A Kayaker's Checklist E-mail
Monday, 12 October 2009 06:39

Kayakers Check List;
Enjoy Your Day Without Fear of Misfortune!

Dieing to go fishing or a kayak trip to die for are but expressions not to really live by. Proper preparedness and tactics that will save you grief and possibly your life if heeded too can make all the difference; it only takes a lapse of good judgment for about 2 seconds to have a lasting impact on possibly, the rest of your life.

  • Proper layering for cold water. Dress for water temperature not air temperature.
  • PFD. Not in the milk crate, but on your body! They seem to work great when your actually wear em. Retroflective tape should be stuck to you PFD. A Type IV throws able cushion, good to sit on. good to throw to someone in trouble.
  • A Knife. Preferable with easy reach for quick use. I like one on my PFD.
  • Sound producing device, Whistle, Air horn or both. Attach whistle to PFD w/ a small lanyard.
  • Paddle leash.
  • A stern light for dark conditions. A flag attached to you light pole during the day. For vessels the size of most kayaks, I believe an all around white light is mandatory 30 minutes before sunset to sunrise. A flashlight will meet the requirement.
  • Flash light and spare Batteries.
  • Rope. You just never know when you will need it. I keep two 20' pieces of 1/2 " double braided nylon inside my forward hatch.
  • Grear leashes. The motto is "leash it or lose it"
  • Sail or float plan, do not leave home without it! Make a plan of where you will be and what time you will be home and to stick to it. Hang it on the fridge or give a copy to your neighbor, friend/family member.
  • VHF Radio or cell phone. Channel 16 is for Hailing and distress frequency only.
  •  Sunscreen.


Use the buddy system. Especially for newbie’s and in unfamiliar waters.
It may seem like a lot of stuff, but you will be glad you have it when it is in need, as my Boy Scout days come to mind; Be Prepared! And if your looking to be really, really safe, because you can’t ever be to safe try the checklist from the USCG Auxiliary (http://www.uscgaux-danapoint.org/ves...ety_checks.htm) which probably provides a good start to the required stuff.  

USCG Vessel Safety Check Checklist for non-powered boats:

  • Some states may require numbering: NOT FLORIDA but May where you live: The boats registration numbers visible to each side of the forward half of the boat. Characters must be plain vertical block style, not less than 3 inches high, and in a color contrasting with the background. A space or hyphen must separate the letters from the numbers. Place state validation tax sticker according to state policy.
  • Some states may require Registration/Documentation: Registration or documentation papers must be on board and available. Documentation numbers must be permanently marked on a visible part of the interior structure. The documented boats name and haling port must be displayed on the exterior hull in letters not less than 4 inches in height.
  • One Personal Floatation Devices for each POB: acceptable PFD's (also known as Life Jackets) must be Coast Guard approved and in good serviceable condition. A wearable PFD of suitable size is required for each person on the boat. Children must have a properly fitted PFD designed for children. Wearable PFD's shall be "readily accessible". Boats 16 feet or longer must also have one Type IV (throw able) device, which shall be "immediately available". PFD's shall NOT be stored in unopened plastic packaging. For personal watercraft riders, the PFD must be worn. An impact rating is also recommended but not required. 16 ft or greater requires one Type IV.
  • Visual Distress Signals: recreational boast 16 feet and over used on coastal waters or the Great Lakes are required to carry a minimum of three-day and three Coast Guard approved night pyrotechnic devices, one day non-pyrotechnic device (flag), and one night non-pyrotechnic device (automated SOS light), or a combination of a) and b). Recreational boats less than 16 ft on coastal waters or the Great Lakes need only carry night visual distress signals when operating from sunset to sunrise. It is recommended but not required that boats operating on inland waters should have some means of making a suitable day and night distress signal. The number and type of signals is best judged by considering conditions under which the boat will be operating. The VSC program requires small flares for all PWC's plus, regardless of size or propulsion; all vessels shall have a means of making distress signal or visually identifying themselves (i.e. flashlight etc.
  • If<16 ft, night devices required only when operating at night Sound Producing Device: to comply with Navigation Rules and for distress signaling purposes, all boast must carry a sound producing device (whistle, horn, siren, etc.) capable of a 4-second blast audible for 1/2 mile. Boats larger than 39.4 ft are also required to have a bell (see Navigation Rules).
  • Navigation Lights: all boats must be able to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and in conditions of reduced visibility. Boats 16 ft or more in length must have properly installed working navigation lights and an all-around anchor light capable of being lit independently from the red/green/white "running" lights. If <16 ft, a flashlight may be acceptable.
  • Recommended Items: • Marine Radio• Dewatering device and backup• Mounted fire extinguisher• Anchor and line appropriate for boating area. • First Aid kit and person in the water (PIW) kit. • Visual distress signals on inland waters.• Understand capacity and certificate of compliance plate information.• Safe Boating classes with the USCG Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadrons.
  • Learn your re-entry techniques. Learning to save yourself is the most important lesson you will ever learn. It is important for each Yakers to know how to re-enter your yak after you take a dip. Practice during warmer weather and several times a year from different locations on your yak (from the bow, stern, and both sides of the cockpit). This applies to SIK and SOT yaks.
  • Tether your kayak to your ankle. You will never feel it unless you dump. It keeps your kayak from getting away from you.
  • NEVER WEAR WADERS NEAR WATER THAT IS DEEPER THAN YOUR WAIST. (This includes Jetty's, where a rain suit is the preferred attire).

