Safety Guidelines


Personal Kayaking

  1. Find out as much as practicable about the river trip, especially compulsory portage points, emergency exit points, known hazards and acceptable flow parameters.
  2. Minimise impact upon the kayaking resource including riverbed, banks, access routes, flora and fauna.
  3. Work cooperatively with other river users and landowners.
  4. Let someone know what you are planning and when you are expected to return.
  5. Wear an approved buoyancy aid when on or near the river, check its floatation and make sure it is in good condition and the correct fit. Ensure all buckles and zips are fastened.
  6. Wear a helmet when on or near the river. Ensure it fits correctly and protects the temples and back of head.
  7. Wear and/or carry sufficient warm protective clothing for the trip. This could include wetsuit, paddle jacket, dry top, neoprene shorts, fleece and polypropylene layers, hat and pogies.
  8. Wear and/or carry footwear suitable for walking out of the river or scouting rapids. Footwear should be free of buckles or other accessories that could catch. Avoid boots and sports sandals as they can catch easily and are designed to not rip off. (Sports sandals are quite popular and are perceived as being suitable by many people but have been a contributing factor in overseas drownings.)
  9. Carry equipment for unexpected emergencies. For example, first aid kit, spare paddle, spare clothes, food, webbing slings, throw bag, pulleys, prussiks, knife, snorkel, saw, fire-lighting equipment, thermos, survival bag, radio/cell phone, whistle and torch.
  10. Check the safety of your kayak. Check usability, security and strength of grab-loops (all kayaks should have these). Check that the kayaks buoyancy is securely fastened and all screws and bolts are tight. Check the security of your footrests or bulkhead.
  11. Check that you can release yourself from the kayak.
  12. Ensure that your spray skirt has a pull-cord for release.
  13. Ensure your spray skirt will not release unless you want it to.
  14. Check your equipment for loose ropes or other snagging features, and remedy any dangerous features.
  15. Check that your kayak has floatation adequate to ensure the kayak will float when full of water, possibly supplemented by air bags.
  16. Be proficient in self rescue, including the skills of whitewater swimming techniques and a reliable Eskimo roll when paddling Class III/Grade 3 water or harder.
  17. Know Basic Life Support and have a current first aid certificate.
  18. Be proficient in river rescue techniques appropriate for the trip being undertaken and practice them regularly.
  19. Paddle in control. Don't enter unknown rapids that have not been scouted from the river or the bank. Consider portaging when you cannot see what obstacles lie ahead.
  20. Be aware that rivers change and new hazards can occur between river trips and particularly after floods or heavy rain.
  21. Be aware of your personal paddling ability and be prepared to portage rapids beyond this ability.
  22. Don't paddle when excessively tired, physically ill, intoxicated or when using drugs (prescription or non-prescription) which affect decision-making and reflexes.
  23. Be particularly aware of constructed features obstructing the river, including weirs, bridges, fences, ropes, wire and other debris.
  24. Think carefully about the suitability of your boat for the particular river conditions you are paddling, know the strengths and limitations of your kayak design.
  25. Be aware of the additional hazards in flooded rivers.
  26. Check river flows and weather forecasts and be prepared to change plans.
  27. Learn to recognise river hazards (overhanging trees, undercut banks, weir-like holes, vortex-style eddies etc.).
  28. Avoid injury by stretching, warming up, staying fit and developing good paddling techniques.

