SUP Safety Tips to Keep You From Harm on the Water

SUPping is way too much fun to have it ruined by a preventative accident!

To maximize your enjoyment while SUPping, get up to date on what you need to do to keep yourself, your family and buddies, and other swimmers safe under your watch.

Here, we’ve got you covered on almost every possible safety factor you need to know before your digits go anywhere near the blue!

Keeping Safe While Paddle Boarding

Be a Humble SUPper!

If it’s your first time out on the water, know your limits. You always want to play it safe by testing your SUP out on a calm stretch of water. In addition to knowing your abilities, know your board. You don’t want to tempt Mother Nature in forcing you to be humble on an entry level SUP – you could be in for a wild and wet toss into the deep briny!

With every trip to the lake, ocean, or the river, you can build your skills and eventually be able to race, tour, and SUP marathon! There’s nothing more professional than a proud SUPper who knows what it means to be humble.

A man paddling on a lake wearing warm protective clothing.

Practice SUP Etiquette

If you’re surfing and you want to be a pro – be humble. This means, watching out for other swimmers, paddlers, and surfers on the waves and down shore. It also means if someone’s jumping the gun for a wave when it’s technically your turn, just give it to them.

Waves are endless and there’s plenty more for you to catch. On this note, don’t hover over other riders’ waves. It’s annoying and distracting. Go back to the basics of when you were taught how to use a knife and fork at meal times and how to say please and thank you.

Practicing SUP etiquette on the water will earn you a SUPer reputation as a pro every time you hit the blue!

Safety Gear

Leash

It doesn’t matter what kind of water terrain you’re on, always leash your board to yourself. Your paddle board is your personal flotation device (PFD)! Never forget that! With just one fall into the blue, your board can be carried away from you in seconds, and not only will your life depend on it, others may too.

Ensure you purchase a leash that’s suitable for your primary water terrain. For the ocean, you’ll want a straight leash to prevent drag and tangles. For the river goer, you’ll want a quick release or breakaway leash that connects like a belt at the waist. You’ll need it to free yourself from your board if you’ve hit turbulent water that gets you tangled and dragged into underwater obstacles.

For the lake paddler, you’ll want a coiled leash that stays above the SUP and won’t slow you down.

Protective Gear

Depending on water conditions, you’ll want to protect your body from possible threats such as hypothermia and injury-caused falls onto rocks and debris. Tides and currents can quickly turn on you and if you haven’t prepared well enough, you mightn’t be back to shore when you planned.

A quality wet-suit can protect your core temperature, and helmets, shin, and knee pads can protect the noggin and limbs in shallow river beds.

SUP PFD

This suggestion is actually not a suggestion at all, it’s required by law. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) mandates that you have a PFD, class I, II, III, or V, with you anytime you take your SUP outside of “the narrow limits of a swimming, surfing, or bathing area”.

SUPs are considered “vessels” and therefore their use is regulated under the USCG jurisdiction. Paddlers 13 and older don’t have to wear a PFD, though it must be on board. Paddlers 12 and under must wear the PFD at all times.

young girl sitting on the beach with stand up paddle boards

Monitor Your Water Terrain

The ever-changing forces of nature can turn the tables to a life or death situation in an instant. Being aware of the weather requires a skill that all SUPpers must acquire!

Wind

Why is wind important? High wind speeds can create choppy waters that can affect your balance, energy, and ability to stay afloat while paddling. If you SUP against the wind heading out, it will be easier to get back to shore. SUPping against the wind to get back to shore can quickly tire you out, especially if you plan on heading out quite a ways.

You should always check the wind speed before heading out to paddle. A general measure of thumb is if the wind is under 10 knots, all skill levels are good to go a-paddling! If it’s traveling faster than 10 knots, it’s best to save it for another day. To check what the wind speed is in your area right now, here’s a handy link!

Ocean Swells

The bigger the swell, the rougher the wave, and the better the SUPping is, right? Right and wrong! Larger swells can create tough conditions that requires you to exert more physical energy than you might have, let alone the tremendous force of water pressure pushing you under water.

However, if you’re a humble SUPper and you respect Nature and her forces, you’ll consider your energy levels and SUPping routes before you head out, or call it quits if the swells are more than what you’re accustomed to.

Stand up paddle surfer

Tides

When paddling with the tides you can tread miles before you even know it. Getting back to shore is another story. Always plan your routes and paddling in the ocean around the tides.

Plan for Your Water Terrain

Surf

The “impact zone” is that dangerous line-up for a swell on the beach that every surfer is dying to catch. It’s highly likely that you could end up in a possible collision putting yourself and other beach-goers at risk. Always practice SUP etiquette when surfing.

River

White water SUPping is dangerous, but it’s definitely an adrenaline rush when you do it right. The terrain is erratic, unpredictable, and can be shallow to deep within yards. Underwater obstacles like branches, trees, and rocks can pose serious threats to your life. Always wear a PFD belt with a quick release or breakaway system to free yourself in case of emergencies.

Touring/Exploring

Always know your abilities and skill levels. Going on a marathon as a first-timer can be very dangerous. Plan out your route, ensure they’re safe areas to paddle, and always take your PFD with you. Also, let others know an approximate time and place of when you plan on returning.

Man carrying SUP board to lake.

Final Tips for SUPping Safely

  • The USCG requires that you take a flashlight or other lighting device with you if you plan on SUPping after dark to warn other vessels. Not only is that mandated, it’s a smart idea!
  • The USCG also mandates that you take a whistle with you to warn other boaters.
  • Take a partner! The buddy system is used for everything from using a school or public restroom to hikes in the woods and even for SUPping. Be smart and don’t go alone.
  • Sunscreen! You can get sunburned even on cloudy days. Prevent skin damage from deeply penetrating and harmful UV rays by wearing a hat, sunglasses, rash guards, and sunscreen on exposed skin. You have little to no protection from solar glare without any shade available. Sunscreen is your next best bet!
  • Dehydration can occur and quickly and without you even knowing it before it’s too late. Many SUPs have on-board storage features to allow you take H2O with you while out paddling.
  • Don’t be a know-it-all! Take lessons or learn from guides, outfitters, or your local shop owner about what to do in surf conditions, about self-rescue, and how to tow another person on-board. It also goes without saying that you should be a reliant swimmer. Take this opportunity to learn your local regulations and navigation rules.

SUPping is Safety!

Paddle boarding is an extremely fun sport, but it’s only enjoyable if you can prevent accidents.

One of the best SUPping adages we’ve heard is, “Don’t paddle where you wouldn’t want to swim!” That wise saying couldn’t be more on point!

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