How To Stay Safe When Kayak Fishing: A Complete Guide


Fishing from a kayak is a great way to add a new dimension to your fishing trips and help you to catch more fish!

However, there are some new challenges associated with kayak fishing, and some of them could definitely impact your safety.

If you’re new to kayak fishing, it can be hard at first to figure out how to implement the necessary safety measures and stay safe while kayaking.

If this sounds familiar, then read on for some tips that will help make your experience memorable instead of scary.

The following points will help you stay safe while kayak fishing.

For safe kayak fishing

  1. Always wear a PFD
  2. Learn how to swim
  3. Use the right kayak
  4. Try not to solo fish
  5. Carry Communication Devices
  6. Carry a first aid kit
  7. Carry Food And Water
  8. Watch The Weather
  9. Be Sun Smart
  10. Know Your Fishing Grounds
  11. Use safety gadgets
  12. Situational awareness

Kayak fishing is tons of fun and can enhance your fishing experience. However, if you are a beginner at fishing from a kayak, there are aspects to this type of fishing that you need to know right from the beginning.

Photo of Kayak Fishing Competition

For example, choosing the right kayak and safety gear, fishing during certain times of the day, and even choosing the proper anchor methods and equipment can impact the safety aspect of kayak fishing.

I have detailed these aspects to help you make better and safer decisions for your kayak fishing experience. Let’s get started!

Should I Load My Kayak Upside Down?
Should I Load My Kayak Upside Down?

How To Stay Safe When Kayak Fishing

Staying safe when kayak fishing starts a long time before you even put a kayak in the water!

Safety starts with choosing the appropriate kayak for the waters you intend to fish, along with the gear you pack onto your kayak and personal safety equipment.

To make your kayak fishing trip more pleasurable, I have composed a comprehensive outline of the safety considerations that should be thought about for this activity.

Some of the measures should be non-negotiable, and you should never consider leaving them out of your gear or your routine.

Other measures are less critical and can be changed out for other options depending on your personal preference.

Either way, following these guidelines, will put you firmly on the road towards a safer kayak fishing experience.

1. Always Wear A PFD

For those that are not aware, a PFD is a personal floatation device. Therefore, it is not simply a lifejacket, even though this is one of its functions.

A PFD is so much more than a lifejacket and is not only a critical piece of gear for the kayak fisherman, but most people find that a PFD makes fishing from a kayak so much easier.

Modern PFDs intended for use with a fishing kayak also have many pockets, attachment locations, and features designed specifically for the kayak fisherman.

 The pockets provide packing space for gear that you need easy access to and, in most cases, will even have the capacity to house a small tackle box with a selection of your favorite lures and flies.

In addition, some PFDs come with points to secure equipment such as radios or GPS units and waterproof pockets for a mobile phone.

On some PFDs, there are locations to strap your fishing rod to your PFD to free up your hands to paddle to re-position the kayak or move to a new location and then quickly have access to the rod.

It is possible to include additional safety equipment on our PFD, such as a whistle, a flashlight or headlamp in one of the pockets, and a light on the back for night fishing safety.

As you can see, a PFD is not just a lifejacket, but it does perform this role as well, and it is the most critical function of this piece of gear.

As such, you need to make sure that your PFD is a good fit for you and that it is appropriately secured at all times.

Before you put your kayak in the water, strap on that PFD and be sure it’s secure. A PFD is designed to be a life-saving device in the event of an emergency, so always take advantage of this important piece of gear and never leave shore without one!

A PFD should be one of those gear items that is non-negotiable for kayak fishing.

If you’re looking to upgrade or purchase your first kayak fishing PFD, you’ll want to read my article on the NRS Chinook Vs. Stohlquist Fisherman: Which PFD Is Better?

2. Learn How To Swim

It is a constant source of amazement how many people venture out on the water and yet don’t know how to swim!

A PFD can save your life if you are a swimmer or not! But being able to swim is obviously better!

When non-swimmers fall into the water, the first instinct is to panic, which can be the main factor contributing to a negative outcome for the incident.

Someone who can swim is less likely to panic and remain calm and thus think rationally about how to remedy the situation.

Knowing how to swim is not a replacement for a PFD, but it is a complementary skill that will help you to be able to rescue yourself should your kayak get flipped over out on the water.

Not the best swimmer? Is Kayak Fishing Safe For Non-Swimmers? 7 Best Tips!

3. Use The Right Kayak

While kayak fishing can conceivably be done using any kayak, it is not always the safest way to approach this activity.

Recreational kayaks can be used for kayak fishing, but they are generally not as stable as kayaks that are specifically designed as fishing kayaks.

Thus, using a purpose-built kayak will not only be safer for you but will also enhance the kayak fishing experience and make it more enjoyable.

