Paddleboarding in open water…a guide to get you started

If you have been paddleboarding in flatwater and you want to take your game to open water, there are a bunch of things to be aware of. Here is your guide to getting started paddleboarding in open water


Things to know and do before you head out in open water

  • If possible find an experienced person to go with
  • Start small… a relatively short route, on a relatively calm day, in an area free of lots of boat traffic or boating channels would be ideal for your first time out
  • Check and recheck the weather, focusing on the wind speed and direction and tides.  It’s not a bad idea to learn how to read a nautical chart. The NOAA (National Oceanic Atmostpheric Administration) website (and app) is a very good source for weather.  If you check the marine forecast for your area, you will get wind speeds, wave heights, and notice of any Small Craft Advisories (note-you are a small craft, so if there is an advisory in the forecast, save your outing for another day)
  • Know your intended route.  When considering your route, keep in mind the wind, tides, etc. As with flatwater, you usually want to plan to go into the wind on the way out and have the wind with you on the way back. But in open water you have all of those other factors to consider too. The last thing you want out there is to be fighting against the tide AND the wind when you are already tired. Also some places are hard to access depending on the tide.  So if there’s any possibility of that, check it before you head out.
  • File a float plan– let someone know when you are leaving, where you are leaving from, where you are planning to go, and how long you estimate being out.  Keep in mind that travel is usually slower on open water than on flatwater, so estimate accordingly.  Be sure to check in with your float plan person when you are back on land so they don’t call the Coast Guard and get a search started for you when you are having a sandwich back at your car.  There are also apps like iNeverSolo that can assist you with creating a plan and e-mailing it to your designated person and can even take care of your check in when you get back.
  • Start off in a relatively calm area. If you venture out from a strong surf break, you are adding lots of additional, potentially dangerous and discouraging, elements to the experience.  For the safety of yourself and others, if you can, launch from a relatively calm area free from crashing waves.  As you paddle out you should still get a feel for how the current affects you, you should be able to feel ground and wind swells (even though you likely won’t fully understand how it all works), and depending on where you are, you might get a feel for boat wakes, and potentially rebound off of rocks or other fixed structures.  In our local area, Sandy Point in Warwick is a great example of a relatively mild place to start out.  As you move closer to the mouth of the bay, things tend to get rougher.  So save paddling out of Fort Wetherill in Jamestown for when you are much more comfortable with open water paddling.
  • Dress for water temperatures. Even if the air is warm, that won’t help you if you end up in the water.  Probably more than 99% of the time you won’t have to be in the water long, you can just get back on your board.  But it’s that small percentage that we need to be concerned about here.
              paddleboarding_in_open_water-1   paddleboarding_in_open_water-2
start someplace like the picture on the left before going for rougher stuff like on the right


The USCG requires you to have a

  • PFD – The PFD (personal flotation device) needs to be “on your vessel”, but not on your person.  Common sense will tell you that if your PFD is on your board and you need it in an emergency, it’s probably not going to do you a whole lot of good. If you are not one to wear a vest type PFD, then you should seriously think about investing in an inflatable waist belt.  They are unobtrusive and you will hardly remember you have it on.
  • Whistle– The whistle is required to be able to signal boats of your whereabouts.
  • A light if you are out between ½ hour before dusk to ½ hour after dawn or in foggy conditions.  The light is again to signal boats to your presence. A white light visible from 1 mile away is the requirement.  But a headlamp is at least a good start.



Additional items that are not strictly required but that you should have

  • A leash…you need to stay with your board…your board is a floatation device.  If you get separated from it (especially if your PFD is on it) you are in a bit of trouble. The board can get away from you very quickly, and swimming in open water (especially if it’s a bit chilly) can tire you very quickly.
  • Hydration…no secret here, stay hydrated to keep your body working at its optimum level
  • Snacks aren’t a bad idea either. You could find yourself out longer than you expect, or if you hit an energy low while you are out there, it’s a good idea to have a snack on hand to refuel.
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen, maybe a visor…the sun can get BRIGHT when it reflects off of the water.


This is just a guide to get you started paddleboarding in open water. Adapt these suggestions for your planned outings.  If you want to know more about what to expect and how to deal with paddleboarding in rough water you should check out this blog post from last year.  And look for a follow up post on taking your preparedness to the next level as your outings progress.


Tags: paddleboard safely, paddleboarding in rough water, paddleboard safety, sup safety, open water paddleboard, ocean paddling, leboarding in the ocean, paddleboaring checklist,paddleboarding jamestown, paddleboarding in open water

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