No one’s PFD kit is perfect. Ask any kayak guide what she keeps in and on her life jacket, and you’ll quickly learn each leader’s kit is a reflection of their experience and the conditions and places where she paddles.

Still, most agree: less is more. Fill your pockets with too much stuff, and you may actually hinder your ability to perform in challenging situations. Keep it simple and store bulkier or less frequently used items within reach in your day hatch. Tweak your kit for different environments, so it’s the best possible compromise between being prepared and being comfortable.

What Should I Carry In My PFD?

Compass. | Photo: Virginia Marshall

1. Compass

For on-water navigation, pair a deck-mounted marine compass with a compact orienteering compass like Suunto’s M-3G. The orienteering compass’s straight edge and rotating bezel enable you to take a bearing on your map or chart, rather than simply follow a heading on the water. Plus, the attached lanyard works great for quickly measuring map or chart distance.

$80 |

watch on a pfd
Watch. | Photo: Virginia Marshall

2. Watch

Knowing where you are, and how far you can go, means keeping track of time on the water. Get a reliable, waterproof watch and strap it to your PFD. ‘Nuff said.

$45 |

whistle on a pfd
Whistle. | Photo: Virginia Marshall

3. Whistle

A sound signalling device is required by the coast guard, and a pea-less whistle like the classic Fox 40 is invaluable for getting the attention of an errant paddler.

$4 |

knife on a pfd
Knife. | Photo: Virginia Marshall

4. Knife

Combining rope and dynamic waters carries a risk of entanglement. This is one of those rare items you always carry and hope you never need to use. Safety knives should be corrosion-resistant with a secure sheath. A knife is one of the most common lash tab accessories, ensuring your knife is within easy grasp—you’ll find lash tabs on most touring and whitewater PFDs. Look for a knife with a blunt tip and serrated edge, like CRKT’s Bear Claw. Keep it sharp—resist the urge to use your safety knife for slicing the salami.

$50 |

lip balm and sun stick
Sun protection. | Photo: Virginia Marshall

5. Sun protection

On a bright day, light reflected from the water can increase exposure to damaging UVA and UVB rays by about 10%. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeve UPF-rated clothing, and protect exposed skin with broad-spectrum waterproof sun block and lip balm.

$3–$7 |

pigtail tow on a pfd
Pigtail tow. | Photo: Virginia Marshall

6. Pigtail tow

In addition to a waist-worn tow belt, many kayak guides also wear a PFD-integrated tether—known as a pigtail—for rapid extractions. Pair North Water’s PFD Sea Link with their quick-release chest belt ($55) for a tow system you can deploy, or escape, with one hand. The Sea Link’s shock absorber eases stresses on the rescuer. A slim, floating pouch contains 15 feet of additional line, so you can go from contact tow to short tow with the release of a buckle.

$105 |

repair tape for pfd
Repair tape. | Photo: Virginia Marshall

7. Repair tape

Opinions vary on the perfect, do-it-all tape for hasty, on-water repairs. Good ol’ duct tape is a sound option for many jobs, but for bombproof patches on composite and plastic boats, carry a square of waterproof gutter tape.

$12 |

journal and pencil
Notebook and pencil. | Photo: Virginia Marshall

8. Notebook & pencil

Keep track of weather observations, note wildlife sightings or simply jot down your thoughts. Rite in the Rain makes waterproof notepads and journals in a variety of compact styles.

$4–$7 |

medical kit
First aid kit. | Photo: Virginia Marshall

9. First aid kit

A petite, waterproof kit with basic wound care is all you need in your PFD. Add water treatment tabs, electrolytes and energy chews to prevent dehydration and bonking. Ginger candies are a natural, non-drowsy way to ward off seasickness. Finally, keep a length of waterproof, self-adhering athletic wrap in your kit to support joint injuries. Try the Ultralight Watertight .5 from Adventure Medical Kits.

$9 |

black radio
VHF radio. | Photo: Virginia Marshall

10. VHF Radio

Consider a marine VHF radio like Cobra’s HH350—and the training to use it correctly—if you are travelling offshore, for extended periods in remote locations, or in areas with heavy boat traffic.

$130 |

11. Light

(Not pictured)

For paddling after dark or in heavy fog, you’ll need a light to make it easier for others to see you. A compact, waterproof strobe-like Princeton Tec’s Aqua Strobe attaches to your PFD shoulder strap or lash tab and doubles as a personal locator light in the event of an emergency.

$30 |


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