Kayaks are a popular watercraft for recreation, but they can also be used for water safety. However, there is some debate about whether kayaks are the best tool for this purpose.

Pros of Using Kayaks for Water Safety

Easy to learn to use: Kayaks are relatively easy to learn to use, even for people with limited paddling experience. This makes them a good option for water safety teams that may have a mix of experienced and inexperienced members.
Stable: Kayaks are relatively stable and positioned high above the water, which gives lifeguards a good view of the swimmers.


Cons of Using Kayaks for Water Safety

Ineffective for rescuing unconscious swimmers: There is no easy way to rescue an unconscious swimmer in a kayak. This is because the kayak is not stable enough to support the weight of an unconscious person, and it is difficult to maneuver a kayak while carrying an unconscious person.

Not ideal for multiple rescues: Kayaks can only rescue one person at a time. This means that if there are multiple swimmers in need of rescue, a kayaker may not be able to reach them all in a timely manner.

Can be dangerous to swimmers: Kayaks are large and bulky, which can make them difficult to control in close quarters, particularly in surf conditions. This can increase the risk of a kayak bumping into swimmers and causing injury.


Rescue Boards for Water Safety

Rescue boards are a better option for water safety than kayaks. Rescue boards are specifically designed for water safety and offer several advantages over kayaks.

Effective for rescuing unconscious swimmers: Rescue boards are stable enough to support the weight of an unconscious person, and they are easy to maneuver while carrying an unconscious person.
Ideal for multiple rescues: Rescue boards can be used to rescue multiple swimmers at a time, making them a more efficient option for water safety teams.
Safe for swimmers: Rescue boards are smaller and more maneuverable than kayaks, reducing the likelihood of bumping into swimmers and causing injury.


The Limitations of Kayaks for Unconscious Swimmer Rescue

Lifeguards who provide water safety at events must be prepared for all potential scenarios, including the most serious one: an unconscious or immersed swimmer. A swift and immediate response is essential in this situation, as the swimmer may require further medical treatment or rescue breaths.

There are several limitations to using kayaks for rescuing unconscious swimmers. The most common method, known as the “scoop rescue,” involves using the unconscious swimmer’s own kayak to transport them to shore. However, this method is not possible if the swimmer does not have their own kayak. Additionally, even if the swimmer does have their own kayak, it can be difficult and time-consuming to maneuver a kayak while carrying an unconscious person. The “Scoop” method is demonstrated excellently by Sea Kayaking Cornwall here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kq5xgJDtEVM

Another limitation of using kayaks for unconscious swimmer rescue is that they are not stable enough to support the weight of an unconscious person. This can make it difficult to keep the swimmer afloat and prevent them from drowning.

In the event of an unconscious swimmer, the only option left for a lifeguard on a kayak is to maintain the swimmer’s airway out of the water and hope that assistance arrives soon. This is not an ideal situation, as cardiac arrest and other medical conditions can be very time-sensitive.


The Benefits of Rescue Boards

Rescue boards are a critical piece of equipment for lifeguards and other water safety professionals. They are used to rescue conscious and unconscious swimmers, and they can also be used to transport injured or ill swimmers to shore.

Rescue boards are typically made of a durable material that is resistant to punctures and tears. They are also designed to be stable, even when carrying a heavy load. This makes them ideal for transporting unconscious swimmers, who may be unable to help themselves.

Rescue Boards don’t get water inside like kayaks, commonly referred to as “kayak flooding” or “kayak swamping.” This occurs when water enters the kayak’s cockpit or hull, typically due to waves, spray, or capsizing.

The method for getting an unconscious swimmer onto a rescue board is relatively simple. First, the lifeguard turns the board upside-down and supports the swimmer’s head out of the water. The lifeguard then checks for breathing and gives rescue breaths if necessary. Once the swimmer is breathing, the lifeguard moves the swimmer’s arms across the upside-down board. The lifeguard then flips the board over so that the swimmer is now lying on the board. The lifeguard then gets on the back of the board and paddles to shore. This method is demonstrated in the below video by Waveny SLSC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5B1SEEU91k

Rescue boards are a valuable tool for water safety professionals. They are easy to use, even in difficult conditions, and they can help to save lives.


Here are some additional benefits of using rescue boards:

They are more stable than kayaks, making them safer for transporting unconscious swimmers.
They are easier to maneuver than kayaks, making them more efficient for transporting swimmers to shore.
They are less likely to bump into swimmers, reducing the risk of injury.
They are more “swimmer-friendly” as they can get closer to them without feeling intimidated by the craft or paddles.
They don’t require a paddle, leaving both hands free for radio communications or helping swimmers.



Based on extensive experience and research worldwide, it is evident that while kayaks can serve a purpose in water safety, they have significant limitations when it comes to rescuing unconscious swimmers. The challenges of maneuvering a kayak while carrying an unconscious person and the instability of kayaks to support their weight make them less than ideal for such critical scenarios.

In contrast, rescue boards have proven to be a superior option for water safety professionals. These specially designed boards offer stability, ease of maneuverability, and the capability to rescue multiple swimmers simultaneously. They provide a safer and more efficient means of transporting unconscious individuals to shore, reducing the risk of drowning and enabling timely medical interventions.

Furthermore, rescue boards have demonstrated their effectiveness in various water rescue operations globally. Lifeguard organizations and water safety teams worldwide rely on rescue boards as an essential tool due to their durability, maneuverability, and ability to keep swimmers safe without causing harm.

Based on these findings, it is strongly recommended that water safety teams prioritize the use of rescue boards over kayaks. By investing in rescue board equipment, teams can enhance their response capabilities, improve overall rescue outcomes, and ultimately save more lives in aquatic environments.


Based on these findings, it is strongly recommended that water safety teams prioritize the use of rescue boards over kayaks. By investing in rescue board equipment, teams can enhance their response capabilities, improve overall rescue outcomes, and ultimately save more lives in aquatic environments.

The rescue boards offered by Machine Surf Craft have been meticulously developed by highly experienced RNLI Beach Lifeguards, who possess extensive expertise gained through teaching numerous SLSGB Surf Lifeguard courses on an international scale. These boards are purpose-built to excel in water safety scenarios and are constructed to endure the demanding requirements of everyday use.


Authored by Pablo Sisca and Phil Needham, the individuals behind this publication possess an impressive array of qualifications and extensive experience, including:

RNLI Senior Lifeguard
SLSGB Surf Lifeguard Trainer/Assessor
SLSGB Surf Lifeguard Instructor IRB (Inshore Rescue Boat)
Instructor RWC (Rescue Water Craft) Helm & Crew
City Of Stirling West Australia Beach Lifeguard
Surf Life Saving Victoria Australia Beach Lifeguard
Great Britain Board Race Champion
Several National and International titles at High-Performance Level as coaches and competitors.

Their diverse expertise and accomplishments reflect their deep involvement and understanding of water safety and rescue operations, further enhancing the credibility and reliability of the information presented in this publication.