Under NZ Maritime Law, all stand up paddleboarders are required to carry a buoyancy aid.
The only exemptions to this are if the stand up paddleboarder is actively involved in surfing(negotiated by NZSUP), or in a designated competitive event where the event rules allow PFDs not to be worn (because of safety boat backup etc).
At all other times you must have a PFD when you are on your paddleboard, whether you are 1m or 1km from the shore. A wetsuit or impact vest will not suffice – it must provide at least 50N of buoyancy when inflated.
If you are caught without an appropriate PFD, you can be fined. It is the law. NZ Maritime Law has not yet caught up with the existence of stand up paddleboarding, so we are currently categorised as a paddle craft. NZSUP is campaigning for proper recognition of SUP and its specific safety requirements in NZ Maritime Law, but for now we have to obey the law as it currently stands.
However, because the national rules have not yet caught up with the existence of SUP, what happens now is that most Regional Councils will have their own bylaws in force, dictating the local policy towards PFDs. These are regularly reviewed and changed, creating a very confusing sitation where the law essentially changes from area to area. At the time of writing, the bylaws in Northland Regional Council area permit SUP riders not to have a PFD is they are wearing an appropriate leash. In Auckland a PFD must be carried, but not necessarily worn, while in Waikato, the PFD must be worn on the body. Etc etc. However, the good news is that this confusing and unsatisfactory situation is being actively addressed by the body in charge of updating MR91.4, which will hopefully soon reflect a sensible reality for SUP in NZ.
The good news is that for those paddlers wishing to wear a PFD, inflatable PFDs are a perfectly acceptable option, and the belt-pack style of PFD is the most practical option for stand up paddleboarding. However, not all beltpack PFDs are certified for use in New Zealand, and some of those that do meet the required standards, cannot be recommended as suitable for use on paddleboards due to the way they have been designed. The following devices meet with Maritime NZ approval and have been tested and approved by NZSUP:
MTI Fluid 2
Safety at Sea
These are the only fully approved beltpack PFD devices. Any distributor wishing to get their beltpack PFD approved by MaritimeNZ and NZSUP should contact us at email@example.com
The reality of SUP safety is that a leash (legrope) is really what makes you safe. NZSUP strongly recommends that paddleboarders wear an appropriate leash at all times when on the water. For more information on leashes and what is the appropriate style for the various different types of paddleboarding check out this page .