    I know, I know ...a dry suit top and two belts will keep the water out. Nevertheless, in the REAL world, those belts get uncomfortable, and are loosened. Water inside your waders will not pull you under it will just prevent remounting. Do not turn a simple spill into a survival excursive. I wear a wetsuit. A dry suit is better. Waders are an accident waiting to happen, and have the potential to be LETHAL! A wetsuit will provide extra flotation. Lose the waders, they make you the fishing weight, straight to the bottom!

    My cell phone is my security blanket. I keep it inside a waterproof bag. Carry WATER and some high-energy bars for when your stomach starts growling. A (plastic) whistle, some flares, a dry change of clothing ...all should be in your milk crate, ALL OF THE TIME.

    Make sure your car keys are on a float. Leave your house keys in the car. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and insect repellant are necessary. "Croakers" will keep you from losing your glasses.

Dry sacks with extra clothing stuffed inside of you hatches, in a Ziploc bag.

A submersible VHF handheld radio, with extra batteries, clipped to you, not the boat.

AGAIN: Signaling mirror and compass in the pocket of your PFD, along with you whistle.  One the best, cheapest and most over-looked safety devices. If you are in trouble in the daytime, this is what others will see.

Dry Pants/Top Combo
I have gone from waders, to dry pants and dry tops. Much more comfortable that the dry suit, the neoprene waist, ankle, neck and wrist bands keep water out, if gives me the option to change my top if it is too warm for a dry top.

Extra Paddle

Reflective Tape
Why not? We can have an entire discussion about lights, and overdoing lights on a kayak can confuse a boater. However, reflective tape on the yak and your pfd (if it does not already have reflective markings), while not Purdy, is effective.

Remember....When you get to where you are going, you may be only half way there.

Things are much farther than they appear when in yak

Do not forget the water bottle and small snacks

Do not forget to check the marine forecast before going.

Understand the effects of tide, a following sea, current and wind.

Let someone know where you are launching from and your time of return.

Keep everything stowed in the yak so as not to be caught and hurt by your goods in a capsize

Anchor line should always go over the bow or stern and Never ever straight off your seat.

Benefits of VHF radio versus cell phone.

VHF radio: Broad casts to everyone within range of your radio. If your are in trouble you can ask any boater to help you in the area.

