Australian Canoeing Safety Code

Before you buy a kayak, sit-on-top or canoe

• Decide what you want to do with your craft. You may want to:

– paddle in lakes and lagoons

– paddle in the sea

– paddle in white water

– buy a craft for your children

and each will require something different.

• Seek advice from qualified paddlers about which craft you will best do what you want. Any canoe club or its members will be eager to assist.

• Check the craft for fixed buoyancy, comfort when sitting, strength and quality.

• Don’t expect to do more with your craft than the purpose you boughtit for.


• Be able to swim confidently and be confident in water, even with the clothing you will wear paddling.

• Always wear a Personal Flotation Device (either Type 2 or 3 (Level 50or 50S)).

• Be honest with yourself about your ability. Paddling on quiet water doesn’t qualify you for more difficult trips or conditions.

• The waters of rivers, lakes and oceans are all very different, and demand knowledge and skill. Develop your paddling incrementally, preferably with people more skilled than yourself.

• Beware of cold water and weather extremes. Swimming ability and PFDs cannot counteract for long the effects of very cold water. Wetsuits may sometimes be essential for safety.

• Be equipped for the conditions that could occur. Secure your spectacles, have appropriate footwear, allow for protection against the sun, wind, and rain.

• Learn how to capsize, to rescue yourself and others and learn first aid, so that you are prepared for an emergency.

• Seek training. We recommend the AC Basic Skills Award as a minimum. AC Instructors are available through many canoeing clubs and other bodies.

• Before accepting an invitation to undertake a trip, enquire about:

– the group organising it

– the leader

– the trip itself.

If you accept, give the leader a frank assessment of your skill and experience and your full cooperation.


• Make certain you have the right craft for the trip, and that it is in good condition.

• Test new and unfamiliar equipment before going into hazardous conditions. This includes alterations to gear.

• At sea, carry a spare paddle in a readily accessible position.

• The craft must be able to support its crew and gear in deep water even when swamped. Use expanded plastics, buoyancy bags or sealed air-tight compartments.

• Use spray covers whenever there is any possibility that water may come into the craft in quantity. The cover release must be immediateand function perfectly.

• Carry appropriate repair equipment, torch, map, compass, whistle and survival kit on wilderness trips. Leave a plan of your trip with a responsible person and an expected time of arrival at your destination: the AC Float Plan is designed for this.

The leader • The leader should describe the conditions that could be experienced to prospective participants, before they accept invitations.

• The leader should not allow persons to participate beyond their proven ability, nor allow inappropriate craft to start.

• The leader must know the range of weather conditions which may occur and their influence on the water conditions

• Before starting and at any appropriate time, the leader should make it clear that his or her decisions in the interest of safety are final.

• The leader nominates the functions of other group members and the formation on the water.

• By example the leader should impart knowledge, skill and confidence.

On rivers

• Each participant should be aware of group plans, formations, the general nature of the river ahead, the location of any special gear and the signals to be used.

• The lead boat crew scouts all doubtful parts of the river, sets the course, and is never passed.

• The rear boat is equipped and trained for rescue.

• Each craft has a responsibility to the craft behind. It should not lose visual contact. It passes on signals, points out obstacles and tries to prevent its own errors being repeated.

• The party needs to be compact. Large formations should sub-divided  into independent groups with an overall plan.

On lakes or the sea

• Do not travel beyond a returnable distance from shore under the worst conditions possible.

• Know the weather range. Have a current forecast. Conditions can change within minutes. Beware of off-shore winds.

• Have a sound knowledge of the effects of tides.

• Organise groups to prevent craft being dangerously dispersed.

• Before an ocean expedition kayak paddlers should practise rolling, and all paddlers should rehearse rescues so that capsized paddlers can be returned to their boats quickly and safely. In the event of a capsize

• Keep calm but very much alert.

• Stay on the upstream or seaward side of your craft.

• Be aware of your responsibility to assist your partner (in the case of pairs).

• Follow your rescuers’ instructions.

• Leave your craft only if this improves your safety. If rescue is not close at hand and the water is dangerously cold or worse rapids follow, then swim in the appropriate direction for the nearest point of personal safety. You are worth much more than the boat.

• If swept into a rapid, then swim feet first on your back, feet clear of the bottom. Keep your head clear of the water for good visibility.

As a rescuer

Go after the crew. The craft can wait until the crew and you are safe. Australian Canoeing Safety Code

 Kayak Transport in Victoria