Part of the fun of tackling big fish from a kayak is fishing with your friends and reliving the experience when telling the story. The first part, fishing with friends, is a key part of safety and the second, reliving the experience when telling the story, means having a safe and successful trip. The U.S. Coast Guard has minimum standards for required safety equipment in kayaks, and it has a longer list of suggested safety equipment.
Capt. David O’Neal of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Enforcement Division and David Tester of Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 10-5 in Southport
Three basic requirements for kayak safety equipment are PFDs, a sound-producing device and a light. Each kayak should have a PFD of appropriate size for each person on the vessel. Kayakers aged 13 and under are required to wear their PFD at all times, and some Type V PFDS, primarily inflatable units, must be worn to qualify. The sound-producing device -- a whistle, manual or powered horn -- must be capable of being heard for a half-mile. After sunset, before sunrise or in inclement weather, kayakers must carry a single, white light capable of being visible in all directions. A flashlight will satisfy this requirement.
David Tester said the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Southport, N.C., also recommends dressing properly for the weather and water conditions, staying hydrated, filing a float plan, carrying a visual signaling device, carrying day/night flares, flying a flag and wearing bright clothing, carrying a sharp knife, carrying a first aid kit, being sure hatches are securely closed, carrying a cell phone and/or VHF radio, and putting an “If Found” sticker on your boat.
Tester said the Coast Guard Auxiliary conducts free courtesy safety exams and supplies free “If Found” stickers. Tester also recommends two cell-phone apps and a website for kayakers. The first app is a U.S. Coast Guard App; in addition to information, it also has a one-click emergency link that relays your location in GPS coordinates so help can find you quickly. The other is named Paddle Ready and has much information on kayak safety. Both are free apps and available from the App Store. Paddling.com is the website; it offers plenty of information, including daily updates, and you can register to receive weekly newsletters.
Veteran kayak fishermen Jonathan Grady and Mark Patterson suggested practicing launching through the surf using just your kayak, with no fishing equipment to lose. This will give you experience and help prevent rollovers and losing equipment when headed out fishing. If you have any concerns with the size of the surf or sea conditions, they advise staying on land. Safety is of the utmost importance.
Grady and Patterson also recommend always fishing with at least one buddy, especially when in the ocean, keeping track of each other and not fishing too far apart. In addition to being immediately available if help is needed, your buddy can do double duty and take pictures of your big fish. The NCKFA has a forum on its website (www.nckfa.com) with a section for kayak fishermen looking for friends to share fishing trips.