Kayakers and Canoeists – are you carrying a ‘calling for help device’ & keep it close to hand?

We have seen Kayaking grow in popularity, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, either out at the coast or on our fabulous inland water ways.  There is nothing like getting out on the water in a kayak and it is absolutely great fun.

kayaking callingforhelp knowwhotocall beachsafety watersafety RNLIWaterSafety RNLICommunitySafety RNLISeasafety Lifeboats RNLI What3words

However, the number of incidents requiring help from search and rescue services has increased. Sadly a number of those that needed rescuing were unable to access a means of ‘calling for help’ in their emergency situation.  One of those was very sadly Dom Jackson whose sister Ellie Jackson talks below in this short RNLI video:

You may recall on one of the magnificent RNLI documentries ‘Saving Lives At Sea’ featuring a kayaker who got into difficulty at the coast. Thankfully she was well prepared and had a VHF radio and mobile phone close at hand so that she was able to summon help and was successfully rescued by an RNLI Lifeboat crew.

Carrying a mobile phone in a protective case is one of the ‘calling for help’ options which could be carried.  Mobile coverage around the coast is generally poor, although coverage for voice calls is good. In all cases where emergency assistance is required dial ‘999’ or ‘112’ and ask for the Coastguard who will task appropriate search and rescue assets such as a lifeboat, Coastguard Rescue Team or helicopter.  It is always better to call for help before the situation gets out of hand. More information on how a kayaker got caught out

If you purchase a handheld VHF Radio look out for one that has a Digital selective calling alert button (DSC) which is standard for transmitting pre-defined digital messages via the medium-frequency (MF), high-frequency (HF) and very-high frequency (VHF) maritime radio systems. It is a core part of the Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS). The VHF hand-held radio is highly recommended as a means of ‘calling for help’ as it allows the Coastguard and lifeboat crews to pin point your location more easily and quickly using the DSC.  VHF radio’s generally are waterproof and can be used in challenging conditions which would otherwise make a mobile phone inoperable.  Battery life for hand-held’s are also good and have good sustainability.  For more information on VHF two way radio’s go to our latest blog on the subject. 

National Maritime Operation Centre (NMOC) HM Coastguard

On purchasing a VHF radio you will need to attend a radio operators course and qualify for a license. Find out your nearest provider here

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

Personal Locator Beacon’s have really reduced in price in recent years and are used widely by sailors, kayakers and many other outdoor activity enthusiasts.  One of the important things to remember is that they must be registered with the HM Coastguard to you personally and can’t be loaned out to a friend or relative.

safetrx RNLICommunitysafety seasafety thanetrnlicommunitysafetySafeTrx

The downloading and usage of the SafeTrx smart device app is growing in popularity amongst sailors and outdoor enthusiasts alike.  SafeTrx is free to download and use which charts your journey’s progress and will alert a nominated point of contact if you are late checking in at a pre-determined time.

Buoyancy Aid/Lifejacket

The wearing of a buoyancy aid or lifejacket could be absolutely critical in surviving difficult conditions or if something goes wrong whilst out on the water. Professor Mike Tipton from Portsmouth University has discovered through research that you are four times more likely to survive if you are wearing a lifejacket.

Tides and Weather

Before you set out on your paddle even if the weather appears calm always check the weather forecast and tide times as things can change quickly.

Communicate your journey plan

Before you set out on your paddle let someone know your route/passage and what is the latest time you will return.  Using this method your friend/colleague or family member can raise the alarm with the Coastguard if you are late returning or fail to check in at a pre-determined time.

Get some training

Before you venture out on the water why not get some training from an approved course provider.  If this isn’t possible try an organised group or club that meet up and go out onto the water together.  Our RNLI Community Safety Team has bespoke presentations to deliver to kayak groups and clubs as well as special free kayak packs to help keep you safe.  Email Andrew_Mills@RNLI.org.uk if you would like further information on receiving a presentation.

Ramsgate’s Atlantic 85 Inshore Lifeboat

Stay with your kayak if you capsize

If you end up in the water and you can’t get back into your kayak stay with your kayak.  This will give you something to hold onto keeping your head out of the water and also enable search and rescue services to spot you more easily.

Stay Safe during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Please comply with the relevant government COVID-19 pandemic safety guidelines when taking part in any coastal activity – don’t travel, save lives.  Thank you for reading and stay safe.

Other useful links

British Canoeing

Kayaking Near Me – Rivers and Canals Trust

Calling for Help At The Coast – but which device should I get?




HM Coastguard