Kayak, Canoe, Raft and SUP Safety and Rescue Equipment

The key to kayak safety is understanding: 

  • Weather Interpretation
  • Clothing
  • Basic Skills and Strokes
  • Self and Assisted rescues
  • Safety Equipment - carrying it, having it accessible and knowing how to use it.

You should also let someone know where you are going and when you are expected back - "Let someone know before you go"

Safety equipment For Human-Powered Vessels

When operating canoes, kayaks, row boats, surf skis and stand up paddle boards it is mandatory to carry the minimum safety equipment. Details of what safety equipment you need to can be found below in the Minimum Safety Equipment section of this website. Note that this is a minimum legal requirement for Victorian waters - other states have different requirements. We also recommend carrying some additional safety gear, detailed below.

All safety equipment carried onboard must be:

  • placed or located in a conspicuous and readily accessible position at all times
  • kept in good order at all times
  • maintained or serviced in a way that ensures it can be operated at all times in the way that it was designed to operate
  • serviced on or before the date specified by the manufacturer.

Make sure you are visible

As many human powered craft sit low in the water, other boats may not see you. At all times you must ensure you:

  • obey the rules of the waterway that you are operating on, be vigilant about your route and avoid shipping lanes
  • fit your Personal Floatation Device (PFD) with reflective tape and wear bright coloured clothing . It is also wise to add reflective tape to your kayak and paddle.
  • at night, carry a white light easily visible to approaching vessels. Ideally this is a light on a pole that is behind and above your head. It can be mounted on the kayak or the back of your PFD.
  • stay with your vessel if you fall out. A vessel is a lot easier to spot than a swimmer.

How many people can I carry?

If the vessel is a decked canoe or kayak or is otherwise fitted with individual cockpits, the number of persons carried on the vessel must not exceed the number of individual cockpits in the vessel, irrespective of the age of the person.  (Source: Maritime Safety Victoria).

Do I need a Licence?

In Victoria you are required to hold a recreational boat operator licence and register your vessel with VicRoads if the vessel is fitted with a means of propulsion (regardless of engine size). For more information see Marine Licensing.


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Minimum Safety Equipment Requirements

There are 4 classes of water in Victoria:  Inland, Enclosed, Coastal  and Offshore Coastal

Inland Waters are rivers (inside of the seaward entrance), creeks, canals, lakes, reservoirs or similar waters - natural or constructed, public or privately owned, but excluding navigable rivers/creeks/streams within declared port waters.

Enclosed Waters are declared port waters, including Port Phillip Bay, Westernport, Gippsland Lakes, port areas around Port Welshpool and Port Albert (including Nooramunga Marine National Park) port areas of Barwon River, Apollo Bay, Anderson Inlet, Snowy River, Port Fairy, Portland, and inlets such as Shallow Inlet, Mallacoota Lakes, Tamboon Inlet, Wingan Inlet Sydenham Inlet - see the maps below or consult Maritime Safety Victoria website for a full list

Coastal Waters are all waters other than inland waters or enclosed waters. Coastal Offshore is greater than 2 nautical miles offshore and additional safety gear is required by law. In Victoria we think of bass Strait when e think of coastal waters, but note it also includes Corner Inlet - see the maps below.

Enclosed Waters can be as exciting as Coastal OffShore,  we recommend that you carried the suggested coastal offshore equipment when in all waterways. Its better to be safe then sorry!


Source: Maritime Safety Victoria. For other states you should consult your local Maritime Authority:

Tow Systems

Towing systems are an important part of your rescue and safety toolkit.

Sea Kayaking

For kayaking on the sea and lakes you should carry both a Contact Tow line and a 15m Tow line in an accessible place  - you never know when you might need them in a hurry! Practice with them so you can set them up quickly and tow effectively for some distance.

15m Towline

A 15m length is optimum and fairly standard across kayaking clubs around Australia. It is a length that allows some separation when towing in a following sea - you don't want the towed kayak catching up to you on a wave. Choppy conditions are also the reason we recommend towing with the rope attached to your kayak, not your body - a body tow in waves is very uncomfortable.

Having a standard length towline allows two kayaks to perform a V-Tow side by side, assisting communication and keeping both lines tight.

You should also have a safety knife attached to your PFD in case of entanglements or jams. Practice deploying your tow rope so you can do it in all conditions without it turning into macrame!

Contact / Short Tow line

A short line tow is used for contact towing - when a kayaker is unstable or incapacitated and the best option is to attach the rescuer to provide support. The towline attaches between the decklines (far side of both) of the two kayaks, with the rescuer facing the rescuer and paddling over the top of their kayak. The rescuee leans on the bow of the rescue kayak for stability. A quick release on one end is preferred (attach to rescuee side).

Short lines are also handy for tying up your kayak at night or towing it when walking through shallow water.

These tow lines are available in kits or fully constructed and the components are available separately.
Tow line construction from the kit is contained in our Youtube videos:

River and Whitewater

On moving water the emphasis is less on towing distance and more for rescue and getting out of tight places.