Group Kayaking

In addition to the Personal Kayaking points:
  1. Designate a leader for the trip. Casual groups are hard to co-ordinate unless somebody assumes this role.
  2. Divide a large group into manageable sizes. A maximum of 6 kayakers per group is a good guideline. Appoint a leader for each group.
  3. Buddy people up if there are some weaker paddlers or paddlers who's experience is unknown.
  4. Be prepared to suggest that some people may be better portaging some rapids.
  5. Ensure group members are aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses and have strategies in place to inform each other if these change (e.g. if injury develops).
  6. Let someone know what you are planning and when you are expected to return.
  7. Have sufficient emergency gear with you for the number of kayakers in your party. Know who has what and ensure emergency equipment is shared out amongst members.
  8. Look out for each other and be personally responsible.
  9. Know the communication system that your group is using.
  10. In the event of an accident think of safety ahead of speed. There are often simple solutions, which do not compromise anyone else's personal safety.
  11. When a harder rapid is reached utilise appropriate risk management strategies.
    These may include but are not limited to:
    1. Scouting the rapid from boat and / or bank. Remember that different perspectives can show up different problems or different lines.
    2. Select the line and discuss with others.
    3. Watch the most competent person paddle the rapid first.
    4. Portage if necessary.
    5. Strategic placement of people with throw bags and paddles.
    6. Strategic placement of paddlers in eddies.

Instructional Kayaking

In addition to the Personal and Group Kayaking points:
  1. The purpose is to teach kayaking skills to people of lesser skill or experience.
  2. The Instructor should have attended a River Rescue course and be proficient in these rescue techniques.
  3. The Instructor takes on the responsibility of looking after the client group.
  4. The ratio of Instructor to clients is dependent on river, skills of leader and clients, but as a guideline 1:4 is a practical number from which to make adjustments.
  5. Be familiar with the river trip.
  6. Plan the trip carefully and be aware of the exit point and emergency exit points.
  7. Check river flows and weather forecasts and be prepared to change plans.
  8. Organise equipment so that there is spare equipment at the end of the trip.
  9. The clients should have covered some appropriate progressions before being taken onto the river; these could include capsize drill, Eskimo rescue drill, Eskimo rolling, forward paddling, sweep stroke, low brace, river signals, whitewater swim position.
  10. The Instructor is responsible for analysing river hazards and minimising the risk to clients by alerting clients to any problem, avoiding the hazard, and positioning themselves and others to minimise consequences.
  11. The Instructor is responsible for checking quality and suitability of the client's equipment.
  12. Consider the rescue equipment that should be carried for the trip. Depending on the trip this could include a first aid kit, spare paddle, spare clothes, food, webbing slings, throw bag, pulleys, prussiks, knife, snorkel, saw, fire-lighting equipment, thermos, survival bag, radio/cell phone, whistle and torch.
  13. The clients should be taken on water that they can paddle safely or swim without injury.
  14. The experience should be positive, improve skills and stimulate enthusiasm for kayaking.
  15. Consider risk management strategies and develop an emergency response plan.
  16. Know Basic Life Support and have a current first aid certificate.
  17. Consider personal currency in kayaking. (Maintaining a logbook of personal and instructional experience is a good way of doing this.)
  18. The above information is for those instructing on an "ad hoc basis" For further information on the standards required of professional Instructors in New Zealand, contact the NZ Outdoor Instructor's Association, and read the NZOIA Kayak Instructor's Handbook.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License.

This Safety Code is for any current or prospective paddler. Written by Australian Canoeing Inc. Purchasers of Kayaks Sit On Tops or Canoes
  • Decide what you want to do with your canoe or kayak. You may want to:
    • paddle in lakes and lagoons
    • paddle in the sea
    • paddle in white water
    • buy a craft for your children.
  • Seek advice about which craft will best do what you want from endorsed canoeing experts. Any canoe club or its members will be eager to assist.
  • Check the craft for fixed buoyancy, comfort when sitting, strength and quality.
  • Don’t expect to do more with your craft than the purpose you bought it for. Kayaks and canoes are quite specialised.
The Paddler
  • Be able to swim confidently and be confident in water, even with the clothing you will wear paddling.
  • Always wear a Personal Flotation Device (either Type 2 or 3).
  • Be honest with yourself about your ability. Paddling a canoe on quiet water doesn’t qualify you for more difficult trips or conditions.
  • The waters of rivers, lakes and oceans are all very different and demand knowledge and skill. Develop your paddling incrementally, preferably with people more skilled than yourself. Clubs are wonderful.
  • Beware of cold water and weather extremes. Swimming ability and PFDs cannot counteract for long the effects of very cold water. Wetsuits may sometimes be essential for safety.
  • Be equipped for the conditions that could occur. Secure your spectacles, have appropriate footwear, allow for protection against the sun, wind and rain.
  • Learn how to capsize to rescue yourself and others and learn first aid, so that you are prepared for an emergency.
  • Seek training. We recommend the AC Basic Skills Award as a minimum. AC Instructors are available through many canoeing clubs and other bodies.
  • Before accepting an invitation to undertake a trip, enquire about:
    • the group organising it
    • the leader
    • the trip itself
If you accept, give the leader a frank assessment of your skill and experience and your full cooperation.

