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Mandatory Paddling Gear

Transport Canada requires that paddlers carry certain safety items on human-powered pleasure craft such as canoes, kayaks, and stand up paddleboards. (Paddleboards aren't mentioned by name by Transport Canada, but they are currently included in this category.)

Photo: Bruce Kirkby

The equipment you're required to carry varies by type and length of your craft, and where and when you're paddling. You may need any or all of the following items. Visit Transport Canada for more details.


Every paddlecraft is required to have "one Canadian-approved personal flotation device or lifejacket of appropriate size for each person on board." Inflatable PFDs and belt packs are popular with boarders and other paddlers because of their low profile. You must be wearing an inflatable device for it to be legal (an excellent habit to get into with foam-filled flotation devices too). Inflatables are not legal for whitewater because they are not inherently buoyant.

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Sound Signalling Device

Every paddlecraft must have "one sound-signalling appliance that meets the applicable standards set out in the Collision Regulations, or a sound-signalling device." Provided it's pealess, a simple whistle (like the one that comes attached to many PFDs) fulfills this requirement.

Heaving Line

Almost every paddlecraft is required to have "one buoyant heaving line at least 15m long." Sit-on-top kayaks are exempt, provided everyone on board is wearing an approved PFD or lifejacket (inflatable or foam).

Throwlines are great for whitewater paddlers, who can toss them from a river's edge to a companion in trouble. They are rarely used by sea kayakers or lake canoeists. Many non-whitewater paddlers carry a combination throwline-towline. A towline is more useful for most craft-to-craft rescues in open water, and for towing tired or seasick paddlers. If you're paddling on the sea, be sure any hardware on your towline is saltwater safe.

Bailer or Pump

"One bailer or manual bilge pump or bilge-pumping arrangements." A simple scoop made from a cut-up bleach bottle would fulfill the law, but a proper pump will empty your boat faster. This requirement doesn't apply to a "pleasure craft that cannot hold enough water to make it capsize or a pleasure craft that has watertight compartments that are sealed and not readily accessible." So paddleboards, self-bailing inflatable kayaks, and sit-on-top kayaks with hatch free flotation compartments are exempt.

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Reboarding Device

"One reboarding device." This is required if the vertical height that must be climbed to reboard is more than 0.5m, so most paddlecraft are exempt. If you're paddling open water, consider carrying a rescue stirrup anyway. They're great for self or assisted rescues or even for those who can usually roll or reboard unassisted.


If you're paddling in darkness, fog, or snow, or if your craft is more than 6m long (like many double kayaks and expedition canoes) you're required to carry a "watertight flashlight." If you regularly paddle at night, consider a steady burning white light that is visible from all sides. It will give other boats a better chance of seeing you in time to react safely.

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If your craft is over 6m, you're required to carry "Six Canadian-approved flares of Type A (Rocket Parachute), B (Multi-Star) or C (Hand)." You're exempt if you're paddling on a river, canal, or lake where you can't get more than 1.852km (one nautical mile) from shore, or if your boat "has no sleeping quarters and is engaged in an official competition or in final preparation for an official competition." Even if you're exempt, think about where and when you paddle, and whether carrying flares could increase your safety in an emergency.


The requirement for "One magnetic compass" doesn't apply if your boat is 8m or less and you're paddling within sight of seamarks (navigation marks). But a compass is always an excellent tool to have in case of fog or GPS failure.

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Radar Reflector

Transport Canada's requires one radar reflector "in certain circumstances." Most paddlecraft are exempt in most situations as "the small size of the vessel or its operation away from radar navigation makes compliance impractical." However, this is a good reminder that small, non-metal boats are invisible on radar. Prudent paddlers should avoid high traffic waters in restricted visibility. If you're accidentally caught in such circumstances, a GPS and a VHF radio could be used to advise bigger boats of your location.

Additional safety information:

Paddling Safety Equipment

Paddling Distress Signals