If you do not know where you are, Coast Guard, harbor patrols and State Police will be able to find you by using radio direction finders.

You can listen to and receive weather forecasts and updates.

You can hear Security (weather or trees in the water or other hazards) warnings by issued by the Coast Guard.

I am sure there are others but off the top of my head, these would be the beginnings of the list.

Cell Phone:

You can call anyone if they have a phone, maybe, depending on the phone, location and if it is wet?  911 where are you located sir…in the water… Great to have in a Ziploc for emergency if it works and you may at least contact someone you know to call for help. Part of your float plan.

File a Float plan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sounds hard??????????? File with who????????????

You do not fill out a form and send it to the Coast Guard. It can be as simple as telling your wife, family friends WHERE you are going, WHEN you will be back, Give them your cell phone number to call if you are late! Call them if your plans change, but in all cases tell someone where you are going and when you will be home. Also give them a time that if they have not heard from you to call the Coast Guard.

This time of year, the water is very cold, in a few months it will still be cold. If you cannot get back into your Kayak, stay with your Kayak, it is easier to find a floating Kayak than it is to find a floating person. Get as much of your body out of the water, the wind may feel colder, but the water takes your body heat much faster.

Remember: If you are in 50-degree water, are 50 years old and 50 yards from shore you have a 50% chance of survival if you choose to swim to shore. Get out of the water and onto or into your boat, stay calm, use your radio to call a MAYDAY and stay calm, if you cannot get onto or into your boat, tether yourself to your boat and relax conserve your energy and assume the fetal position if possible.

Cold water KILLS.

OK this is serious stuff so if you get the wrong answer, or a partial answer, you can die. Little waves can hurt you and cost you gear, they could even kill you. Big waves can hurt you badly and may just kill you. Add some rips and rocks and you multiply the devastation factor. Always wear a life vest. If you are going to play in the surf, a helmet is not a bad idea. Consensus is that any leashes in the surf can end up around your neck, so store every thing, even your paddle leash.

I consider kayak fishing to be a very safe sport, your time on the water can be very relaxing and extremely productive. There is one aspect of kayak fishing though that tends to keep some people from experiencing the beauty of the open water and relegates them to the bays and flat waters, and that is launching and landing their kayak through the surf. One of the benefits of fishing from a kayak is the ability to launch your kayak right where the fish are, but without the skills necessary to negotiate the surf zone, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble.

More gear is lost or damaged and people injured in the surf zone than in any other aspect of kayak fishing. I have seen all to often the kayak-fishing neophyte succumb to the call of the big water, loading up their new kayak with their best fishing gear and charging into uncharted water only to be knocked back to the beach by an unforgiving sea, their gear spread across the beach like a yard sale. Usually to the laughs of others on the beach, the new kayak angler must scour the bottom looking in vane for their favorite rod and reel. The reason for this, generally, is that people never spend the time to learn the proper techniques to keep them and their gear safe. The ocean is a very unforgiving place and taking the time to learn these skills will serve you well.

Getting started:

One of the smartest things you can do for yourself is to become intimately familiar with the characteristics of your kayak. Every kayak acts differently on the water and in the surf zone. Take your kayak out on flat water with no fishing gear and just play. Climb all over the kayak, sit with your feet off the bow, spin around in the seat, try and stand up, lay down, see how far you can lean your kayak on its edge before you flip over. You should also know how to reenter the kayak in open water. Then do the same thing in a surf area, although you do not want to surf a loaded fishing kayak, doing so in an unloaded boat is not only fun but will prepare you for the times when you mistimed a set and end up gliding down the face of a larger wave.

There is a saying in kayak fishing “dress to swim and rig to flip” this is especially true in the surf zone. Having a kayak with large hatches in which you can put you rods and other gear will protect them in the event you are dumped in the surf. Always wear a PFD, being hit in the head or ribs is a major concern when being bounced down the face of a wave and a good PFD can save your life.

