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Personal flotation devices, kayaking helmets, and kayak paddles are essential pieces of kayak gear. In addition, kayak sails are an optional piece of equipment that help move the kayak. Personal flotation devices and helmets can save a person’s life should he or she fall from the kayak and are mandatory at most commercial kayaking parks. Paddles and sails are used to move and steer the kayak, but the latter are not widely used by professional kayakers.
One piece of kayak gear that it is never advisable for a kayaker to go without is a personal flotation device. The purpose of a personal flotation device, also known as a life jacket, is to help keep a person stay afloat if he or she is dislodged from a kayak. A personal flotation device is often designed with a collar on the back so it can pop up and keep a person’s head out of the water and from bending backward. Nylon and foam are usually the integral materials in the design when this type of buoyant vest is produced for kayaking.
Another integral type of kayak gear is a kayaking helmet, which protects the kayaker’s head from both minor and potentially fatal injuries. A kayaking helmet is typically made up of three main components: a hard outer shell, a material designed to absorb shock, and straps and fittings that hold it all in place. It is generally considered important that kayaking helmets fit securely, because accidents in watersports can be rough and cause the helmet to shift out of place and become largely ineffective.
Paddles can come in either single of double bladed form, but most are double bladed. Kayakers spend most of their energy manipulating the paddle, so some people consider it the single-most important piece of kayak gear available. It is also one of the hardest pieces of kayak gear to learn how to use. A heavier paddle, which is relatively expensive, results in wasted energy, but lighter paddles made out of materials like fiberglass are coveted by many kayakers.
Kayak sails are typically small and circular and are often attached in front of the kayaker. These sails do not usually produce enough energy to power a kayak primarily, but they can be used as an aid to paddling. While the possible steering mechanisms vary, a steering line is usually used so that the sail can be manipulated while paddling.