Message from the Assistant Chief on Kayak Safety

Summertime on the coast means an increase in the number of boaters enjoying the coastal environment as well as an increase in kayaks and similar crafts. Our local bays and waterways are an excellent environment for kayaking, for exercise, fishing, birding, or just enjoying nature.

Kayaking can be a very safe hobby, but it does require some preparation, common-sense, and application of safety rules. These rules are meant to help keep everyone safe and avoid danger.

Generally, kayaks are designed for single or tandem use. The following are some common-sense thoughts to remember:

  • Never exceed the recommended weight limit of the particular kayak used. This includes the combined weight of any equipment, supplies, gear, refreshments, in addition to the person.
  • Never mix paddling or pedaling with alcohol consumption.
  • Always check the weather forecast and be prepared for rapidly changing conditions.
  • Always wear an approved personal flotation device (lifejacket), properly sized. Many people choose not to wear a PFD because of comfort concerns. There are PFD’s which are designed to be worn while kayaking which are more comfortable and less restrictive. The odds are, in an emergency, if you aren’t wearing it already, you may not be able to access it or get it on in time to do you any good.
  • Wear weather-appropriate clothing. Dress for conditions. This includes footwear, outer clothing, and hats. Don’t forget sunscreen, insect repellant, phone (both for GPS location and to summon help) and/or radio, & a first aid kit for minor issues.
  • Choose an appropriate location for your kayak, skill level, and capabilities. Some kayaks are more stable or easier to paddle or pedal than others. A paddle leash, or tether, will prevent you from being separated from your paddle. A suitable anchor is essential, as well.
  • Use the buddy system or let someone know your plans. Know where you are and become familiar with the volume and type of boat traffic to expect.
  • Make yourself visible! Brightly colored kayaks, clothing, PFD’s and flags stand out. Having a light is a requirement from sunset to sunrise.

The Law

The following are some excerpts from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, Chapter 31. This chapter is also referred to as the Water Safety Act. Only rules which apply specifically to kayaks are listed although they may apply to motor vessels as well.

Sec. 31.064 LIGHTS – When not at the dock, all vessels are required to have at least one bright light, lantern or flashlight available from Sunset to Sunrise. (You may have more than one light. I recommend any white lights which, when displayed appropriately, will not limit the night vision of the kayaker. The lights should serve to make the kayak more visible to others. These lights should be displayed in a manner in which they can’t be mistaken for other lights required by motorized vessels, or which present a hazard to navigation).

Sec. 31.065 SOUND PRODUCING DEVICES – Motor boats require a whistle or other sound producing device. This law references Coast Guard requirements as well. See 33 USC 2033. For kayaks, an accessible whistle is sufficient. (I recommend a whistle attached to clothing or on a lanyard attached to PFD.)

Sec. 31.066 LIFE PRESERVING DEVICES – One wearable personal flotation device per person must be accessible. Children under 13 years of age are required to wear the PFD. (I recommend persons of any age wear the PFD at all times).

For additional information and rules on water safety and boating rules, check Chapter 31 of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code. You may also contact your local Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Warden or any peace officer certified as a Marine Safety Enforcement Officer. And, as always, our doors are open to you. I can be reached by emailing me here:

Play it safe!