As with most activities, photography from a kayak can be made easier, safer, and more enjoyable if certain accessories are added beyond the required minimum. Largely, what you will add will depend on your personal style of photography, the equipment you plan on carrying on board, water and weather conditions, and the size of your watercraft. Photography specific accessories will be addressed in a future article, please stay tuned!
Kayak Accessories – One of the first items you will certainly want to purchase if you are kayaking by yourself is some type of compact dolly with wheels to place under one end that will allow you to roll your kayak down to the water. This one item makes life so much easier, as well as helping prevent back injuries by having to muscle to boat to and from the water. Several styles are available, and most will come with some type of strap system to secure the kayak to the dolly and prevent the wheels from becoming misaligned during transport to/from the water.
Personal Accessories – Personal items that you may bring along will vary from outing to outing dependent on location, time of year, weather, and how long you may be out. I have found it best for any activity I do, to make a permanent checklist I can refer to so I do not forget anything. Some items that you may bring include a hat with a brim, sunglasses, sunscreen, layers of clothing for warmth (no cotton!), energy bars and an appropriate amount of food, extra water (Nalgene containers work great for kayaking!), and very important… headlamp for those early morning or late evening outings.
I wanted to add a special comment regarding footwear. Again, I am mostly kayaking on calmer waters, so what I use for my purpose may not work for other applications. Often times plain old hiking shoes are perfectly adequate to kayak in. When kayaking around lakes, marshes, and boggy areas, you often times find yourself standing in relatively deep mud or water trying to launch your kayak. For this reason, I take along a set of lightweight hip-waders so I have no worries about getting wet at least up to the top of my leg. There is no need to spend a lot of money on these, as you are only in them for a very short time. Do not get neoprene or rubber waders, shoot for light-weight nylon that drys quickly and stows into a very small package.
Safety Accessories – When you are kayaking solo or even with someone, it is important to be prepared for unplanned events such as capsize (we definitely DO NOT want this to happen as photographers!), injury, being stranded, or getting yourself lost. The number one safety consideration when on the water is to be wearing a Coast Guard Approved PFD (Personal Flotation Device – aka “Life Jacket”). There are many locations I kayak in where the water may only be five feet deep, but I always where my life jacket. Many different scenarios (none of which I have the space expand here) have played out where someone has drowned in very shallow water at the expense of not wearing a PFD. I picked up two camouflaged PFDs (to be a little less conspicuous/intrusive to wildlife than a bright orange one) from Amazon.com which have a front pocket to store items small items, pretty handy. As well, and equally important is to attach an emergency whistle to your PFD. One that does not have any moving parts inside it is preferable. Carrying a small first aid kit is a very good idea, and one you will certainly use on occasion. I place mine in my accessory dry-bag so it is always there. If you are venturing into a location you are not familiar with, carrying a map of the area along with a GPS device is smart thinking. I use my GPS all the time when out on the water. I can mark favorite locations, access points, and worse case scenario I can mark a way-point if I ever drop something expensive overboard. I can honestly say, having a GPS has allowed me on a couple of occasions to find an entry point when it was getting dark with ease. Something I have also implemented (taken from my bushwhacking adventures) is tying a piece of fluorescent surveyors tape to a tree or snag near the entry point; you would be surprised how difficult it is to find your entry point at some locations where everything looks the same from out on the water.
Keeping Things Organized – When out on the water with limited space to work in and a considerable amount of equipment, it can easily become difficult to access what you need in a safe and timely manner. I carry two large dry bags manufactured by Cabelas. They measure approximately 17″ x 1 7″ x 28″ and are around 25 liter bags, about 1000 cu. inches in capacity. My Kinesis long lens bag for my 500mm lens and body slides right into the bag perfectly. So I use one bag for the big camera, and the other same sized bag for extra clothing, another camera, first aid kit, lunch etc… To further organize smaller items, you can use nylon stuff sacks as used by backpackers and hikers, and place them into the large dry bag. This makes retrieving similar items more efficient and slightly easier.
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