gear for kayaking

On-water safety: mandatory gear

Transport Canada requires that paddlers carry certain safety items on canoes, kayaks, and even kiteboards and stand-up paddleboards. The minimum you need is a PFD and sound signalling device, beyond that, the required equipment varies by type and length of your boat, and where and when you plan to paddle. If you’re not sure what you need, check with Transport Canada.


Everyone on board needs a Canadian-approved personal flotation device of appropriate size. Inflatable PFDs and waist packs are popular with SUP paddlers because of their low profile, but it’s worth noting that inflatables are not legal for whitewater paddling because they are not inherently buoyant. For a PFD to meet safety regulations you have to be wearing it while you’re on the water. Choose a bright colour that make you easy to spot in the water.

Sound signalling device

A pealess whistle meets this requirement and many PFDs come with one included.

Heaving line

Almost every paddlecraft is required to have a buoyant heaving line at least 15m long. SUPs and sit-on-top kayaks are exempt, provided everyone on board is wearing an approved PFD.

Throwlines are great for whitewater paddlers, but are rarely used by sea kayakers or lake canoeists. Many non-whitewater paddlers carry a combination throwline-towline. A towline is useful for most craft-to-craft rescues in open water, and for towing tired paddlers. If you’re paddling on the ocean, make sure the hardware is saltwater safe.

Bailer or pump

A simple scoop made from a cut-open 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 that has watertight compartments that are sealed and not readily accessible. So SUPs, inflatable kayaks, and sit-on-top kayaks are exempt.

Reboarding device

This is only required if the vertical height to reboard is more than 50cm, so it doesn’t include most canoes or kayaks.


If your craft is more than 6m long (like many double kayaks and expedition canoes) you’ll need a watertight flashlight.

Navigation lights

You’ll need these if you’ll be paddling after sunset, before sunrise, or when visibility is restricted (such as darkness, fog or snow). If you regularly paddle at night, consider using a light that’s visible from all sides, so other boats can see you and react.


If you plan on paddling somewhere that’s more than 1.852km (one nautical mile) you need to carry 6 flares. Even if you’re exempt, think about where and when you paddle, and whether carrying flares could increase your safety in an emergency.


If your boat is less than 8m long and you’re paddling within sight of navigation marks, you’re not required to have a compass – but if the fog rolls in, and you’re in whiteout conditions, you might still want one with you.

Radar reflector

Not required for boats under 20m, but it’s worth knowing that small, non-metal boats are invisible on the radar systems of larger boats. In high traffic waters or in restricted visibility you might want a GPS and a radio to advise bigger boats of your location.