While stand up paddle boarding may appear effortless, especially on flat water, it is a skillful, physical sport and the demands significantly increase as the forces of nature intensify.
The following safe practices have been modified from Lee Brittain’s article on surf “SUP Safety”.
Stand up paddle boarding is a relatively safe sport, but you should be aware of some of the dangers and always take full safety precautions. All normal boating safety rules apply, with a few additions for safe SUP paddling.
- Know how to safely fall off the board and get back on it. Falling onto the board or landing between the paddle and the board may cause injury. Falling in murky or shallow water can result in falling onto hidden underwater obstructions.
- Given perfect conditions, balancing on a SUP is not overly challenging. But paddling that feels effortless on flat water may seem next to impossible as wind, wave, or current increase. Keep in mind that waves may not form on a lake for 20-30 minutes (or more on larger bodies of water) after the wind starts blowing.
- The number one way to get into trouble is to fall off your board and have it separated from you by wind, waves, or current. In even light breezes, the board can drift away from you faster than you can swim. There are few feelings worse than to watch your board drifting away from you with no possible way to catch it!
- Use a surfer’s leash at all times (except possibly on whitewater rivers) even if there are no wind or waves present when you head out — conditions can change in minutes and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Wear an approved PFD at all times. There are models available that will not hinder your ability to paddle.
- Carry a whistle that will work when wet so that you can be heard if you get into trouble. They are also a great way to signal your paddling friends if they are too far away to hear your voice.
- Always paddle with a friend using the buddy system. If you do go out by yourself, make sure that someone on shore knows your planned route and when you expect to return.
- Never paddle farther from shore than you are prepared to swim if the worst happens and you lose your board.
- In cold weather, always prepare for the worst and wear a suitable wetsuit including boots, gloves and a hood if needed. Dress for the temperature of the water, not the air, in case you have to swim a long distance.
- Always head upwind before you go downwind so it will be easier to get back to the launch site. Use caution with off-shore winds on large lakes. The waves typically get stronger the farther you travel from shore, and it’s very easy to be fooled.
- If you fall off your board in waves, make sure you stay to upwind if possible so you won’t be hit by your board. Duck underwater if there is any chance that your board will hit you (this is more difficult if you’re wearing a PFD).
- If you find yourself in trouble, NEVER LEAVE YOUR BOARD! It is much easier for rescuers to find the board than a person swimming in the water and you can paddle your board much faster than you can swim.
- Carry a cell phone or two-way radio. Wave the paddle or arms side to side overhead while straddling the board as a distress signal.
- If you find yourself caught with a strong headwind, paddle from a kneeling or sitting position by choking down on paddle, or lie on the paddle and paddle back to shore using your hands. It’s a good idea to practice these techniques before you find yourself in trouble as it takes practice. Prone paddling is very strenuous – go slowly to conserve your energy.
- When you fall off your board, always swim to the board first, then paddle the board with your hands back to pick up the paddle. Paddles won’t drift too far, but your board will.
These guidelines are not complete – use common sense at all times and plan for the unexpected!