SUP Safety (2020)
Does a stand up paddle board look like a vessel to you? Well, in some countries it might be classified as one, so adhere to the water-road rules in your respective area.
In the absence or lack of such layed out rules, embark on a SUP journey safely with the following suggestions as a reminder or an added bonus to your own common sense and due diligence (this here is just some tips to keep in mind and not a full fledged guide to SUP safety).
SUP Safety Gear
Using all of the following gear for all occasions might clearly be an overkill. Simply apply some common sense after having read through it and you should be good to go. It’s not just your own safety at stake in some cases.
A leash is a must-have almost everywhere you paddle for SUP safety. You might not think much of having a leash, but that just means you haven’t experienced the unexpected yet.
It’s also important to note what type of leash to use. Coiled leash for calm flat waters like lakes, ponds or open ocean will do just fine. Straight leash is good for surfing as it doesn’t make the board spring back to you like coiled leash would and potentially hurt you in the process. An upper body mounted quick release leash or none at all is recommended for moving waters, such as whitewater rivers or streams where there is potential for the leash to get stuck behind something and force you under water till the obvious happens, unless you release the leash in time, hence the quick release leash or none at all.
- Coiled leash – calm waters, some ocean
- Straight leash – surfing
- Upper body mounted quick release leash (coiled) – moving waters with entanglement risk
2) PFD (personal flotation device)
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to PFD (personal flotation device) as well, yet another SUP safety measure. For starters: when to NOT use a PFD? I’ve read a lot about this and the recurring advice is to not use it when surfing as you need to duck the waves from time to time. Doing that with a PFD might cause you a lot of trouble for many reasons, to put it lightly. But when to use a PFD then? Basically all the time, even if it’s for the sake of getting used to it. It’ll show an example to kids and beginners alike. Mandatory when paddleboarding on moving waters, for your own sake.
Equip kids with one for sure – they are more likely to panic compared to adults.
- Inherently buoyant lifejacket – moving waters
- Inherently buoyant, inflatable, belt pack, etc lifejacket – touring, etc
For protection against lower temperature water causing hypothermia or/and the effects of sun to your skin while paddleboarding, this SUP safety measure, a wetsuit, can be worn (or simply apply some sunscreen in case of aformentioned second scenario). There are wetsuits with different quality and thickness, so choose one according to your needs and circumstances or consult an expert if unsure.
4) Protective Gear
Mainly for moving water (river, stream, etc) SUP boarding, this SUP safety measure can protect you or/and make you feel more confident.
- Shin guard
- Knee pads
Doesn’t hurt to have a whistle with you as a SUP safety measure, preferably one that works even if it gets wet, for signaling for help in case you find yourself in trouble, or to make yourself feel a tad bit more confident.
For when you end up admiring the sunset for too long and become pretty much invisible to other vessels around you in the dark, a flashlight can be used for signaling them for various reasons, but also for yourself to see better in the dark.
7) GPS Locator Beacon Or A Phone
SUPs are great for they can carry stuff other than just you, such as a drybag with a GPS locator or phone inside with all the emergency numbers saved on it. Things can come up that are out of your control while out paddle boarding and it’s those times you’ll be glad you thought a few steps ahead when it comes to SUP safety.
8) Waterproof, Scratch Proof & Fade Proof ID Sticker
Yes, this is very much part of SUP safety gear! When somebody finds a lonely SUP board drifting about, chances are they will feel more obliged to report it to the authorities thanks to the identifiable information on it, who then can either contact the owner and return the lost board or launch a search and rescue operation when the owner’s whereabouts are unknown.
Now imagine if there was no identifiable information on the board… Anyone can claim it as their own when they find it adrift unless you get lucky and a decent human being or authorities find it first. Say then, instead, a thief finds it who now has to choose whether to give away a valuable item for the sake of somebody they don’t want to know nor care about or walk away with it richer. It of course depends on the culture or area whether people are prone to steal or help rather.
9) Sharkstopper Device
Don’t take this for granted, I simply googled in case there was something like that and this showed up. According to descriptions and showcases, if not faked, such a device is attached to your ankle and by emitting a certain noise (ahem… killer whale “noises” most probably) has the potential to scare away sharks. Don’t take my word on it, it’s more like a “fun something” addition to this list.
Know Your Limits
Be honest with yourself when it comes to SUP safety. Know your board – what it’s meant for and how well you are able to handle it in relation to its usage(s).
There have been cases where the surfer had overstimated their capabilities and ended up behind the waves unable to return to the shore. Cases of all sorts with both sad and happy endings.
Know The Water
“I drink water for breakfast, so don’t come to tell me how tough water is!”
On a more serious note… You’re ridiculously outnumbered!
Try not to panic… you’re smarter than water – and that’s what puts you on top.
Naturally for SUP safety, approaching this with common sense, one ought to check what the river is like and what lives in it before going in. In my country, the scariest beast in the water might be a semi-poisonous little land snake crossing the river for some odd reason one can just kick away if it came to something surreal like that, but looking at nature documentaries, I’d be terrified to put even just my toe in the river in some parts of the world. But it’s not just the living things to be wary of, the current itself can play crazy tricks, fall flat on rocky bottom from high up for example, or it might be the termperature that gets you.
- So check the conditions first, plan things through.
- Let somebody know or paddle with a partner.
- Use quick release leash, inherently buoyant lifejacket, wetsuit and protective gear (helmet, shin and knee pads).
When it comes to SUP safety on a lake or flat waters alike, checking up on the conditions is, again, a no-brainer. Touring can be dangerous too, weather can change things quickly. Depending on the plans, one ought to prepare accordingly, but generally a leash and a flotation device will do the trick.
- Check the conditions, be wary of swimmers and other boats too.
- Let somebody know or paddle with a partner.
- Use a coil leash, flotation device and other safety gear if need be.
The SUP safety procedure here is not much different from other surfaces you decide to paddle on. Study the weather that affects how the water behaves, learn about the water you surf in, be respectful towards others and know your limits. Hold on to your paddle.
- Check the conditions beforehand, be wary of others.
- Let somebody know.
- Use straight leash, preferably no flotation device apart from your board and the floating paddle.
TIP for the experienced: R.I.P, no, rip current, a surfer’s express lane.
Know The Weather
When paddle boarding, we are at the mercy of nature. Having understood the water, next we ought to make sense of the weather conditions.
Study the weather each time before going on the water.
SUP boards are highly susceptible to wind which can take you off shore faster than you can paddle. For this reason, were you to fall and you didn’t have a leash or it snapped, forget the paddle if the board can be retrieved – the paddle is less susceptible to wind and this you can paddle to using hands while lying on the board.
Take A Lesson
I’ve read everything I could find over the internet on this topic, gathered and presented them here in a short summary. Because of that, depending on the type of SUP you’re into, taking a course on these topics to further understand them doesn’t sound like a bad idea.
What this piece of information doesn’t provide is the experience nor enough of examples to truly give you, the reader, an understanding of the importance of SUP safety.
Whereever you go paddling, prepare accordingly.
If All Else Fails
As dark as it sounds, hopefully it will never come to this: take out the bottle with the letter to loved ones inside and set it afloat. When you ignore safety measures, that might be all you can do at some point…
(links open in a new tab)
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