More info on the differences here! Fishing Kayak vs. Regular Kayak: What’s the Difference?

Inflatable kayaks are sometimes used quite successfully for kayak fishing, but they should only be used in appropriate waters for this type of craft.

They are normally not suitable for rough, fast water or fishing a long way from the shore.

The best way to establish if you have the right kayak and safety equipment is by visiting a local retailer specializing in paddle sports, rather than just going into any old store with a kayak department. 

You always want to speak to specialists who can advise you on the right kayak for the waters you intend to fish and guide you in selecting the right safety gear.

4. Don’t Go It Alone And Solo Kayak Fish

The solitude of kayak fishing alone can be a very tempting prospect for many people. The quiet and the peacefulness can be very attractive and tempt you to go it alone on your kayak fishing trips.

The decision to go solo or not will largely depend on the type and condition of the body of water that you normally fish.

Waters with an element of danger, such as obstacles, fast currents, dangerous tides, or notorious for sudden changes in the conditions, should never be attempted alone.

It is always safer to have a fishing buddy to not only enjoy that activity with but also to add that extra level of safety and security as you look out for each other while out on the water.

Kayak fishing at night is another prime example of a fishing activity where the safety factor is enhanced a hundredfold by having a buddy with you out on the water.

If you run into trouble at night, it is unlikely that you will be able to attract the attention of someone on the shore or of passing boat traffic.

A kayak is small on the water in the daytime, and at night, you are not visible in the darkness to be easily visible from the shore or by other boats.

Here’s the lowdown on kayak lighting! Nighttime Kayaking: Light Requirements Explained

Of course, there is the practical advantage to having a buddy with you out on the water! You will have an eyewitness who can corroborate your story of the giant fish that got away!

5. Include Communication Devices In Your Gear

Modern communication devices and waterproofing techniques have made it possible to take communication devices out on the water with ease and simplicity.

If you are fishing with a buddy, it is useful to have two-way radios to communicate and call for help when needed.

Mobile phones are also helpful to have with you as part of your gear to enable you to make an emergency call or remain in contact with the outside world if a problem is out on the water.

Make sure that there is coverage by your carrier in the area that you will be fishing; otherwise, your mobile phone may only help take pictures of your catch.

There are waterproof drybags and carry cases for radios and mobile phones that will allow you to use them without the risk of these electronic devices becoming damaged by water while out on your kayak.

A very economical drybag that serves well is the Piscifun Waterproof Dry Bag. From 5 liters to a 40-liter capacity, it has the reliability of more expensive dry bags. Take a quick look at all the features on Amazon and see if it doesn’t meet your needs!

From a communications point of view, the very least you should do is inform someone where you are going kayak fishing and when you expect to be back.

This way, if you do not show up when expected, someone can raise the alarm and initiate a call for help on your behalf.

6. Carry A First Aid Kit

A first aid kit should be a primary safety item on your fishing kayak and should be kept on your kayak at all times and stored in a waterproof container.

By its very nature, fishing accidents can happen.

Have the appropriate equipment aboard your kayak to help you deal with minor medical emergencies before turning them into major ones. This should be considered a non-negotiable item on your kayak. 

A first aid kit is an item that needs to be managed. Used items need to be replaced, and expired medications and bug creams should be disposed of and replaced.

A first aid kit is great to have with you on your kayak, but knowing how to use it effectively is another matter altogether.

Attending an introductory first aid course will give you the necessary skills to effectively utilize the equipment in your fists aid kit to help yourself or someone else who needs basic medical assistance.

7. Carry Food And Water

Having the opportunity to be out on the water kayak fishing for the entire day is a lot of fun, and you may not want to go all the way back to the shore to have something to eat or something to drink.

It is a good practice to always carry drinking water with you out on the water and to constantly sip the water to prevent dehydration. Dehydration can be dangerous and can become a health problem much quicker than most people realize.

It is useful to also carry some nourishment in the form of a few energy bars that will help you to keep your energy levels up during the day. They could also be useful if you find yourself stranded for some reason and need to have something to eat.

8. Watch The Weather

Besides the right safety equipment and gear, knowledge, intuition, and common sense should also be used as part of your safety measures when kayak fishing. A top priority for every kayak fisherman should be to know when NOT to go on the water.

Bad weather has a notorious reputation for sneaking up on kayak fishermen and catching them unawares out on the water, which can result in dangerous situations arising. Most often, this is because the fisherman is so focused on the fishing that he is not keeping an eye on the building weather conditions. 

It pays dividends to become familiar with the weather conditions in your fishing area, not only from the perspective of safety but also from a fishing perspective. Certain weather conditions are more conducive to good fishing than others, depending on the waters and the fish species you are after.