  • Make certain you have the right craft for the trip!
  • Test new and unfamiliar equipment before undertaking hazardous assignments. This includes alterations to gear.
  • The craft must be in good condition before starting a trip.
  • If sea kayaking, carry a spare paddle in a position where you can get at it quickly.
  • The craft, when filled with water, must be able to support its crew and sodden gear in deep water. Use expanded plastics, buoyancy bags or sealed airtight compartments.
  • Use spray covers whenever there is any possibility that water may come into the craft in quantity. The cover release must be immediate and function perfectly.
  • Carry appropriate repair equipment, torch, map, compass and survival kit on wilderness trips. Leave a plan of your trip with a responsible person and an expected time of arrival at your destination.
The leader
  • The leader should describe the conditions that could be experienced to prospective participants, prior to acceptance of invitations.
  • The leader should not allow persons to participate beyond their proven ability, nor allow inappropriate craft to start.
  • The leader must know the range of weather conditions which may occur and their influence on the water conditions.
  • Before starting, and at any appropriate time, the leader should make it clear that his or her decisions, in the interest of safety, are final.
  • The leader nominates the functions of other group members and the formation on the water.
  • By example, the leader should impart knowledge, skill and confidence.
On rivers
  • Each participant should be aware of group plans, formations, the general nature of the river ahead, the location of any special gear, and the signals to be used.
  • The lead boat crew scouts all doubtful parts of the river, sets the course, and is never passed.
  • The rear boat is equipped and trained for rescue.
  • Each craft has a responsibility to the craft behind. It should not lose visual contact. It passes on signals, points out obstacles, and tries to prevent its own errors being repeated.
  • The party needs to be compact. Large formations should be sub-divided into independent groups with an overall plan.
On lakes or the sea
  • Do not travel beyond a returnable distance from shore under the worst conditions possible.
  • Know the weather range. Have a current forecast. Conditions can change within minutes. Beware of off-shore winds.
  • Have a sound knowledge of the effects of tides.
  • Formation positions should be nominated to prevent craft from being dangerously dispersed.
  • Kayak paddlers, prior to an ocean expedition, should practise rolling, and all canoeists should perfect team rescue drill so that a capsized craft can be righted, emptied, and the crew re-embarked.
In the event of a capsize
  • Keep calm but very much alert.
  • Stay on the upstream side of your craft.
  • Be aware of your responsibility to assist your partner (in the case of pairs).
  • Follow your rescuers’ instructions.
  • Leave your craft only if this improves your safety. If rescue is not close at hand and the water is dangerously cold or worse rapids follow, then swim in the appropriate direction for the nearest point of personal safety. The loss of the finest craft is not worth the risk of personal safety.
  • If swept into a rapid, then swim feet first on your back. Keep your head clear of the water for good visibility.
As a rescuer

Go after the crew. The craft can wait until the crew, and you, are safe.

