Your Complete SUP Safety Guide

Fact: the number of fatalities from stand up paddleboarding has increased since 2016. There have been more deaths because the sport has become more popular. Unfortunately, people don’t realize how dangerous it can be. You may not be moving as fast as a speed boat while on the water, but you’re in an environment you can’t control, which can be risky.  This isn’t to scare you, but it’s a way to make you aware. Being safe on the water should be the #1 priority.

What are the most important tips to follow to be safe while paddleboarding? Here are three quick tips: wear a life jacket, use a leash, and have a float plan. Continue reading to access our complete SUP safety guide.

The 10 essential safety tips to follow when paddleboarding

1. Wear a Life Jacket

A few life jackets on a dock. One necessary item to have on while on your paddle board.

Imagine falling into the water and your paddle board gets swept away from you. The water is freezing, you start to go into shock, and soon lose consciousness. If you aren’t wearing a life vest, you’d drown in this situation.

“The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that life jackets could have saved the lives of over 80 percent of boating fatality victims.”

U.S. Coast Guard – Recreational Boaters Safety

Life jackets are not only a necessity, but they’re also required by law. In 2008, the US Coast Guard categorized a paddle board as a vessel. Due to that change, each person on a paddle board requires a life jacket.

Moral of the story, wear a life jacket. As mentioned in our previous post (read it here), a life jacket is the difference between life and death. Even the best swimmers run into problems in open water, you never know what can happen out there.  It’s always better to be safe rather than sorry. 

What’s stopping you? Is it the fact that life jackets are large, bright orange, and inhibit your ability to paddle? We’ve got good news for you! Life jackets have changed since the old days. Now, there are life jackets that are slim, come in attractive colors, and don’t get in the way of paddling. There are even life jackets that only inflate once you hit the water. So, there’s really no excuse, get out there and get yourself a life jacket!

Here’s our top choice for a life vest that’s comfortable and allows you to paddle board with no interference.

2. Use a Leash

The next safety tip is to have a leash for your paddle board, even if you’re going to paddle on a calm lake. You never know if the current or the wind will pick up, causing you to fall and sweeping your board away from you. With a leash, you can attach your board to you and it won’t drift far away if you happen to fall off of it. Leashes are a simple way to be safe that won’t impede your paddle board experience.

People paddleboarding and using paddle board leashes. A paddle board leash helps you stay safe out on the water.

Our favorite paddle board leash is this one. It’s 11′ long and really comfortable.

3. Paddle Board with a Friend

Going on a paddle board is best done with friends, for many reasons. First, it’s way more fun. Second, you have someone with you to capture moments for your Instagram story. The last reason is that there’s someone there with you if anything happens to go wrong. It’s like the buddy system we all used in middle school when on school field trips – it’s much safer than traveling alone.

If you don’t have someone going with you, for example, if you’re going to paddle board to zen out, then make sure to have a “Float Plan”. Tell a friend or family member what your plans are: where you’re going, how long you’ll be gone, when they should start to worry, etc. The US Coast Guard even has a form you can fill out for your float plan. You can fill it in and leave it with a reliable person in case anything happens while you’re out paddleboarding.

4. Don’t Drink and SUP

We know, we know – this tip makes us seem like serious party poopers! There are a handful of reasons why drinking alcohol while out on the water is a bad idea though. First off, it’s illegal to drink and operate a vessel, which paddle boards are. If you’re caught and your blood alcohol content is over the legal limit, you’ll get a BUI (boating under the influence). Another reason to not drink while on your SUP is that alcohol impairs your judgement, decreases your balance, and slows your reaction times. It’s not a great situation when you add all that together with steering a paddle board, avoiding boats in the area, and trying to swim if you fall in the water. 

We know it’s summer and you want to have a few cold ones while relaxing on the water, but it’s not a good idea. The best thing to do, is to paddle board until you don’t want to anymore, then enjoy your beverages when you’re on dry land. 

5. Pay Attention to the Weather

An iPad showing the weather report for the week. Check the weather before going out to paddle board, it'll keep you safe.

The weather report is your best friend. Before heading out on the water to paddle board, make sure you check the weather report for a few things.

First, check the wind speed. Is it going to be a super windy day or is it going to be reasonable? If it’s going to be very windy, we’d say it’s not a great day to go out on the water. Not only will it be frustrating, but you could find yourself battling the wind and getting pushed away from your starting point. 

The next thing you want to check is if storms are on the horizon. Thunderstorms have a funny way of changing paths and rolling in hours before the weatherman predicted. When you’re out on the water, keep an eye on the clouds and the wind; if the wind picks up and the clouds start to darken, it’s best to head back to shore ASAP. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t panic! Drop to your knees, making yourself more aerodynamic, and paddle to shore to get off the water.

6. Have a Light or a Flag

You won’t be the only vessel out on the water, so you want to make sure you have a way to warn others that you’re there. We assume you won’t be paddle boarding on water with huge steamers, like Matt Crofton in the book Mighty did, but we predict you’ll be around speed boats. A bright orange flag on a pole or a flashing light can help other vessels see you, especially when there’s less visibility.

7. Carry a Whistle

This may seem odd, but whistles have saved lives, ask Rose from Titanic. If you get knocked off your paddle board then need help, but no one can hear you, a whistle will help people find you.

This is our #1 choice for a safety whistle. It’s a 2-pack, clips on easily, and works really well.

8. ID your Paddle Board

Stickers are available that go right on your board to ID it. All you have to do is write your name and phone number on the sticker. Let’s say you get separated from your board and someone finds it, they can look at the sticker, see your name, and have a place to start their search.

9. Stay with your SUP

Imagine you’re in trouble, a search party is out looking for you, including helicopters to get an aerial view. Someone in a helicopter will be able to see an 11’ paddle board a lot easier than a tiny head bobbing in the water. So, stay with your paddle board if you can.

10. Pack a lot of Water and Snacks

Make sure you have enough water and snacks, like when you prepare to go for a hike. Yes, you’ll be surrounded by water, but our guess is it’s not drinkable. You want to make sure you have enough water to stay hydrated and keep your energy up. You also want to make sure you have enough snacks to fuel you as you paddle.

Before you head out on the water, double check our SUP safety guide to make sure you’ve got all the essentials to be safe.