Safety at Sea: How You Can Stay Safe in Your Kayak

Safety should be a top priority to anyone that heads out on the water regardless of whether that’s the open ocean or your local lake. But, of course, there is an increased risk when you head out to sea especially in a small vessel such as a kayak.

In this article, we will be looking at how to stay safe at sea in your kayak. We’ll be going over how to prepare for a day out at the coast and the steps you need to take to ensure you stay as safe as possible doing what you love. We will also be taking a look at some safety warning systems that are in place, so you can enjoy the ocean safely.

Did you know that there’s a color-coded flag system that’s in place to inform shore-goers about the conditions at sea? — Read on to find out more about this lifesaving system…

Safety Preparations for Kayaking at Sea

There are some preparations you can make when heading out to sea in your kayak that make your experience much safer. It’s not just the obvious things such as a life vest that are important to remember when preparing for a saltwater excursion.

Some of the best safety preparations to make before heading out in your kayak are super simple, quick, and completely costless. Making people aware of where you’re going and what your doing is one of the most important preparations to make.

So, what other things should you do before taking to the coast in your kayak? Below, we have devised a quick checklist with 3 essentials steps, that if followed, will ensure your safety out on the water.

  • The first important safety preparation to make when heading out in your kayak on the coast is to equip yourself with the correct gear. A stable kayak, decent life vest, emergency whistle, and strobe will increase your chances if the worst happens. An emergency GPS beacon is also a life-saving piece of equipment if you plan on venturing further afield.
  • Providing you have the correct gear and safety equipment, the next safety preparation to take is condition checks. You should check the weather conditions, wind condition, tide times, and sea conditions. There are plenty of websites and applications that allow you to check weather metrics that give you the in-depth details you need to stay safe on the water.
  • Once you’ve got your safety equipment together and have checked the conditions and they are in your favour, you should inform a couple of people where your going. Let two or three friends or family members when and where you’re going. You should also give them a rough timeframe for how long you’ll be gone for. Once you’re back on dry land safely, just be sure to give them a call to let them know all is okay.

The International Colour-Coded Beach Warning Flag System

The international colour-coded beach warning flag system features 8 different colours. Each different colour flag notifies people of the conditions out at sea in levels of risk. However, you must know what each flag colour means in order to benefit from this system.

This system was designed to ensure water-goers know the conditions and risk level of the water before entering.

Generally speaking, the same flag system is used worldwide. However, although most countries follow more or less the same coded system there may be subtle differences from location to location. Before heading out to the coast, be sure to check what flags the local lifeguard is using.

These flags are usually in place on beaches and public places that there is access to the water. They aren’t everywhere though, so don’t rely on this system wholly.

So, what do the colours mean?

In total, there are 8 international sea safety flag patterns. Individual colours, symbols, and combinations of flags mean different things. In this section, we will outline what each colour combination means. Just remember to make sure the local lifeguard in your area follows the same coded flag system before heading out to sea in your kayak.
  • The Green Flag
    When a green flag is raised it means there is a low hazard. Conditions should be calm, surf should be low, and no dangerous currents present. These conditions are considered safe for swimmers and light vessels, but due caution should be exercised.
  • The Yellow Flag
    When the yellow flag is raised alone it means there is a medium hazard. Conditions are slightly worse with moderate surf and/or currents present. Weak swimmers are advised to stay out of the water and others should take enhanced care and exercise caution.
  • The Red Flag
    When a single red flag is raised it means there is a high hazard. Rough conditions should be expected with strong surfs and/or currents present. All swimmers and light vessels are discouraged from entering the water. Those that do enter the water should take extreme care and caution.
  • The Double Red Flag
    A double red flag or a “red over red flag” mean that the water is closed to the public. This could be to do with dangerous conditions at sea, dangerous marine life, or to protect marine life in the area. People should not enter the water for any reason if the double red flag is raised.
  • The Purple Flag
    When the purple flag is raised it means there are marine pests present. Some localities use this flag in the British Isles, but others do not. This flag could mean jellyfish or other marine life that can cause minor injury are present in the water. People are advised not to swim in the water when this flag is up. However, swimming with caution and kayaking, paddle boarding, or sailing will not be a problem.
  • The Red Over Yellow Flag
    The red over yellow flag is one you may have seen at your local recreation beach. Two of these flags are usually set up to inform the public that the area in between them is being watched by lifeguards and it’s safe to swim. On smaller beaches, one flag may be used to inform the public that the water in front of the beach is safe to swim in and covered by on-duty lifeguards.
  • The Quartered Flag
    The quartered flag is white and black (similar to a win flag in motor racing). This flag is used to indicate a watercraft area. They are often spaced apart like the red over yellow flags to indicate that the area in between is for surfers, bodyboarders, kayakers, and other small watercraft.
  • The Black Ball Flag
    The black ball flag has a black circle with a yellow background. When this flag is raised it means watercraft use is prohibited. Kayaks, surfboards, paddle boards, and other watercraft should not be used in front of this flag. Two black ball flags may be raised to show that the area in between prohibits watercraft use.

Other Safety Signs and Signals Commonly Used

There are some other signs and signals that are used to warn people of hazards and safety considerations before they enter the water. Although these signs aren’t international and some aren’t necessarily found in Ireland such as the “Shark Spotted” sign, you may see some of these along your local coastline.

Most of these signs are pretty self-explanatory and depict the hazard in picture form, usually with a small piece of text below that explains what the sign means. Because of this, we have added a list of these signs to make you aware of what to look out for.
  • “No Beach Access”
  • “Beach Closed”
  • “Water Activities not Recommended”
  • “No Swimming”
  • “Caution, High Surf”
  • “Caution, Sharp Coral” (not relevant to Ireland)
  • “Caution, Sharp Rocks”
  • “Danger, Strong Currents”
  • “Warning, Sudden Drop Off”
  • “Caution, Slippery Rocks”
  • “Warning, Shark Spotted” (not relevant to Ireland)
  • “Warning, Jellyfish in Water”
  • “First Aid” (a white cross surrounded by red – depicts where first aid is located)
  • “Warning, No Lifeguard on Duty: Swim at Your Own Risk”
  • “Warning, Polluted Water” (this sign may be put in place during bacteria rises and algae blooms)
These signs are put in place for a reason and are there to ensure your safety. You should follow these signs closely even if you don’t agree with them. Not following signage can pose a danger to your life and cost the local sea rescue time and money.

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