Whitewater Equipment Standards

Kayaks and Canoes

The kayak or canoe must be constructed specifically to reduce the risk of bending, folding or entrapment. Specifically, craft should be fitted with internal supports to resist folding. The cockpit setup should be such that the vessel grips the occupant firmly for maximum control and so that the occupant can exit the vessel easily.
  • Craft should not collapse onto the paddler’s legs.
  • Depth of the cockpit, height of cockpit rim and any seat strapping must not impede exit.
  • Any restraining device must be single handed, single action, quick release.
  • Bow and stern must be rounded.
  • Apart from the cockpit the boat should be filled with buoyant material, excluding as much water as possible.
  • Craft shall not sink when swamped, should remain horizontal and should support its occupant in the water.
  • End loops or toggles should be fitted within 30 cm of the bow and stern, minimum diameter of 10 mm, with a breaking strain of 8000 N. The loops must not allow the full insertion of a hand
  • Footrests should be constructed so that feet will not become jammed.

Paddles should allow the full range of strokes, braces and rescues and be strong enough to withstand the forces involved in all aspects of whitewater paddling including impacts with rocks.

Spraycovers (also called spraydecks or sprayskirts) must correctly fit the craft and stay fitted during all aspects of Whitewater paddling.

PFDs must conform to Australian Canoeing safety policy standards for PFDs.

Sea Kayak Equipment Standards

When used in sea conditions, the kayak must be a recognised sea kayak with:
  • Minimum volume cockpit (bulkheads or integrated cockpit) so that the kayak is controllable in sea conditions with the cockpit flooded.
  • Positive buoyancy made up of compartments or fixed flotation—it is recommended that empty compartments be filled with buoyancy material (inflated wine/spring water/fruit juice cask bladders, etc.) that will minimise the amount of water that enters a compartment in the event that its integrity is compromised.
  • Deckline system of at least 6mm in diameter that is secured to the deck, with fastenings that will not fail under normal sea conditions and that are sufficiently spaced to keep the deckline controlled. The deckline system, plus cockpit surrounds, should provide handholds for the complete length of the kayak.
  • Toggles or other safe handholds, as near as practical to the bow and stern. If used, hand loops must not allow the full insertion of a hand pump or self-bailer.
The ability to remove water from a sea kayak cockpit is essential since the addition of water:
  • inhibits stability
  • increases the possibility of hypothermia
  • decreases endurance
  • increases the possibility of water and salt related problems such as blisters, infection, etc.
Personal vessels
To help ensure your safety in a sea kayak:
  • you should have a “bomb proof” method of re-entering your kayak after capsize (the preferred method is re-entry and roll)
  • you should be able to paddle your boat, with a fully flooded cockpit, away from a dangerous situation in offshore conditions and then be able to completely evacuate the water from the cockpit in the same conditions.
It is recommended that a pump or self-bailer system is fitted. Choice of pump needs to give careful consideration to the skills of the paddler, the vessel and expected operational use (expert advice in this regard is recommended). No pump system is fail safe and all pump systems require regular inspection and maintenance.

Vessels used for clients under supervision
The kayak needs to be configured in a manner that a competent paddler can guide and assist the novice paddler back into the kayak, in a safe and efficient manner.A method of evacuating any water from within the cockpit that can be accessed effectively, by either the competent guide or novice paddler.

Paddles should allow the full range of strokes, braces and rescues and be strong enough to withstand the forces involved in all aspects of sea kayaking including surf launches and landings.

Spraycovers must correctly fit the craft and stay fitted during all aspects of sea kayaking.

PFDs must conform to Australian Canoeing safety policy standards for PFDs.

Spare paddle system
A spare paddle must be available for immediate use, the number to be determined by the activity and group size and skill level.

A quick release towline of at least 15 metres length with a float that will support the system, including any clips/karabiners, if unclipped. Waist tow systems are not recommended for use at sea because of the forces involved. Consideration needs to be given to the thickness and stretch characteristics of the rope in terms of safety, ease of deployment and recovery and repacking.

Paddle park or leash
A paddle leash system allowing the paddle to be restrained whilst used, should be available. Consideration needs to be given to the safety aspects of tethering the paddle to the person or kayak


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