Although conditions at different beaches can vary, and all kayaks have different characteristics, the following tips should help you get started in offshore kayak fishing.

The Launch:

It is a common misconception that launching is the hard part and landing is the easy part of negotiating the surf zone, the reverse is actually true.
The most important thing you can do for a successful launch is to assess the conditions and evaluate whether you have the skills to handle the surf conditions. Sometimes it is best to drive to another location or just go home. If the surf is of a size that you feel you can handle, observe the waves to see where the channels or rips are and time the intervals between larger sets.

Start in water between knee and thigh deep, too shallow and you take many small waves in the face, too deep and it is difficult to board your kayak.
Timing really is the key to a successful launch, so the time you spend observing the waves while rigging is well spent. When you see your window of opportunity, you should be ready to charge forward. It is very important that you keep your forward momentum; if you get pushed backwards by a wave you will often be flipped, so paddle hard. As the bow of your kayak approaches a wave lean back to get the bow going over the wave not through it. As the wave passes under you give a hard stroke to keep the kayak moving forward.

Keeps the kayak going straight; you do not want to be hit broadside by a wave.

The Landing:

As stated earlier landing, the kayak through the surf really is the tricky part. Most fishing kayaks are fairly long and not designed to surf a wave. That and the fact that your may be carrying a considerable amount of weight in the bow of your kayak consisting of your gear and hopefully several nice size fish the bow of the kayak wants to drop down the face.

Like launching, landing your kayak involves good timing. Ideally, you would follow a wave in without every having to surf the kayak. Of course, what we want and what we get are often two different things. Just a slight miscalculation can find you hanging ten down the face of a large wave, and this is where you need to have the proper technique to stay on top of your kayak. Even if you do not catch the face of a wave, a following wave will catch you and turn the kayak sideways dumping you and your gear in the drink if you do not know how to handle the kayak.

If you do find yourself starting to slide down a wave the first thing you should do is drag your paddle to one side, this will cause the kayak to drop down the face of the wave at an angle decreasing the chance of the bow burying at the bottom of the wave. Once the kayak is sideways, you will not get it straight again, now the trick is to keep from being flipped. Many people will flip trying to get the kayak pointed straight to the beach, forget it you cannot do it. Resign yourself to being sideways and ride it out all the way to the beach. Place your paddle into the base of the wave and LEAN on it. If you place your paddle into the face of the wave above your shoulders you can get hurt. The flat of the paddle blade should be at the base of the wave, there is a lot of pressure under the blade and you can really lean on it, using the paddle, as a shock absorber in this manner will keep you on top of your boat.

Just because you made it through the worst part of the wave does not mean you are home free. I have seen many people make it through huge waves only to be dumped by a one footer right next to the sand. You can relax after you get off the kayak, until then always pay attention.

A couple additional safety precautions you should take:
If you do come off your kayak in the surf, zone never let your kayak be between you and the wave. The force of the wave combined with weight of the kayak can due some damage if it hits you.
Never use a paddle leash in the surf zone; you do not want to be tied to your kayak.

Always wear a PFD.

Never exit your kayak towards the beach; if a small wave hits the kayak you do not want it running over your legs.

These are just a few tips on handling your kayak in the surf zone, but reading it does not mean you can do it you need to get on the water to get a good grasp of these techniques. Whether you take a class or decide to go it on your own take the time to practice these skills without your fishing gear on board and you will be ready to take on any situation that may arise.

Now that we have the basics in safety and knowledge in how to react, let us go fishing!


When cold weather moves in, many yaking anglers choose to stay indoors, waiting for better weather.  However, that cold northeast wind can actually make for some very productive fishing, if dressed properly and targeting the proper fish here along our Sun Coast of SW Florida.  You just have to understand your quarry and change your game a bit to boat some fish. 

