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Red Flags To Look Out For When Renting Paddling Gear (Plus Safety Tips)

When you go paddling on vacation or are visiting a new aquatic location on a whim, then you need to find some paddling gear. Unless you bring an inflatable kayak or SUP board with you everywhere, then this means renting a paddling vessel and all the equipment that goes with it. In most parts of the world, this is a fairly simple and affordable process, but there are some potential dangers to keep in mind.

While many paddling rental businesses take amazing care of the gear and pride themselves on quality, this is not necessarily a universal standard. In fact, the more I travel the world, the moreI have found myself in situations when the gear that is handed to me is not only junky but flat-out dangerous. The good news is it is usually easy to request better and safer items, but knowing what to look out for is the key.

Some major red flags to search for when renting paddling gear include large dents, gauges, or cracks on either the paddling vessel or the paddle. Look at any ropes or bungees and check for wear and tear, especially fraying. Ensure the life jacket has all its parts, and the buckles and straps are in good shape. Check the reviews online for the company before renting, and read through the liability waiver carefully.

Renting paddling gear is something every kayak and SUP lover and novice alike will do when visiting iconic paddling destinations. Regardless of your skill level, you must keep an eye out for potential safety concerns with the rental equipment you are given. Keep reading to learn about all the major red flags to look out for when you rent paddling equipment and tips to help keep you safe when paddling with rented gear.

10 Red Flags To Watch Out For When Renting Paddling Gear

1. Frayed Ropes And Leashes

Most kayaks come equipped with a rope or line to tie you up and help you enter and exit the shore. SUP boards should come equipped with a leash. You must take a close look at these lines and leashes. Look out for damage, especially fraying or slices in the leash.

It is easy to overlook a line or a leash, but these are essential parts of the paddling vessel. Take a quick look at them. If you notice damage, request a new one.

2. Weak And Damaged Bungees

One type of equipment that is notoriously subpar (or completely absent) on paddling vessels is bungees used for storage. All storage equipment seems to be an afterthought on all but the best rental kayaks and SUP boards.

If you are going on a short afternoon paddle this shouldn’t bother you much, but if you are renting a touring board or kayak to take a full-day or multi-day journey, you need all your storage to be top-notch. Check the storage, especially bungees, and make sure they snap back and aren’t worn out and weak.

3. Cracks On The Surface Of The Vessel

One sign of poor upkeep and paddling vessel storage is the appearance of cracks. Some small cracks are bound to happen over time, but deep and large cracks can be a cause for concern, even if the cracks don’t leak. You should always give your vessel a thorough inspection.

If you notice cracks, look closer to see how deep they are. Shallow cracks are usually nothing to worry about, but large and deep cracks can be a major liability. If you notice any troubling cracks in your paddling vessel, vocalize your concern to the person renting you the gear.

4. Holes, Or Large Dents Anywhere

One major red flag is a major dent or a hole of any size. A hole is the enemy of any paddling vessel. After all, the idea is to keep water out, and a hole will have the opposite effect. If you notice a small ding here or there, that is normal. This gear is likely to take a beating from all the use it gets.

If, however, you notice a large and deep dent on your paddling vessel, look closer and point it out. For one, you don’t want to be charged for this damage. Furthermore, any large dent is going to be a vulnerable area. There might be damage, like a crack or hole, that you can’t notice right away. Make sure you point any of this out to see if it is indeed safe to use the paddling vessel in question.

5. Make Sure You Are Given A Seat

It might sound strange to make sure you check for your kayak seat, but you would be amazed at how many times a company will send you off to sea without one. Sure, some sit-on-top kayaks don’t require a seat and even some basic and universal sit-in vessels.

But if your kayak needs a seat, make sure you get one, and one that is comfortable. A junky or missing seat can turn a half-day pleasure ride into a back-breaking journey from hell. It can cause you bodily harm and also force you to shift your weight more, which makes you more likely to tip.

6. A Cracked (Or Otherwise Damaged) Paddle

The board or boat are not the only things that need an inspection. You should also pay close attention to the paddle. In fact, in my travels, it is usually the paddles and the PFDs that are in the worst condition. This is not good news, and both of these items are essential for safety.

Checking a paddle is easy, simply look up and down the shaft, and at the face of the paddle. Look for cracks and other damage. If there is a crack or missing piece on your paddle, insist on a new one.

