Even though stand up paddleboarding (SUP) is a relatively safe water sport all water sports have some inherent dangers. By practicing these paddleboard safety tips you will protect yourself and others paddling with you.
The United States Coast Guard has just a few requirements for SUP safety.
- You must have a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) on your vessel.We would go one step further and contend that having it on your vessel isn’t enough. You need to wear it for it to provide any benefit to you.
- You must have a whistle or horn on board to be able to signal other vessels.
- If you are going to be out from one hour before dusk to one hour past dawn, you must have a white light on your vessel. A light is also required if visibility is compromised because of fog or other inclement weather.
The rest are not legal requirements but are important for your paddleboard safety.
- Wear a leash! This could be the single most practical piece of safety equipment available to you. Your board is a floatation device, but if you get separated from your board, you are in trouble. That is also why we encourage you to wear your PFD rather than just keeping it on board. Should you get separated from your board, you will be amazed at how quickly it can get away from you. Don’t let that happen. You will tire quickly swimming to try to catch it, and it will move faster than you will. Click here for more information on what type of SUP leash you need
- Take a class (or a few). The type of instruction you will need will depend on your paddling goals. Make sure that you at least learn the basics. Proper paddling technique is important for efficiency and injury prevention. Knowing how to take care of the equipment, safe launching, and self-rescue are just the minimums. If your paddling goals include paddling in open water, surfing, race, etc. then you should get more advanced instruction that addresses your particular area of interest.
- Paddle with a friend. It is definitely safer than paddling alone.
- File a float plan. Make sure someone on land knows your plan including who you are with, where you are launching, your intended route, and your estimated time on the water. Check in with that person when you are safely off of the water or if you run into delays, if possible. They should report your information to the authorities if you fail to check-in.
- Know where you are paddling. What potential obstacles are there? What is the water like, rough, calm, tidal, etc? Are there marinas or boating channels that you need to be aware of? How exposed to the elements will you be? Is the area protected or will you be getting full on wind?
- Dress for the water temps. Make sure that you dress appropriately should you end up going for a swim. We don’t plan to end up in cold water, but it can happen. On SUPs you are usually only in the water for a second, but if something prevents you from getting right back on your board you should be prepared to spend some time in the water. The first few minutes of immersion in cold water are actually the most dangerous, so plan accordingly. If the water is cold, wear a wetsuit or a dry suit. And always wear wicking fabrics, no cotton. Warm air temps do not mean that the water is warm, so be particularly careful in the spring when the air is balmy and the water is still in the 40s and 50s. You can learn more about drysuits and paddleboard safety here.
- Bring a phone or VHF radio. Store it in a dry bag if it is not waterproof itself. And secure it to yourself so that you can access it quickly if you should get separated from your board. Note that most phones and radios do not float, so keep that in mind when you decide where and how to store yours.
- Be realistic about your paddling ability. If you paddle in lakes all of the time, then a 10-mile paddle in open water isn’t your best next step. Pushing beyond your comfort zone is great, but getting in over your head is dangerous.
- If you are going to be out for a while and away from shore, bring water and snacks if appropriate. If you don’t have tie downs on your board, you may want to think about a hydration pack. It’s easy to dehydrate on the water fully exposed to the sun, so plan ahead.
- Remember to use sunscreen and wear a hat. The sun is extra strong bouncing off of the water’s surface, so protect yourself.
Following these paddleboard safety tips is just the beginning of having many fun, safe outings on your SUP. Never be afraid to get more instruction or join paddling groups to learn more about where you’re paddling and how to stay safe out there.