Kayak Safety Tips

Kayak Safety Tips | The Top Three Kayak Safety Tips from Mike Cheatham

Featured Image Credit: Scott Beutjer Fishing

I have lost people I cared about who left home to enjoy some quiet fishing or boating thinking they would be back soon, so the first time I set my butt in a kayak, I was overly cautious. Not because I couldn’t swim (a lot who drown can) but because I knew the odds of rolling a kayak are higher than flipping my Bass Tracker. I am also very aware that I am not as young as I once was, so the thought of chasing a kayak across a creek didn’t appeal to me.

I was less than one foot off a ramp when I first flipped a kayak a few months later. The entire contents of that boat ended up in the water, including me. I was fortunate that I caught myself before I went under, but then the ramp was so slick I fell hard. Very hard. I didn’t hit my head on anything, I didn’t break anything on my body; but what if I had done either? What if I had banged my head against that concrete ramp when I slipped? What if I had broken an arm or leg, and had been farther from the ramp?  

The second time I fell in the water, I was trying to step out of the boat. I was a few miles up a creek trying to get out to take a bio break. I stepped out and, in an effort to avoid mud, I placed my foot on a rock. The rock shifted, my foot slid, the kayak pushed away from shore and I was quickly in the water. I found myself face down in the creek, again fortunate that I was conscious and able to get out of the water quickly.  Both events happened before I truly registered what was happening to me. Never did I think I would flip a foot from a boat ramp, nor did I see my foot slipping on that rock. Just like many who are lost every year, accidents happened in spite of my best preparation.  

But there are three kayak safety tips everyone should follow:

Kayak Safety Tips #1: Wear Your PFD 

Once you bought it, and it is required to have with you, it is absolutely free to wear it.  It doesn’t cost you a single penny to put it on, zip it up or strap it. It requires minimal effort and can save your life.  You may just slip somewhere and it can keep you above water. This is the most important tip out of the three kayak safety tips!

A very good friend of mine had tied his boat to a building while he and his brother fished.  They had stepped from the boat, and it drifted off. He swam after it. Not far, not fast; and he never came home.  He wasn’t wearing the PFD he was required to have with him.  

Kayak Safety Tips(1)

If you are a kayak tournament angler, you are required to wear it.  

I wear mine so much now that I have even driven home with it still zipped up, taking it off in the garage.  I made sure to find one that was comfortable so that I would not consider it a nuisance, definitely not an option. I will say this one again. Wear your PFD!

Kayak Safety Tips #2: Let Someone Know Where You’re Going, Especially if You Are Out Alone

There are so many things that can happen, not all catastrophic, and I personally would rather have someone know where to start looking for me.  

Oftentimes, we kayak folks will find some remote ramp where our vehicle can get stuck, our kayaks can flip or we just get lost and there is not enough cell signal to call your friends or family. I walked a long way late one night to get to a main road after burying my truck in a creek bed, then I waited, hoping that someone would eventually come by, and pull me out… and it was a long wait. I had not told anyone where to look.  

Even worse, on another trip I was out in twenty degree weather and found myself lodged on a submerged tree in eight foot of water, about fifteen yards off shore. I couldn’t get out, I couldn’t reach the stump… I told myself that this was bad. Eventually I was fortunate enough to rock the kayak enough to dislodge myself. But this was the first time I told myself “this is how people end up on the news”; no one knew I was on Percy Priest, and I hadn’t seen another soul on the water and I could have flipped before I came loose. 

Kayak Safety Tips(2)

With today’s technology, you can use Find a Friend or Find my Phone.  

My wife Joy keeps tabs on me while I am on the water using Find My iPhone. It not only gives her a sense of security knowing that I am there, she is able to locate me and knows where I last was if I do not make it home when I am expected. Now I know some of you will not like someone keeping tabs on you, but that night I waited for someone to come by was a REALLY long time, so I am all for using whatever tools are available to make sure I get home. I give my wife access to TourneyX, iAngler and my ANGLR app so she has as much information as possible in case I am too late.

Kayak Safety Tips #3: Watch the Weather 

I am going to expand that even more and say watch the weather, look at weather forecasts during the day, watch for storms, understand the wind speed and its direction. We are out, many times on large bodies of water, in small boats that can become difficult to manage in storms and high winds.

The second time I said “this is how people end up on the news”, I was fishing a tournament on Lake Cumberland in Kentucky. I had watched the weather, knew there was a risk of 30-mph gusts and heavy rain; and I went anyway. Had I taken a few seconds to study the maps closer, and understand that I had chosen a bay (in an effort to protect myself) that the wind was going to blow directly into… I could have spared my friend and myself the hour of trying to get back to the ramp. We were less than a half mile away but with every foot forward, we went five back.  The waves were white capping at about three feet and at one point my Hobie turned sideways and I knew it was over. 

Somehow, I pedaled through that, and tied a rope to my buddy – he did not have a pedal kayak – and pulled us through it as the waves crashed over the front. We moved to another bay where there was virtually no wind, lucky to have made it out upright; and alive.

Kayak Safety Tips

Most weather apps are free, just like the ANGLR app which is combined with a variety of lake maps, so you can find a safer place to launch and fish on days where the tournament “must go on”.  

I know that others will have things that are important to them, all of mine coming from my experience, but I share these kayak safety tips with everyone I introduce to kayaking. I don’t do it to scare them but to educate them. Many of the new kayak anglers I meet come from either never being in a boat or from much larger bass boats, and I feel better giving them the knowledge of “what might happen”.  

And one last thing about kayak safety tips (or to repeat number 1)… wear your PFD. It is free to do so. Any of the experiences that taught me, could end worse for the next person. With that PFD on, you at least have a chance.

This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert

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Mike Cheatham


May 2016, sat in my first kayak. October 2016, skunked in my first tournament. Spring of 2017, placed 11th in the KBF Open and have chased the addiction since. Fishing is the one place my mind gets quiet, the place I have always found peace. To do it competitively with a great bunch of folks is just a bonus. To have an opportunity to combine my love for fishing with writing...I feel like I have finally found a place in this world! I do have the support of a wonderful woman who understands my need to be on the water; she supports my dreams fully....life is truly good.

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