7. A PFD With Missing Buckles Or Straps

As previously mentioned, PFDs at rental facilities can be in pretty bad shape. This is certainly not always the case, nor is it the norm. But if a company is lacking in the maintenance and upkeep department, the PFDs tend to suffer.

Always make sure your life jacket fits and can be properly secured. Make sure the buckles work and are not cracked. Keep an eye out for mold, fraying, or rips in the materials. Test out your life jacket by swimming with it, or trying to submerge it. If there is any problem with your life jacket, swap it out for a new one.

8. Broken Skeg Or Rudder

If you are renting a paddling vessel with a skeg or rudder make sure it functions properly. Make sure it turns easily and correctly. Sometimes skegs and rudders can be bent or rusted if they are poorly maintained. This can significantly reduce their effectiveness.

9. Vague Liability Waivers

Sometimes the red flags for renting paddling gear have nothing to do with the equipment, but everything to do with the fine print. Most shops are honest and reputable, but some companies go a little too far in protecting their assets.

Make sure you have a clear understanding of your liability for the equipment. If there is any charge for scratches or cosmetic damage then you must insist on a walkthrough where you can document existing damage. Regardless of the policy, it is always a good idea to take “before” photos of the paddling gear, especially if it is in less-than-perfect condition.

10. Negative Online Reviews

Lastly, one red flag when renting any item is a large number of negative online reviews. The good news is that nowadays every mom-and-pop shop and surf shack on the beach has an online presence and is on Google Maps.

Therefore, it is also pretty easy to read feedback from previous renters.

As always, take reviews with a grain of salt. If, however, you notice consistent feedback about the rental equipment being low quality or unsafe, then it might be wise to find another company - even if it costs more.



Five Important Safety Tips When Renting Equipment

1. Don’t Rush Into Things

It is very understandable that once you arrive at a paddling rental facility you just want to grab your gear and get in the water, especially if you just arrived on a paddling vacation. It’s great to get on the water early, but don’t rush things.

Take your time looking over the vessel, gear, and also the paperwork. Don’t skim the safety and liability waivers, as they might have critical information in them. If you get a bad feeling from the place or the person renting you the gear, but be afraid to walk away and head to a competitor. Trust your gut.

2. Try On PFD To Ensure It Fits Securely

Your PFD is the most crucial piece of safety gear for any paddler. Therefore you need to make sure your PFD is in great shape. Make sure it fits properly, and ensure you can convert comfortably in it.

Remember the key things to check on a PFD are the straps, buckles, and materials. Test it to make sure it floats, and give the straps and buckles a good tug to ensure they aren’t falling apart.

3. Inspect The Exterior Of The Boat And Paddle

Always inspect each piece of equipment. The paddling vessel, paddle, and PFD are the most important, but everything should be looked over. Make sure you document any cosmetic damage, but point out anything that looks questionable from a safety perspective.

Don’t be afraid to speak out about this, as the renter may have innocently overlooked a major safety concern.

4. Make Sure There Are No Holes In An Inflatable

Renting inflatable SUP boards and even kayaks continues to be a popular option, especially in hard-to-reach paddling locations. If you are paddling with an inflatable that doesn't belong to you you must blow it up and check for leaks before heading out.

The easier way to check for leaks is to get the vessel wet and look for bubbles. You want to be certain there is no leak before heading out, as a small leak can cause major safety concerns very quickly.

5. Ensure Bilge Pump, Dry Bags Work Properly

Lastly, if you are also renting common additional items like dry bags or a bilge pump, ensure they work properly before heading out. A leaking dry bag can destroy first aid equipment or navigation gear.

If you are relying on a bilge pump to keep your cockpit dry, then you need to know how it works, and how well it performs under pressure.

Summing Up The Red Flags When Renting Paddling Gear

If you love paddling, then regardless of how much equipment and how many kayaks you own, the odds are you will end up renting gear from time to time. This is especially true when you travel. Most rental facilities have great and well-maintained gear for you to borrow, but it is always important to look out for safety concerns.

Some of the top red flags to look out for when renting paddling gear are cracks, dents, or holes in the paddling vessel or paddle. You also want to inspect the quality of your PFD, leash, bungees, and any lines. Make sure you read and understand liability waivers, and it’s always a good idea to check reviews to see if there is any mention of the quality of the rental gear.

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