Paddleboarding is a fun and relatively safe activity, particularly if you follow these basic safety tips. They may not all apply to you depending on where you paddle, but they are not bad tips to have in mind regardless of where you go.
Before heading out on your own, take a lesson
Ideally you will get some instruction before going out on your own. Not only should your instructor cover these safety tips, they should give you tips on paddling technique, balancing, turning, etc. This information can all come in handy and having some knowledge of paddling technique will help you be more efficient if you find yourself in rough conditions.
Be sure you are familiar with getting back on your board if you fall off. You don’t want to have to learn this under pressure.
Check the weather including winds and tides (if applicable)
The weather can be your best friend or worst enemy and it can change in the span a few minutes. Check the forecast before you head out. Avoid going out in thunderstorms and be very careful of the wind. Consider your paddling ability when you check the wind speed and direction. Winds as low as 10 mph can be tough for inexperienced paddlers and if you have tides or a current to contend with in addition to those winds, the effects will be compounded.
Check the tides and be very careful in offshore winds if you are in open water. They can carry you very far in a very short time. Battling your way back can be exhausting and take much longer than you anticipate.
Whenever possible, paddle into the wind on the way out so that the wind will be at your back as you make your way towards your put-in spot. This is a good rule of thumb, but it is not foolproof. The wind can change direction without warning.
If you are in open water, the swell can also change quickly and so can the time between swells. This can intensify a paddle when you aren’t expecting it.
PFD’s –personal flotation devices
These are required by law in some areas. The Coast Guard classifies SUPs as vessels meaning that you must be wearing a PFD or have one secured to your board. You should also bring a waterproof emergency whistle (some PFDs have these attached.) These are particularly important in open water, but are also required on lakes in some states.
If you are not a strong swimmer, a PFD is a must in all conditions. If you are a strong swimmer then you might choose to keep it on your board or use an inflatable waist pack.
Stay with your board-wear a leash (unless you are on a river in which case it can get caught on rocks and cause much damage)
A paddleboard leash will ensure that you and your board stay connected. You do not want to get separated from your board for a number of reasons. Your board can travel pretty fast and far on it’s own so you could be in for quite the swim should you part ways.
If you do get separated from your board and paddle, swim to your board first. Your paddle will not travel very far on its own and it will float, but your board certainly can. Once you retrieve your board, you can lie on your stomach and paddle with your hands to get to your paddle
Your board is a flotation device. You can kneel, sit, or even lie down if you need a rest, but only if you have your board. You can sit straddling the board and your legs work kind of like anchors to keep you in place if you need to rest and not lose ground.
If you do find yourself in a bad situation and need rescuing, it will be easier for rescuers to see your board than a lone swimmer.
Keep track of where you are
If you are paddling somewhere unfamiliar, make sure you pay attention to where you are at all times, and where you need to end up. Always make sure that you have enough reserves to get back to where you put in.
Also don’t paddle further out than you are able to swim back. See the part about staying with your board…if you don’t heed that part, you could find yourself swimming…far.
Be aware of boat traffic and stay out of boating channels. When you are in open water, you could encounter lots of big boats…they can produce wakes that you are not expecting and you will need to steer clear of them, they are not going to get out of your way.
Even in flat water, you need to be careful of boats, jetskis, wakeboarders, etc. If you are not used to paddling in wake, they can toss you off your board.
This goes back to the weather. If the air temps are warm that’s great, but that’s not the whole story. A warm air day in the early spring will do little to help water temps coming off of a long winter. Dress in case you fall in. And consider the possibility that you could have to swim in cold water should you fall in and your board get away.
In cold water temps a wet or dry suit is a good idea, just in case. Booties are a must in cold water since your feet can continuously get wet as you paddle.
Also, wearing UV protective clothing is always a good idea when you are out on the water.
Have a paddle buddy
It’s always a good idea to paddle with a friend (or multiple friends). If you do go out alone, make sure someone knows your plan…where you are going, when you are going, the route you plan to take and how long you expect to be out.
Having a dry case to take your phone with you isn’t a bad idea. Just make sure that you secure it to your board or yourself if the case isn’t designed to float.
If you know you are going to be out on a long paddle, bring water and a snack. You can pack a dry sack, use a suction bottle holder, a hydration pack or a waist pack that will hold a water bottle. Especially on a hot, sunny day, you can get dehydrated pretty quickly out there so plan ahead.
These are just some suggestions for a safe and enjoyable paddle. Don’t let them scare you off, standup paddleboarding really is a safe sport. But anytime you are out in nature and out on the water, you need to be respectful of it and realize that things can change quickly out there. As long as you are ready, you will be able to enjoy the journey and be ready for whatever gets thrown at you.