Stand-up paddleboarding is on the whole a pretty safe sport, as it is conducted at low speeds. However, like any water sport, there is the potential for things to go wrong, especially here in New Zealand where the weather can often change rapidly. So, however experienced a water-person you may be, we strongly advise you follow the SUP SAFE code when you are going out for a paddle.
Obviously if you are just messing around at your local beach, never out of sight of family ashore etc, then it’s not so critical to follow all of these recommendations. But if you’re paddling any distance, particularly if going out of sight of where you started from, then following these recommendations is just good sense. To learn much more about all aspects of paddleboarding safety why not sign up for the SUP SAFE course?
LEASHES SAVE LIVES!
Without a leash it is easy to become separated from your board, especially in a breeze. So it is very important to wear a leash. However, it is equally important to wear the right leash for the conditions.
On moving water (rivers, harbour mouths etc): use a leash with a quick-release system that can be operated from above the waist.
NEVER wear a leash attached to your ankle or calf in moving water. No leash is better than the wrong leash in these conditions. If the leash gets caught on something in the water, you will not be able to undo it if you are in a strong current, if it is attached to your calf or ankle under tension.
Surf: only use a straight ankle/calf leash.
Weedy conditions: use a coiled leash so that it does not drag in the water and catch weed.
2. WEAR A PFD!
PFDs and the Law below. Beltpack PFDs are an excellent low-profile option for experienced stand-up paddlers. For non swimmers or weak swimmers, a PFD with permanent built-in flotation is essential.
3. BEFORE YOU GO, KNOW THE CONDITIONS!
Know the weather, wind strength and direction (now and forecast), tide height and flow if you are at the coast, river flow if you are on a river, and the water temperature. Is your ability, equipment and clothing right for the conditions?
4. CAN YOU COMMUNICATE?
Can you call for help, if necessary? Remember, it might not be you in trouble, but someone else you encounter! Take a phone or Maritime VHF (with emergency channel 16) in a waterproof case, along with a whistle. (You normally get a good waterproof whistle as part of the package when you buy a good quality PFD).
5. TELL SOMEONE!
Even if you’re paddling with others (always safest!), make sure someone onshore knows that you’re on the water, where you’re going and how long you will be. Tell them when you get back too! The Coastguard App ‘Log A Trip’ function is a great resource for this.
This advice is primarily about SUP cruising, rather than surfing. If you’re planning on taking your SUP board out into the waves, please check out the SUP SURF SAFETY page. To learn much more about all aspects of paddleboarding safety why not sign up for the SUP SAFE course?
PFDS AND THE LAW: New Zealand Maritime Law says that you must carry a PFD on a small craft under 5m. While the reality is that the coastguards or harbourmasters may well turn a blind eye if you are close inshore and wearing a leash, and it does seem a bit irrelevant if you are tethered to a huge big floating thing anyway, it is still the law. The only exemption for SUP is if you are actively involved in surfing, in which case you do not have to wear a PFD. At any other time, the law states that you do. Fortunately, the belt-pack pull-to-inflate style are acceptable under NZ law, and are actually no problem at all to wear. So if you are going any distance away from easy access to the shore, then we strongly recommend that you wear one. Likewise, carry your mobile phone, with plenty of charge. It could save your life!