Paddle boarding is a fantastic way to explore the outdoors and get some exercise. However, it’s crucial not to underestimate the risks involved in this water sport – paddle boarding safety should always be your top priority when out on the open waters.
This blog post will cover essential safety tips to ensure an enjoyable experience while keeping yourself safe.
Table of Contents
Personal Flotation Devices
In my mind the biggest safety tip for paddle boarding is to wear a personal flotation device (PFD). I personally like to wear a Buoyancy Aid because that’s what I use when I’m sailing and now it feels weird if I don’t wear one.
Options include buoyancy aids, which many find comfortable, or flotation belts that require pulling an inflation cord and using a CO2 bottle. Have a look at this post if you’d like to see our latest review of buoyancy aids for paddle boarding.
Clothing and Spare Gear
Consider the weather and your location when choosing your clothing. In summer, shorts and a t-shirt may be suitable…
I do most of my paddling in the UK. In summer, if I’m on the sea I like to wear a shorty longjohn wetsuit like this one from Gul.
It provides some warmth and protection from the wind, but isn’t as restrictive as a full wetsuit and allows free movement of shoulders and arms.
Here’s a link to the Wetsuit Outlet, which usually has some good deals on and has a great selection of SUP kit.
If you’re on a day trip then you may want to have a waterproof top and possibly a change of clothes. In colder conditions, consider wearing a wetsuit, drysuit, or wetsuit boots. Always pack a dry bag with spare warm gear, like a fleece or dry robe, and secure your hat with a string so it doesn’t float away of you fall in.
I like to paddleboard with a throwing line which I can use as a towrope, and if someone I’m paddling with gets into trouble, I can throw them on the line and help them out.
Fleeces are great for paddle boarding because you can wring out most of the water when they get wet and then put them back on!
Having a reliable means of communication is essential. Mobile phones in waterproof cases are a popular choice, but also consider carrying a whistle and, if you’re at sea, a VHF radio.
Don’t rely solely on one method of communication for raising the alarm in an emergency. You might have issues with mobile phone signal, or your phone might get damaged or wet. A cheap waterproof case like this one will help keep your phone secure and dry.
I recently watched the BBC documentary called Saving Lives at Sea which shows real footage of RNLI rescues. It showed what happened when a very well prepared Kayaker fell into the sea.
She was able to call the Coast Guard by dialling 999 on her mobile phone, but she wasn’t able to hear them talking to her. She then used a VHF radio that she had with her to make a distress call on Ch16, but couldn’t make out replies. So she used a whistle to attract the attention of people on the shore.
This is a great example of why you shouldn’t rely on just 1 method of raising the alarm if you are in trouble! The kayaker was rescued because she used all 3 methods of communication!
If you’re travelling with a group make sure the other members also have methods of communicating in an emergency.
Research Before You Paddle
If you are planning to go on a longer paddle then you’ll need to consider a few more things to keep yourself and others safe.
Route, Starting Point, End Point, Stopping Points
Plan your route, including where to park, launch, and exit the water. Google Maps can be helpful, but be aware that access might differ when you arrive at your location. Look for safe places to stop along the way and where to exit the water in an emergency.
I once checked a starting location for a canal on Google Maps, it looked great, but when I went to launch I realised that there was a 5 foot drop to the water!
Make sure you identify as many hazards as possible. These include branches in the water of a river or canal, other water users, such as motor boats, speed boats, people fishing, fishing boats, jet skis, waterfalls, rocks, weirs, the list is endless!
Collision Regulations (COLREGs)
Don’t assume the other water users will be as careful as you and don’t assume that they have seen you. Be aware of the COLREGs (rules that apply to users of waterways and the sea). The basic rules dictate that any vessel under power, using a motor, will give way to a vessel under sail or being paddled. However, this is not the case if the motor vessel is in a narrow or shallow channel, you will then need to keep out of their way.
Another rule is that the vessels should pass ‘port to port‘, this means that the left side of your board should pass down the left side of the boat coming towards you. In other words, if someone is coming towards you steer to the right.
The safest thing to do is to stay away from motor boats, ships and channels. If you are on a river or canal then stay to the right hand side, close to the bank. Leave a comment below if you have any questions. If in doubt, stay well away from other water users!
Tides (if paddling at sea)
Check tide times and understand the tide’s flow and changes. Tides are predictable, but make sure to check them for each trip. You don’t want to end up paddling forwards at 2 knots whilst being pushed backwards by a 3 knot tide! Much better to plan your trip so that you are going with the tide and taking advantage of it.
Check the weather forecast for your paddling day and recheck just before setting out. If paddling at sea, use the Met Office inshore forecast for better accuracy.
Supplies, Food, and Water
Also make sure that you take plenty of water so that you don’t risk becoming dehydrated.
On the Day of Your Trip
Check your kit, recheck the weather, and assess your location for any unexpected hazards. If something doesn’t feel right, think about doing something else and coming back another time!
Don’t forget to tell someone the details of your plans, including departure time, expected arrival time, and when to alert authorities if they don’t hear from you. Call them to confirm your safety once you’ve completed your trip.
Paddle boarding safety is vital for an enjoyable experience on the water. By using common sense and following these tips, you can minimise risks and maximise fun. If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch below – I’d would love to hear from you.