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 whistle, beyond that, equipment varies by type and length of your boat, and where 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 boarders 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.

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 you’re paddling in darkness, fog, or snow, or if your craft is more than 6 meters long (like many double kayaks and expedition canoes) you’ll need a watertight light. 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 1.852 kilometer (one nautical mile) you  need to carry 12 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  8 meters 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, 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.