Weather apps are readily available and will cover most regions where you will be kayak fishing. This will allow you to check the weather when you plan your fishing trip and take the necessary steps to pack additional gear, and make decisions to ensure your safety from bad weather conditions on the water. Sometimes this means making the decision not to go out on the water.

Never tempt fate and take a chance by going out on the water when the weather makes the conditions dangerous. Likewise, if you are out on the water and you notice bad weather coming in, rather err on the side of wisdom and head for shore before the weather catches you out in open water.

9. Be Sun Smart When Kayak Fishing

Exposure to excessive doses of sunshine can be a danger that many people forget about when kayak fishing. Often, you only realize too late that you forgot about the sun exposure until it is too late and the damage is done.

The effects of the sun are often magnified by the reflective nature of the water and can result in sunburn in locations on your body that are protected from the sun. For example, if you are wearing a baseball cap, your face is protected from the sun above, but the reflected rays from the water can still burn your face under the peak of your cap.

Being aware of these dangers from the sun and taking the necessary steps to protect yourself from these harmful rays will be a wise step to protect both your short-term and long-term health.

There are many sun-safe materials available that will protect you from the sun but still help you to remain cool while out on the water.

At a minimum, you should always take the following precautions against excessive sun exposure.

  • Always wear a hat.
  • Use sunscreen with a factor of 50+
  • Wear a UV face mask and neck shield.
  • Wear UV protective gloves
  • Wear a shirt made from sun-safe material.
  • Don’t become dehydrated.
  • Remember, you can get sunburned even in overcast conditions.

10. Know Your Fishing Grounds

It is important to become familiar with your fishing grounds so that you are aware of any potential dangers when you are out fishing from your kayak.

Learn where there are dangerous tides, currents, and submerged obstacles that have the potential to put you in difficulty during your fishing excursion.

Knowing your fishing grounds is an aspect that is of particular importance if you will be fishing at night! Never go night kayak fishing in waters that you have not scouted in the daylight hours. You may run into situations and conditions that could be dangerous, particularly in the dark and in unfamiliar waters.

Knowing your fishing grounds includes being aware of all the creatures and critters that inhabit the waters that you are fishing. For example, if you are fishing in a location where there are large animals that could take your bait, then they could pull you and the kayak over when they take your bait and run.

If you are kayak fishing in a body of water where there are large creatures, such as the ocean where there are large rays and sharks, always have the drag on your fishing reel set very loose to prevent being upended from your kayak when a large, unexpected animal takes the bait. 

11. Use Safety Gadgets

There are many kayak fishing gadgets on the market that are intended to add convenience and improve safety when out on the water fishing from your kayak.

Some gadgets are not mandatory for your safety when out on the water, but they have the advantage of improving the safety of your trip if you do make use of them.

12. Situational Awareness

Kayak fishing can be a totally absorbing activity which could cause you to be distracted and not pay enough attention to factors in your general vicinity.

This could lead you to find yourself in dangerous situations when you realize too late that your location is no longer safe. This could take a variety of forms which could include but are not limited to the following situations.

  • Other boat traffic. Fishing kayaks are generally small craft and often go unnoticed on the water by people driving large boats. You need to make your kayak and yourself as visible as possible and also stay vigilant so that you can move out of the way if necessary.
  • Obstacles in the water. You may not notice that you are drifting into a potentially dangerous situation such as tree snags in a fast-moving current, rocks, and other submerged obstacles. You need to constantly have an awareness of your surroundings and potential dangers that you may drift into.
  • Dangerous wildlife. If dangerous wildlife inhabits the waters that you fish, you need to constantly be aware of their presence and their habits and be ready to take evasive action or preventative measures at a moment’s notice.
  • The weather. When you head out n your kayak for your day of fishing, you may have started out in nice clear sunshine weather, but that can change fairly quickly. Make sure that you keep a lookout for any developing weather systems and make sure you head to shore with enough time to make landfall before the weather hits.

Be Smart, Be Safe!

What we have covered may seem like a lot of gear that you need to consider when kayak fishing, and it may seem like a lot to purchase and a lot to pack and carry. However, most of the items that are for your safety will have a long lifespan and will last for many years.

There may be more equipment to buy and more to pack, but if the equipment is the difference between life and death, I think the extra inconvenience is worth it. 

Many of the kayak fishing accessories are not only safety measures but also enhance comfort and convenience on your kayak as well.

If you have the right kayak fishing safety equipment and practice to become proficient with your kayak and your gear, then you will have done everything possible to make kayak fishing as safe as you can! 

Have fun and stay safe out there!

Mike Rodman

Mike enjoys fishing all year round, from fly fishing small streams in Wyoming's higher mountains to kayak fishing the lower altitude lakes and reservoirs. Mike also has a passion for ice fishing. When he has spare time, he'll be found at his rod bench building custom fishing rods.

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