmers or nervous customers.
  • Orange helmets for customers with medical conditions
Isere River High water 2016

This way guides & safety kayakers are able to help the above mentioned a little quicker in a situation if needed.

Of course the colour of the helmet is great during the daylight but what happens if you get stuck out on the river once it becomes dark ? How are you going to see your friends & customers?

For a few years now I have been providing students on my courses with branded  SOLAS (Save our Lives at Sea) stickers. SOLAS material is highly reflective and recognised

Example of the stickers I’ve had made

by coast guards and marine industries all over the world. Stickers can be purchased from to your own custom design.

Next time it comes to purchasing a new helmet take a second to think about not only the design but the colour too.


Mark Hirst