Gear Kayaking Rafting Rivers

Is the color of your helmet important?

This is a guest post from Mark Hirst of a leading provider of rescue 3 courses. 

We were a group of kayakers ( all raft guides too ) Taking a day off and Paddling the famous Godafoss waterfall in Iceland.

For those who dont know Godafoss it is a horse shoe shaped waterfall with multiple lines. ranging from 3m to 12m in height A popular tourist destination the ultimate park & huck spot I would say.

We had been warming up on the small 3m drop when we noticed 2 kayakers  on the opposite bank lining up to run the 12m drops. We watched as the first kayaker who ran the fall pretty clean. The second kayaker ran the fall quite quickly afterwards and went deep. Counting in my head  I knew that once I had counted past 6 there was trouble. As he had failed to re surface  I felt the Adrenalin starting to kick as I took the calm down breath all in the same second
Although we were not with the other kayakers we were there only possibility of rescue for at least the next 6 hours. There are not many water rescue teams in Northern Iceland.
Both Myself & karu a Nepali Kayaker jumped into our kayaks and went to try and help. The kayaker had been missing for around 5 Minutes by the time we got to the bottom of the drop. I remember shouting  to Karu as we paddle across the pool “dont rush in lets take care of each others safety first”
We both paddled to the PLS (Point Last Seen) and saw nothing. I looked up to literally see hundreds of tourist reaching for mobile phones to make emergency calls. I tried to remember what kit he was wearing I remember seeing a black cag and a white helmet. ( Not much contrast with whitewater & Black rocks. I could not get any type of visual reference.
Eventually we heard a scream from behind the drop as he jumped out from behind the fall where he  trapped. The panicked swimmer grabbed our kayaks and we towed him to safety  (phew) I was right white helmet & Black cag.
Isere river France 2016 the white helments are had to see in this envirom
Working as a guide & safety kayaker over the years I have been involved in lots of rescues of swimmers both from rafts & kayaks. The amount of times i have said to my self I cannot see them mainly because of the color of there helmet. from my own experience I have noticed that there are a few colors that are hard to see in moving water they are.
Bosnia 2017 The Blue / Green helmet is hard to see
  • White
  • Black
  • Brown
  • Black
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Grey
My question is why are the manufacturing companies using these colors. I have found that the following colors are much easier to see and track when chasing a swimmer through big water.
Spot the swimmer IRF workshop Thailand 2017
  • Orange
  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Pink
  • Luminous green / yellow.
Much easier to see . Tara river 2017
For those that work around the emergency services we tend to know that the color of your helmet represents the level of your training.
  • White = I/C or person in charge.
  • Red = Technician level  trained.
  • Yellow = Responder level trained.
Isere river High water 2016
A really good trend I am starting to see within the commercial rafting industry are companies using   different color helmets  for customers with certain needs eg
  • Red helmets for non swimmers or nervous customers.
  • Orange helmets for customers with medical conditions

This way guides & safety kayakers are able to help the above mentioned a little quicker in a situation if needed.

Of course the color of the helmet is great during the day light but what happens if you get stuck out on the river once it becomes dark ?.

How are you going to see your friends & customers?

For a Few years now I have been providing students on my courses with branded  SOLAS (Save our Lives at seas) stickers SOLAS material is highly reflective and recognized by coast guards and marine industries all over the world. Stickers can be Purchased from to your own custom design
Morocco 2017
Morocco 2017
Next time it comes to purchasing a new helmet take a second to think about not only the design but the color too.


DBP Executive editor and Web Head Honcho! Paddling and taking photos in the UK.

4 replies on “Is the color of your helmet important?”

Red is actually one of the first colors to disappear in low light and white my personal choice is the last. Plenty of times finishing up trips in the twilight where the crew could only see the white helmet.

Mine is white as well, for the same listed reasons. Also, good guys wear the white hats, right? Everyone reading this should def check in at and follow this awesome dude. I’ll miss ya this year on the UY bud! Have fun tubing the Upper Gauley for me! ~Chicago Mike

Heads up, SOLAS is actually Safety Of Life At Sea. A large convention that dictates numerous requirements to seagoers such as comms equipment, lifeboats and lifeboat ratios, guardrails and safety equipment.
Source: Navy career

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