Getting Started in Sea Kayaking

Sea kayakers with a guide

You'd like to discover the world of sea kayaking. The Maine Association of Sea kayak Guides and Instructors provides the following guidelines to help you.

MASKGI recommends you Go with a Guide!


Sea kayaking can be fun and rewarding, but it carries with it inherent dangers. The following suggestions can help you safely manage the risk while minimizing your impact on the natural environment.


While no list is guaranteed to keep you safe, responsible kayakers will have the following items with them on every outing. If you don't know how to use any of the following equipment, get instruction before you set out.

  • Kayak* appropriate for conditions, with bulkheads or flotation bags.
  • Personal Flotation Device (PFD) with attached whistle, emergency strobe light and signal mirror.
  • Clothing and protective footwear appropriate for conditions, with extra layers.
  • Wetsuit or drysuit. Because of Maine's cold water temperatures, a shortie wetsuit is recommended even in summer months.
  • Spray skirt.
  • Paddle float and spare paddle.
  • Tow line.

*  Read about selecting a sea kayak in Tom Bergh's article, Thoughts on Fitting, Demoing and Choosing a Sea Kayak.


  • Bilge pump or bailer.
  • Fog horn.
  • VHF marine radio fully charged, weather radio, cell phone.
  • Watch.
  • Flashlight/headlamp.
  • Flares.
  • First aid kit.
  • Kayak repair kit.
  • Multi-tool for repairs.
  • Nautical charts, compass (deck and handheld) and GPS.
  • Tide chart.
  • Hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses with strap.
  • Rain gear and dry bags.
  • Food and water.
  • ID your boat with your name and phone number. IF FOUND - CONTACT stickers are free from the US Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Know the expectations and limitations of everyone in your group. Acquire nautical charts, study the weather forecasts, and note conditions such as water temperature, wind, tidal range and currents.

  • Plan a route appropriate for the experience level of everyone in your group.
  • Identify danger areas and emergency evacuation options.
  • Determine which access points and destinations are available for use and suitable for your group size.
  • Know your groups allergies, medical needs, abilities, and expectations.
  • Agree on your group's method for making decisions.
  • Assemble emergency phone numbers and VHF radio channels.
  • Become familiar with safety protocols and practice rescue techniques. Guides and instructors can provide this training.
  • Complete a float plan for your trip.

Gather all group members near the launch site and review these items together. (Please remember to avoid tying up the launch site.)

  • Basic paddling: Does everyone know strokes, braces, and rescue techniques?
  • Trip planning: Does everyone know the intended route, break locations, anticipated distances, emergency bailouts?
  • Leadership and decision-making: Who is in charge in case of danger? Who will make decisions about course changes?
  • Safety procedures: Does the group agree to stay together? How will you communicate with each other on the water? What will you do if someone capsizes, gets lost or separated?
  • Outfitting: Is everyone equipped with standard safety gear? (See Gear List.) Are all group members dressed appropriately and wearing a PFD? Is all gear packed and are kayaks ready to be launched properly?
  • Conditions: Is everyone aware of the forecasted conditions, including wind, fog, precipitation, and tides?


U.S. Coast Guard Mobile App

Features include:

  • Find the latest safety regulations
  • Request a vessel safety check
  • Check your safety equipment
  • File a float plan
  • Navigation Rules
  • Find the nearest NOAA buoy
  • Report a hazard
  • Report pollution
  • Report suspicious activity
  • Request emergency assistance

The Boating Safety Mobile app was not designed to replace a boater's marine VHF radio, which the Coast Guard strongly recommends all boaters have aboard their vessels. The app was mainly designed to provide additional boating safety resources for mobile device users.

Getting Ready to Launch

Keep in mind the following while underway to reduce the risk of incidents.

  • Visibility: Kayaks can seem invisible to larger boats. Assume that other boats cannot see you. Keep your group tight, and avoid busy channels and congested area. Use brightly colored kayaks and clothing with reflective stickers.
  • Communication: Use visual communications, VHF marine radio, fog horn, and/or whistle to communicate with other vessels.
  • Navigation: Carry multiple navigational aids, including nautical charts, compass, and GPS to navigate and avoid danger areas.
  • Ability: Do not paddle beyond the ability or comfort of anyone in our group. Change your intended course if necessary.
  • Conditions: Keep a watchful eye on conditions at all times. Observe changes in weather patterns and cloud formations for hints of an incoming storm. Keep track of wind-driven waves, rebounding and/or refracting waves, tidal currents, and the effects of the sea bottom on the surface.
  • Physical condition: Make sure the group remains well fueled and hydrated. Plan rest breaks as needed and protect yourself from the sun, cold, and water. Remain attentive to medical issues that might arose, such as dehydration, sea sickness, hypothermia, blisters, sunburn, and heat exhaustion.
Message from the Coast Guard:
"Put a sticker on it!"
USCG If Found sticker

When a kayak is found adrift with an If Found Contact sticker and the authorities can confirm with a quick phone call that no one is actually in danger, millions of search and rescue dollars and a lot effort will be saved.

This video explores the conscious decisions and unconscious choices that we make every time we leave the shore. Sometimes these choices mean the difference between a safe outing and a disastrous outcome.

Produced by the American Canoe Association.