Today’s top story on BuzzFeed is about an angler who paddled too far and couldn’t make it back to the launch. Last week it was about a pair of anglers in a tandem kayak who flipped in cold water and couldn’t re-enter the boat. Every week, another story about shark attack. As a professional kayak fishing guide, I feel any catastrophe that strikes a member of the worldwide paddle-angling community. One unsafe kayak angler is a liability to us all. The most important piece of safety gear is a personal flotation device (PFD). Paddlers must carry a PFD to satisfy federal law, but I recommend wearing

it at all times to obey Murphy’s Law—anything can go wrong, so be sure you're wearing your PFD. Not only does a PFD provide flotation if an angler flips in deep water, but it could save a life in the event a paddler loses consciousness. Kayak fishing PFDs fall into two categories: inherent (foam) or inflatable flotation. Inflatable PFDs are light and low-profile. When the angler hits the water, the PFD is inflated automatically or by pull cord. Look for a model that fits snugly with extra padding at pressure points. Foam PFDs are always on—no pull cord or CO2

cartridges required. Choose a foam PFD that has flotation high on the back with room at

the lower back to accommodate a high-back seat. Most fishing PFDs feature pockets in the front to hold tackle and gear. I load mine with the safety gear I’ll need if I become separated from my kayak. This safety gear includes: handheld VHF radio, personal locator beacon (PLB), signal light and signal whistle. A handheld VHF allows the angler to contact rescue services and other anglers on the water. It also provides up-to-date weather reports. Rescuers can even use a VHF signal to zero-in on a victim. As an extra measure of safety, it’s a good idea to carry a small PLB or similar device. These pocket-sized gadgets can signal rescuers to a victim’s location. A pea-less whistle and waterproof strobe light not only signal rescuers but they can also warn careless boaters of your presence. Another good way to signal boaters is a 360-degree white kayak navigation light. Couple the light with a high-visibility flag and the combo will alert boaters day and night.

I keep a safety knife clipped to my PFD, too. If I become

tangled in rope or fishing line, I am able to cut myself free. When I’m fishing with weaker paddlers, I’ll carry a 20-foot length of floating rope. I can throw the line to rescue a paddler in the water or tie it to another boat if I need to tow-assist the paddler

back to the launch. Although I love to unplug on the water, I

always carry a fully charged cell phone in a waterproof case. Go

ahead and laugh, but a cell phone has saved many lives. I don’t rely on it as my main signaling device, but instant access to authorities and the information available with modern smart phones could make a rescue nothing more than calling my wife and asking her to drive me back

to the pick-up. Knowledge is power, and in any outdoor activity, knowledge could save your life. I always leave a float plan with a reliable person on shore, describing my location, fishing plans, schedule and the members of my party. To stay out of trouble, carry safety equipment, but just as importantly, know how to use it and stay informed about the location

and conditions. Drew Haerer is a pro guide, tournament angler and regular contributor to Kayak Angler. He blogs at

This article first appeared in the 2016 Paddling Buyer’s Guide. 36 PADDLING MAGAZINE

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