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rule change: safety equipment for sea kayaks

published: September 22nd, 2013

Safety equipment for your sea kayak

October 2014: Sea kayaks are now allowed to carry a PLB. This replaces the former requirement for EPIRBs when more than 2NM offshore. Note that as with an EPIRB, every kayak in a group will need to carry a PLB. 

Here is a printable form with the current requirements.

This is a sensible alteration to the regulations as I am not aware of a pocket sized EPIRB suitable for kayakers. PLB’s are also used for bushwalking and mountaineering and if you do those things when not kayaking you can carry the same PLB. You could also borrow one, or lend your one to a friend. PLB’s are registered to the owner, and if it is activated, search and rescue will call the owner’s contacts. Before setting out on a long trip or if someone else is using the PLB you can submit details of that trip at the AMSA website.

When more than 400m from shore you can choose to have either a PLB or flares. A PLB is required when more than 2 nautical miles offshore.

Information on EPIRBs and PLBs here.

The main difference is that a PLB is not guaranteed to float aerial up and may not transmit effectively if left in the water.  However, as they can be pocket sized you can, and should, have them on your person not in the kayak. Have a check of your PLB and work out how to maximise your chance of rescue - given that they do not turn on automatically you will need to be conscious initially. But as you slip into the big sleep and hypothermia takes hold - a tether, a small float?

Of course there is no reason not to have both an EPIRB and a PLB, and there are several other devices that go beyond what the law requires, you might look at. If I was heading someplace remote and with long sea crossings that would be what I would do.

A ‘SPOT’ personal beacon sends GPS positions to a website, great for friends back home who might want to track you. It can also be used to send an SOS.

Pic: Spitzbergen. Here, you also have to carry a gun on the foredeck.

In areas frequented by other boat traffic or a sea search and rescue base, have a look at the Mobilarm. This is a pocket sized alarm that sends a distress via VHF radio ch16. All boats at sea supposedly monitor VHF, and if I was in distress I would prefer a nearby vessel to come to my aid over waiting for a PLB triggered rescue response. Of course flares are the best way to attract a nearby vessel. The wisdom is you don’t shoot off your flares until you can see a boat, but while I am floating sans-kayak in distress I am not going to see very far. Nor am I going to be very easy to see. The mobilarm VHF signal will cover a far greater area and signal continuously for hours.

All of this supposes that the reason you are in this pickle is that conditions are a little rough. In rough seas flares and a handheld VHF might not be so easy to use.

Information on Mobilarm here

Regulations require 2 red hand held, two orange hand held when more than 2NM offshore or when 400m offshore if you don’t have a PLB. In addition 2 red rockets when 5NM off shore. Previously it has been acceptable to have these in good condition but now they must be within their date code. Don’t throw old ones out as they will probably still work. Check out your local kayak or yacht club for a flare demonstration event and take them for practice. Shooting a rocket from your kayak is good fun!

Pic: Sometimes it is hard to imagine why you need all this gear.

Standards for suitable PFD’s are now type 1, 2 or 3, AS 1512 or 4758 but they must have ‘level 50S’ written on them. Older PFD’s may not have this. Again, if I was in distress out to sea, I’d want my PFD to be high visibility and to float me head up as rescue may not come while I am conscious or in daylight. The rules are the minimum and there is no reason, if you are heading off alone or to somewhere marginal or remote, why you cannot wear a type 2 or 3 and carry an inflatable type one. 

Radio: A requirement when more than 5NM offshore. A waterproof handheld VHF would be the one of choice. 

At night a light needs to be carried and most paddlers have an all around white light. Rules for non-motorised craft not capable of speed are for a ‘white light shone in sufficient time to avoid a collision’. One interpretation of this is that if there is a collision, it will be your fault for failing to shine your light ‘in sufficient time’. Given the ‘Law of adverse tonnages’ (nearly everything is bigger, faster, and likely to cause you significant damage) I think doing anything to avoid a collision would be smart. In other words, carry an all round white light or a powerful torch, but keep a good eye out as well.

It is up to you to worry about how obedient you wish to be, but the rules are clear. If paddling to Rotto you will need to carry a PLB, radio and six flares. This does not preclude you from carrying other safety equipment, it is the mandated minimum. A brochure entitled ‘paddlesafe’ sets out all the requirements, available kayak retailers or from 

 The canoe and kayak guide to WA