Sea kayakers will choose what to wear depending on weather conditions. There’s often a balance to be struck between dressing to be comfortable paddling and dressing for immersion in case things go wrong.
Sea kayakers will typically wear:
A buoyancy aid. It’s useful to have one with pockets.
Helmet - if paddling near rocks on in the surf. Given that opportunities for rockhopping and the need to land through surf can’t always be anticipated, many sea kayakers choose to always carry a helmet in or on their boat.
Decent footwear, suitable for scrambling over rocks with heavy boats. Most of us use neoprene boots (as for many items of kit, Lomo is excellent and good value).
Shell layer - a wind and waterproof outer layer. Either separate cagoule (cag) for the upper body and trousers, or an one-piece suit. Choice depends on weather, as there’s a compromise to be struck here between waterproofing and venting. In cold conditions, or if expecting to get wet, a drysuit is the best choice. However, most of the time, I’ll prefer to wear dry trousers with a separate cag. Sea cags sometimes (but not always) have latex wrist seals, but often don’t have seals at the neck. If it’s really hot, shorts can be the best option - but I’d always carry something warmer in the boat. For those starting out, waterproof walking trousers are a good choice to keep wind off legs. A club cag, or even a light walker’s waterproof can be used on the top half. Clearly, those won’t keep you dry if you swim, but carrying spare clothes can mitigate the risk somewhat.
Warm layers - underneath the shell layer, kayakers wear layers to keep warm. It’s important that these layers work when wet, so close fitting clothing is better, and cotton should be avoided. A range of thin layers gives more options than one thick layer.
Spare clothing - always take some spare clothes in the boat in case of an unexpected swim. Clearly, you’ll want to carry more clothing if you’ve begun the day dressing light because it’s warm. Bear in mind the worst case scenario of ending up wet and cold on a beach you didn’t expect to get stranded on.
Hat - warm hats are great for flexibly regulating temperature. Neoprene hats can work well too.
Gloves - some people dislike paddling in gloves, whilst others seem to prefer it. Various options are available from full neoprene gloves to palm-less gloves and ‘pogies’ that fit over the paddle shaft.
Towline - everyone in the group should have a towline and know how to use it.
Knife - always have a knife on hand in case you need to cut an entangled towline. Also useful for cheese at lunchtime.
Whistle - for attracting attention
Sun hat, sunglasses, sunscreen - because we do sometimes get nice weather!