Safety Items to Bring on a Paddle

It is important to be fast on the water, but sometimes, it is just as important to be prepared. Not only in training and condition, but in regards to the equipment we bring along. Whether you paddle SUP, Outrigger Canoe, Surf-ski, Prone or a Kayak, I shared some items below that have come in handy for me.

First and foremost, a PFD will come to everyone's mind and is encouraged. Know how to wear it, easily access it, and always test that it is in working condition. That said, the following are things that are useful to always carry as well.
  • Leash - not just for you, but to use to tow another canoe/ski/SUP/paddleboard.
  • Rubber strap/bike intertube - these are useful for everything (locking a rudder, rig on the fly, cover holes, tourniquet).
  • Cell phone in drybag -don't rely on 'just' a waterproof phone case, I learned that the hard way.

As many have seen when I go on my OC1 paddles, I often paddle with what I lovingly call my OCvivalKit. It is likely overkill for most situations, and weighs a lot, (but that just makes me stronger), but even if I don't need it, another paddler I am with might. It includes the following:

  • VHF Radio - added to our arsenal based on great feedback and advice. Please see link in addendum below to de-mystify this important equipment!
  • Knife - cut seaweed, fishing line, or if you just want to look tough. I prefer a blunt dive knife. Just don't check your back at the airport.
  • Solar-rez- get the epoxy kind if you have a sup.
  • sandpaper-sand down a ding.
  • epoxy caulk-fill a crack or ding.
  • personal locator beacon (PLB)-pricey but for long solo journey's piece of mind.
  • compass-don't let the fog or distance get you lost
  • safety whistle-get the attention of others
  • water-bring more than you think you will need.
  • various food supplies-everything tastes better when you are a mile offshore
  • mini-folded up astronaut blanket-if you are stuck on your craft in the cold
  • paracord-can be a temp fix for rudder cables, tow line, skies the limit
  • rubber strap-every paddlers go to item! lock your rudder, fix rigging, tourniquet and more
  • electrical tape-always useful
  • glow stick-in case you travel home later than expected or the fog rolls in
  • cali-paddler sticker-quick patch a ding, with style!
  • sunscreen-apply, reapply
  • lip balm-for ya lips
  • chamoi butt'r-for ya bootie!
  • and probably a few other things that seemed like it might be useful at one time or another and managed to fit.

Your pack/kit will certainly differ. It will also change over time as you encounter new situations.

Know where you stow!

Just as important as bringing items is knowing where each item in the gear is stored, so you can find it fast, or tell another person where it can be found. I like to put 'related' items in the same pockets.

  • Food and drinks.
  • Personal care/first aid (sunscreen, lipbalm and band-aids).
  • Equipment (solarez, rubber straps)

Not only does this make it easier during a long paddle to find something with fatigue setting in, but it also keeps glue from getting into your granola! :)

Make it accessible.

There is nothing worse then losing something over the edge so make sure things are easy to access in the pack. Ask yourself can you get to an item with one hand? Because often times chances your paddle is being held in the other. Also make sure the gear is reachable easily. Flipping your craft or falling off, because you can't reach your gear easily is a sure fire way to change the attitude on even the sunniest of days.

In addition to my OCvival Kit, I also surf and paddle SUP. While preparation is up to each of us, I decided to create products that take some of the effort out of planning by design products for those who are interested. Visit and to learn more about these.

Be sure to read my article on overcoming a bad situation during a paddle.

What are some items you bring with you on paddles? Anything I forgot? Please share in the comments below.

[Addendum 12/15/2015 -  It was suggested by reader Theresa about bringing a marine radio. This is an incredibly important item to consider. They are waterproof, allow two-way communication, and run on minimal battery use to last. It used to be their size was a deterrent but technology has shrunk them down to very manageable and reasonable sizes. Pricing is also come down to very reasonable levels. Thank you Theresa for this suggestion.]

Addendum 1/4/2016 - Cali Paddler Duane Strong authored a fantastic article on VHF Radios for paddlers. Please read it here:!

Cali Paddler Team Writer Clarke Graves

Team Writer Clarke Graves - If there is water, he will paddle it (regardless of craft). Clarke is a surfer turned paddler who grew up in San Diego but has traveled every corner of California enjoying its beauty and appeal. He has had the privilege of racing SUP, OC6, OC2, OC1, Prone and can't wait to hop into a dragon boat and surf-ski for an extended length of time.

One of Clarke's goals is to paddle as much shoreline in California as he can, with as many paddling friends who are willing to join him. If you have an idea for Clarke to write about or any questions, send it our way and we will pass it along!

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  • Alan Chalom - February 18, 2021

    another good thing to add to the list would be duct tape or flex seal tape. something that can go on wet. I know if I had that with my sinking ski, it would have stopped the water coming in enough for me to get back to shore

  • MARK MORTIMORE - August 14, 2017

    Thanks Clarke great article, something I carry with me everywhere I go is a few small tywraps(ziplocks), indispensable in many situations.


  • Clarke - December 26, 2015

    Dale: Great all. Not only for yourself but for a friend if theirs breaks, or should it get dropped on a windy day or after a huli and float away!

    Duane: Fantastic info! That GPS ability would accomplish the same thing as the PLB I listed above AND function as a radio. Best of both worlds! Appreciate the actual models being listed for us to. If you or anyone is ever interested in doing a review of ratio options, we would love to offer that great info to our readers so they can be informed. Always looking to share the knowledge of fellow paddlers.

  • Duane - December 25, 2015

    Hey Clarke great article. I second the VHF radio and if you are looking to buy one I want to make sure everyone knows about getting one with GPS built in, and then it will also have a feature called DSC “Digital Select Calling.” This allows a one button push to send an automatic distress message over VHF to the coast guard and others that contains your GPS location. These can be had for about $200. I have a Standard Horizon HX870 and our club has a couple of Uniden MHS235. Both great.

  • Dale - December 23, 2015

    On the OC1 I like to strap a spare paddle on the iako. If your blade breaks off it will be mighty handy.

  • Clarke - December 15, 2015

    Theresa, great suggestion and addition. I usually bring my personal locator beacon (PLB) which sends a distress signal out to emergency services, upon activation, of my coordinates. But a marine radio would be a great compliment to that, as not all situations may call for emergency services, or I might need to engage with the person on the other end to describe the situation so they can send appropriate help. Expect a addendum of this suggestion. And thank you.

  • Theresa - December 15, 2015

    No marine radio?

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