by Dan Carns
Like all boaters, kayakers need to heed the rules of the road when it comes to your time on the water. Some things are mandated by law; every kayak must have a life jacket (PDF) on board and a sound devise such as a whistle, bell or horn. A 360° white light is required when operating between sunset and sunrise. Many states give kayaks, canoes and sailboats absolute control when encountering motorized craft, in that they must give way to the non-motorized vessel. Here in Florida, a motorized vessel in a marked channel or inlet has the right of way, as they may not be able to give way due to grounding. Ultimately it is your responsibility to ensure that your craft is safe from collision. I mention this as kayakers are generally more relaxed, focused on the natural environment or fishing and less aware of the rules for boating. Most motorized boat operators will give kayakers a wide berth, even slowing down to lessen their wake’s effect, but be assured that most operators will not ground their vessel to avoid you in a narrow channel! If you’re fishing with a group, try crossing channels as a group so that you’re more visible and remember boats have a very fast closing rate so it may surprise you and them! Many boat operators see us as a nuisance, so the I believe the burden is on us to remain vigilant on the water.
Offshore kayaking is a whole different can of worms and requires a whole new mindset. When preparing to go deep, consider that your little craft will be insignificant to the other boats and may, at times, disappear between swells! Tall orange, red or yellow flags including a light attached to the rear of your kayak will make you more visible and when purchasing a new kayak consider bright colors and avoid blue or green camo. Additional equipment should include an air horn, portable marine radio and a GPS type navigation system. Be vigilant of all boat traffic and be prepared to sound off or give way if they don’t see you.
Some of the unwritten rules when kayak fishing include how close to fish around other kayakers. Obviously if someone is in “your” spot you shouldn’t pull up to them and start fishing, unless of course they invite you. Most kayakers know that you can’t simply move way off, so there is a certain amount of acceptance that you’ll both be fishing the same area. When you see someone working a shoreline, avoid jumping ahead of them as you wouldn’t like the same done to you. If you come across a large flat and see a group of kayakers in a fairly spread out group, be observant as they may be working a school of tarpon or redfish, so try to avoid traveling through them. Also, never tie off to a buoy unless you want to encounter an enraged commercial fisherman!
It’s a Wild World-Get Out There!