Fish become sluggish and move slower when the temperatures drop.  Redfish in particular are prone to bunching up in schools and seeking deeper water after the temperature takes a dip.  Redfish are reluctant to feed, no matter how enticing you make the offering, just after a passing low pressure.  Once the sun comes back out and begins to warm up the skinnies of the flats, this behavior changes.  

Flocking to these warm spots faster than a New York snowbird flies to Venice, Florida, Redfish will feed along side the drop offs by the skinny water in ambush for a meal.  As these Redfish locate warmer waters, their appetites come back and they may suck down just about anything that happens along as well your presentation.  Look for the same types of structure you normally would when fishing for reds, perimeters of oyster bars, the edges of marsh grass along mud flats at high tide, and the mouths of small feeder creeks are all productive haunts of the wintertime Redfish.  Toss a live shrimp or a mud minnow hooked on a lead jig head and you likely hook it up with a nice sized fish.  If live bait is hard to come by, use a Berkley Gulp as an effective alternative.  If you prefer to fish with artificial lures altogether (e.g., soft plastics or spoons), slow your retrieve to a crawl, stop, repeat all the way in from your cast, to give these fish a chance to strike your lure.

If the Redfish are not cooperating, consider targeting other species that are more tolerant of cold water, such as spotted Seatrout, sheepshead, black drum or flounder.  Trout will bite the same baits and lures that you use to catch redfish. Sheepshead and black drum, on the other hand, usually require a different approach fish.
If live shrimp are available at the bait shops, these may be the most flexible choice for catching fish in cold weather.  All of the aforementioned species will eagerly devour a live shrimp.  If no live shrimp are available, you can use pieces of frozen shrimp on a jig head or circle hook and do the crawl and bump thing, described above.   Perhaps the ultimate live bait for these two species, though, is live fiddler crabs or any crab smaller than a Kennedy half-dollar.  

Sheepshead is famous bait stealers, and they can easily crush a single fiddler crab and suck the remains off the hook without so much as a tap on your rod.  To help make their bite more obvious, put 2 or even 3 crabs on your hook at the same time.  The "bouquet" of wiggling crab legs is too much for most fish to resist, and the extra mouthful entices them to linger at your hook longer.  Black drum are less delicate in their dining habits, and their presence on the hook will be more obvious to you as they attempt to swim away with the bait in a slow but steady pull. 

When fishing for drum, heads or flounder, I like to use two rods. One is equipped with a circle hook on a drop shot rig and baited with peeled, dead shrimp and your other rod is uses a lead head jig baited with fiddler crabs.  The circle hook on the drops hot will automatically set itself as the fish attempts to swim away, turning the circle into its jaw line and leaving me free to cast the baited jig head with the other rod.  On a good day, you could have two simultaneous hook-up, reeling in a nice redfish on the active line, while the drops hot rig hooks up a sheepshead on the passive one. “What a rip, what a trip!”
Speaking of Heads and black drum, anglers who are unfamiliar with these similar looking species sometimes mistake one for the other.  This can be an expensive mistake, as the size and possession limits in Florida differ for the two fish.  The sheepshead also has a mouthful of teeth that almost appear human like.  They use these teeth to nibble on barnacles and other crustaceans, along with a set of "crushers" in the mouth to grind up crab shells.  These toothy critters can cause a nasty wound for the angler unwary enough to stick his fingers in this fish's mouth.  A black drum does not have a similar set of teeth.

Another way to tell a sheepshead from a black drum is to look at the dorsal fin.  If the fin is one long, connected fin on the fish's back, then you most likely have a sheepshead (again, look for the teeth).  If the dorsal fin is split into a front fin and a rear fin, like two dorsal just one is smaller than the other is, then you probably have caught a black drum. 
Heads and drum are of a white flaky meat and are delicious, just be careful of those sharp pointed fins of a head! They can cause a nasty puncture to your hand or your craft, if inflatable.
“FISH ON!”  ™




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