The Basic Swiftwater Safety Gear List

Swiftwater Safety courses are highly recommended by CKS Online and are offered throughout the year with various agencies around the country. These Swiftwater safety classes are hands on, and students spend a ton of time in the water.

Getting gear that is comfortable and warm should be your priority before attending your class. You can't learn well or give the course your full attention when you are hypothermic or frozen by the side of the river. Our swiftwater safety gear list outlines the basics of what you'll need, with some optional pieces listed at the end. 

  1. PFD (Rescue PFD preferred)
  2. Helmet
  3. Closed Toe Water Shoes
  4. Whistle
  5. Wetsuit/Dry Suit

river rescue course

During the course, you will learn the finer details of rescue gear, so you can always wait until after your course has completed to buy items like ropes and more technical gear. Alternatively, if you buy this technical gear before your course, you can use the course as a chance to learn the specific gear you own. 

1. PFD

For obvious reasons, this is first on our list. A Type V Rescue PFD, like an Astral Green Jacket or NRS Zen, is preferred.

Rescue PFD

If you own an Astral Bluejacket, Astral Layla, or Astral Ringo PFD you can easily purchase and add a rescue belt to it. 

Astral Bluejacket
Astral QR Rescue Belt
Need help finding your perfect PFD? Read our blog here >>

2. Helmet

Your helmet should be lightweight and fit you snugly. Make sure your helmet fits comfortably and drains well before attending your course.

Shred Ready Standard Fullcut Helmet
Need help finding the right protection? How to Choose Your Whitewater Helmet >> 

3. Closed Toe Water Shoes

It's important to wear a shoe that is easy to scramble around on the river bank. This is great not only for a swiftwater course, but for any rescue scenario. 

All of us at CKS are huge fans of Astral water shoes. They have a grippy, flexible sole and drain well. Astrals also work well off the river, so they're worth the investment.

Astral Water Shoes
NRS Booties

You can also bring booties, but they don't make much sense as they lack the tread and grip that soled shoes provide. Some paddlers swear by booties, but we prefer the utilitarianism of Astral shoes.

Footwater can be hard to shop for! Find which Astral Shoe is Right for Me >> 

4. Whistle

It's an inexpensive but necessary piece of gear that every paddler should have. There's really no excuse to not have one on your PFD.

Fox 40 Safety Whistle

5. Wetsuit/Dry Suit

Swiftwater Courses often happen in rivers filled with spring melt, so appropriate technical apparel for cold water is necessary.


Wetsuits can definitely get the job done, but if your goal is to be a serious boater - invest in a dry suit. Wearing a dry suit will allow you to layer up or down depending on the temperature.

Plus, if you are wanting to become a more serious boater, owning a dry suit means there's one less barrier to you saying "yes" to floats and trips and getting out there. Owning a dry suit will open up an entire new world of paddling to you and is *the* best investment you can make for extending your paddling season.

Pay at your own pace. Use Affirm at Checkout for affordable Drysuit Payments >> 

Optional: Throw Bag

Some courses provide their own throw bag, and some don't. We recommend getting your own throw bag so you can take your skills and practice at home. 

Throw Bag

Optional: Neoprene Socks

Do your feet often get cold? Bring Neoprene socks to wear under your Astral shoes. We prefer this combination for added warmth instead of wearing booties. 

Neoprene Socks

Optional: Gloves

If your hands get cold quickly while dry, you should definitely bring a pair of neoprene gloves with you to your swiftwater safety course. You will be constantly in and out of the river.

If you don't end up using them, no worries - they're small and packable enough to stay out of the way.

Neoprene Gloves

Optional: Rescue Knife

One of our most repeated sayings at CKS Online is: if you bring a rope, bring a knife. This is just basic Safety 101 on the river.  

Rescue Knife


The great thing about this basic list is that all this gear can and should be used on your next paddle. With regular maintenance, this gear will last for a few seasons at least.

Once you finish a SRT class, many paddlers buy:

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