Do you need a life vest for standup paddleboarding?

For the past several years standup paddleboarding has been coming into its own.  It is the fastest growing water sport worldwide for a number of reasons.  It is easy to get started, anyone can do it…from grandma to the family dog (ok so maybe Fido can’t do the paddling part- no thumbs, but he can ride on the front of the board), you can take it anywhere there is water, and while there are many things out there that could present danger, it is far from an extreme sport if you stick to calm waters. The popularity is growing so fast that it can no longer be ignored as a sport of its own.   Early on, paddleboarding was grouped with surfing or kayaking (depending on the context) and it has been handled as such by agencies like the US Coast Guard (USCG).

The USCG considers standup paddleboards to be “vessels”, so when you are in Coast Guard waters, you need to adhere to Coast Guard rules for vessels.  Standup paddleboarders must have a Type III personal flotation device (PFD), whistle and light on board if you are outside of the surf zone.   If you do not have those items with you, you may be fined.  Enforcement of these rules can vary greatly from place to place, but those are the rules.

Recently the state of Rhode Island has decided that the Department of Environmental Management is going to get “on board” (sorry for the pun) with the Coast Guard and enforce those same requirements.  So when you are paddleboarding on any state run body of water, you will be subject to the same rules.

The USCG definition is:

TYPE III PFDS / FLOTATION AIDS:  For general boating or the specialized activity that is marked on the device such as water skiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and others.  Good for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue.  Designed so that wearing it will complement your boating activities:

  • Inherently Buoyant Type III PFDs
  • Inflatable Type III PFDs
  • Hybrid Type III PFDs

                               

Essentially this means that you need to choose between a traditional vest style, inflatable waistpack and hybrid inflatable that, goes over your head and shoulders and is very low profile until you inflate it.

The whistle and light are to signal other vessels on the water.  You should learn the different signals so when you need to use them, you know how.

There has been a lot of controversy over the requirement of PFDs on your standup paddleboard.  Your board is actually a floatation device, so paddleboarders have argued that we should not be required to wear/carry a PFD.  Regardless of what we think, the Coast Guard has said that we do need them.  If you want to avoid a fine and take an extra measure of security when you paddle, just wear a PFD every time you go out.



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