Safe SUP Surfing

Safe SUP surfing is not to be taken lightly. This is true not only for yourself, as well, for those close in proximity to you. Be considerate and aware of everyone near you. Take the time to check the regulations for your local waters. In most countries stand up paddle boarding is subject to the same safety regulations as any other water vessel, particularly when boats, recreational motorized watercraft, and ships share the same waters. Know the safety regulations for the waters where you will be paddling.

Rescue throwbag demonstration

This video provides excellent information for beginner and novice paddle boarders. by PaddlingTV

Safe SUP surfing tips

  • • Paddle with a buddy
  • • Wear a PFD
  • • Let someone know your plans
  • • Do not underestimate potential dangers, even on familiar waters 
  • • Carry a whistle or horn depending on how far you are from shore
  • • If paddling in low light bring a flashlight, headlamp, and/or flare
  • • Wear bright coloured clothes to be more visible to others on the same waters
  • • Practice safe surfing!

Here is a great instruction video from Rob Casey. Rob gives his suggestions for what to carry whether solo or paddling in a group.

It is advised that you wear an ankle leash for safe sup surfing

An ankle leash is an important component to SUP safety. If you fall into moving water wearing an ankle leash, you won't lose your board, which could save your life. Remember, the current may be moving faster than you can to swim. 

If you’re not wearing a leash and you fall in, swim to your board first, then retrieve your paddle (basic rule). Staying with your board is safer than floundering in the water on your own; it allows you to be more visible and will help save energy. Think water safety at all times.


Wear a PFD

According to Wikipedia, “as of October 3, 2008, the US Coast Guard now classifies SUPs as vessels and as a result SUP riders are obliged to wear a personal floatation device (PFD) when paddling in certain areas*.” 

"certain areas" refers to open oceans, rivers, bays etc. If you are in the surf zone or swimming zone you are not required to wear a PFD according to US Coast Guard rules. 

The Canadian Coast Guard has implemented similar rules, however SUPers are only required to have a PFD with them, not necessarily wear it. 

SUP safety smarts tell you not to take chances: practice safe surfing. If you're not confident in your swimming ability, wear a PFD. Always have your children wear a PFD. In California, the water safety act dictates that children 12 years old and under must wear a PFD—really, a good rule for everyone. SUP safety—and water safety for any sport—is enhanced with a PFD, so should an accident happen and you’re unable to swim, you’ll stay afloat until help arrives.

There are many styles of PFD to choose from. If a jacket or vest style is your preference, find a shape that gives some open space at the front of the arm to avoid chafing from the paddling motion. Waist/hip style PFD belts are popular for hot days.

High winds don’t have to mean high risk

Safe surfing means knowing what to do in the event of something unforeseen. If you get caught in unexpected high winds and paddling becomes difficult, kneeling to paddle creates less resistance. Alternately, get on your stomach (prone position); tuck the paddle blade under your chest with the handle pointing straight outwards in front of you and hand-paddle to safety. Prone position will give you the least resistance, keep you safer, and allow you to propel forward much more easily until help arrives.


Upwind or downwind? Make the safe choice for you

Depending on your skills and strength, consider paddling against the wind at the start and with the wind to your back on your way home to avoid fatigue—a good SUP safety tip.


Stand up paddling in unfamiliar waters

Plan ahead. Ask the locals where it is safe to paddle. Water can look safe, but unexpected currents, eddies, underwater obstructions and unexpected winds or storms can pose serious danger. Practice SUP safety: paddle with a buddy!


Who has the right of way?

When approaching a vessel or vice versa, you must give right-of-way to a vessel that is larger than your own. Don't assume a motorized vessel, watercraft or any larger vessel can see you. Wear bright coloured clothing. Think safe surfing!


What to do In a distress situation

Imagine you’re dealing with

  • a broken paddle
  • a dangerous area
  • a physical injury
  • unexpected strong winds, waves or currents

Sit on your board and wave your arms or wave the paddle above your head to attract attention. Again, if you're wearing bright clothing you'll be more easily seen.

Visual Distress Signals (VDS)- (Coast Guard Recommendation)

If you’re paddle boarding long distance or in challenging waters, consider a Visual Distress Signal (VDS)—a flash light, flare or flag depending on time of day and visibility. Practice safe surfing, and don't forget your whistle! Out on the ocean, a horn may be a good idea.

DESCRIPTION: How to rescue a drowning person with a stand up paddleboard

DESCRIPTION: Safe SUP surfing – From NRS SUP quick release lease for action river and lake paddling. 

MTI Belt Pack instruction


Safe SUP surfing instruction for a inflatable waist and around the neck pfd. How to employ and repack.

How to choose the right life jacket


In this video, NRS goes over the types of life jackets most commonly worn by boaters, kayaker and paddle boarder and offer tips for choosing one you'll be comfortable wearing all the time you're on the water.

more on PFDs for SUP

back to SUP instruction

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safe SUP surfing

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For action SUPing consider a low profile vest with deep arm holes for ease of paddling.

Be prepared for unexpected high winds, storms or the like. Carry a whistle. It is small and lightweight and easy to pack.

LOW COST Inflatable paddle board - find out more via the following link:

Lucky Bum's paddle board

Travelling at sunset or full moon evening? Consider carrying a small lightweight flashlight.

A hand held flare could come in handy on a downwinder.