Everyone who tries Standup Paddleboarding needs to assume they will fall in. Everyone falls. It’s what makes it fun, and also what can make it dangerous.
For those in cold water, who go out in choppy and windy conditions, and for those who aren’t strong swimmers, falling in can be deadly. Most of the deaths in the past 5 years have occurred because people have been separated from their boards and were not wearing PFDs.
While leashes aren’t the law, they are the accepted safety standard for those who are experienced paddleboarders. The law also allows you to put your pfd on your board, which does nothing to keep you safe.
Paddlers should follow the law so they don’t get a ticket, but they should wear an appropriate leash and a flotation device if they don’t want to drown. Some guidelines I use are:
- Wear an appropriate leash (ankle, calf, coil, quick release) at all times based on where you are paddling (ocean, surf, river, lake, whitewater)
- Wear appropriate apparel for the water and air temperature.
- If it’s too cold to swim, you need neoprene or some type of insulating apparel like a wetsuit or a dry suit
- And wear a pfd. They have unobtrusive waist PFDs that inflate with a CO2 cartridge in case of an emergency
- For those who are not experienced swimmers, wear a traditional life jacket/vest PFD. All kids under 12 should wear a vest PFD and not a waist PFD. Also, the waist PFDs need to be worn in the front, not as a fanny pack in the back
- Get a lesson
- Respect the water, Respect nature
- Check the weather forecast
- Be prepared
- Watch safety videos from the American Canoe and Kayak Association (ACA). Here is a whole category of how to SUP videos we’ve posted on the Mullet
- Learn how to fall off, get back onto your board, and then practice falling off and getting back on in shallow water or near friends
- Use the buddy system and don’t paddle alone
- Let someone know where you’re going, your planned route, estimated start and finish time
- Bring a phone in a dry bag or some type of waterproof global communicator like those made by Garmin or Spot Tracker.
- Bring more water than you need
- Wear sunscreen
- Watch for swimmers
- Pick up litter if you see it
- Don’t litter, leave the water better than you found it
- Don’t wear headphones so you can hear boats, nature, or perhaps someone yelling for help
- Respect your abilities and don’t go out in conditions you aren’t prepared to handle
- Take a paddle clinic and learn as much as you can
- Introduce new paddlers to the sport on stable boards in safe conditions. Make their first experience successful and safe
- Don’t play chicken with boats. They have the right of way in most instances.
- Be respectful to the Coast Guard, Wildlife Officers or Marine patrols. They are out there to keep us safe
- Stay safe and have fun
This is such a fun sport and unfortunately, the laws established by the Coast Guard were created before anyone knew how it would grow and evolve. They had no idea how to classify the SUP boards at the time or what uniquely-SUP problems would arise. They did the best they could with the information they had.
Lake Tahoe in particular, has had far too many SUP-related tragedies for paddlers to rely on a PFD attached to their board. Articles like this on Safety in Lake Tahoe are a great start, but would be much better for the audience if they interviewed certified SUP Instructors at length to help educate potential paddleboarders.
Just because someone rents SUPs, doesn’t mean they are certified instructors. Ask about their certifications and if they don’t tell you to wear a leash, ask them why not. And ask how they work. Practice pulling the velcro release.
The good news is the Stand Up Paddle Industry Association (SUPIA) is developing new guidelines and working with the ACA and the US Coast Guard to help reduce SUP-related injuries and fatalities. It most likely will be something like, wear an appropriate leash at all times and use some type of flotation aid such as a Coast Guard Approved PFD or one of several new inflatable safety technologies.