Paddle Safety Tips Refresher

Paddle Safety Tips Refresher

Just in the last week, local news reports have included stories about fatal accidents involving paddle boarders. On a small lake in Indiana, a man fell off his board, starting having trouble and disappeared under the water.  Search and Rescue crews found his body after the fact.  His PFD was found on the board.  In Northern California, a woman paddling on a cold, swift river drowned because her PFD came off during rescue and her leash was entangled in a submerged tree.

Our sport carries with it some inherent dangers, and accidents can and do happen to even the most experienced, careful and cautious.  That said, it’s summer and with more and more people trying SUP, a gentle, friendly reminder on how to keep things as safe as possible is warranted.


  • Wear a PFD and the right kind of leash.  If you rent and these two items are not supplied as part of your rental, insist on it.
  • Know your limits. It’s good to challenge ourselves but we need to also be realistic about conditions, skill levels and comfort, even when we are out of our comfort zone.
  • Respect the water.

More on leashes and safety

Know What Gear to Use When

  • Use a coiled leash on slow moving flatwater, or when doing non-surf related ocean paddling.  Here’s a great video on the subject.
  • Use a straight leash when surfing.  Coiled leashes in the surf zone can cause the board to spring back into you causing injury.
  • Use a quick release leash NOT attached to your leg when paddling in fast moving rivers, rivers where debris is an issue or whitewater scenarios.
  • Wear a full, jacket style PFD in whitewater conditions or in cold water, but not in the surf zone, where it can keep you from diving under breakers.
  • Wear a helmet and other protective gear in whitewater conditions
  • Wear appropriate exposure gear in cold water.

Know How to Use the Gear

  • Practice inflating and donning your waistbelt cO2 cartridge style PFD, if you use one.  It’s only a couple of bucks to replace that cartridge. Make sure it inflates and doesn’t leak.
  • Know how to properly fit your full sized PDF.  Make sure those straps are TIGHT TIGHT TIGHT.  They  can and do loosen up when they get wet.  Start buckling the straps from the bottom, then go up.  Make sure it’s tight enough on you that you can’t pull the straps up to your chin or beyond- hold your arms up and have someone try to pull the straps up off your shoulders to check.  If it’s too loose, you could slip out of it, especially in a rescue scenario.  U.S. Coast Guard brochure on fitting PFDs is a good reference.  REI has a good break down on sizing and fitting.

Check your Gear Before you Go

  • Check leashes, velcro cuffs, leash strings and quick release mechanisms to make sure there are no weak points created by wear and tear, and that everything is in good working order.
  • Make sure the cO2 cartridge in your waist belt PDF is installed and armed.
  • Check your board straps for signs of wear and tear.

Carry Some Extra Safety Gear

  • Always have your phone with you, in  a dry bag or case
  • Consider a Personal Locator Beacon, especially if you paddle alone or in the ocean or remote areas
  • Consider carrying a Marine Band Radio for ocean paddling
  • Carry zip ties, patch tape and a small first aid kit.
  • Wear bright clothing: yellows, oranges, reds and DayGl0w colors are the best.
  • Use orange tape on your paddle and maybe even your board or boat if it’s a dark color so it can be easily seen.

If You Go Solo (and even if you don’t)

  • Carry your phone!
  • Always let someone know where you are paddling and when you expect to be back
  • File a Float Plan for day/multiple day trips
  • Consider using an app to help notify your In Case of Emergency Contacts
  • Use a Personal Locator Beacon
  • Label your gear

Get Educated

  • Consider taking a SUP rescue class to learn how to help both yourself and others
  • Consider a Wilderness First Aid and CPR class
  • Consider a SUP instructor training course, just to keep your skills honed
  • Learn and practice rescues

Almost all of these common sense tips are applicable even if you paddle surfski, outrigger, and even prone.


Read more on safety

ACA Paddle Safety Tips


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