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 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 reality is that carrying your PFD on your board is not a particularly smart plan anyway.  If you lose your board, you lose your PFD!  If you’re going to take a PFD, then NZSUP strongly recommend that you wear it.  This should not present a problem, because the inflatable belt-pack style of PFD is an excellent and highly practical option for stand up paddleboarding for competent swimmers, that doesn’t restrict your movement or hinder you in any way. ( A permanent buoyancy PFD is the correct choice for anyone who is a weak or non swimmer. )

There are a wide variety of qualities of beltpack available. Look for a product that:

  • Has a window so you can see whether the gas cylinder is fixed and serviceable
  • Only requires you to pull the toggle in order to inflate it. Any PFDs that need to be unzipped or unbuckled or unpacked in any way before they can be inflated should be avoided.
  • Is easily opened and deployed manually, in the event that the auto inflate should fail
  • Has a strong wide webbing belt and a decent buckle, for strength
  • Has plenty of buoyancy – at least 100N!   If you’re out there in the ocean floating around waiting to be rescued, you want as much buoyancy as possible.

Great examples of beltpack PFDs suitable for SUP are the Hutchwilco beltpack and the MTI Fluid 2 beltpack.

To officially qualify as a PFD in NZ maritime law, the device must be a proper PFD meeting the required ISO standards etc. Devices that inflate to a tube, such as Restubes, Safaswims etc, while innovative products, do not meet the required standards and thus do not count as a PFD in NZ law.

Remember too, a PFD is your second line of defence – for the time when you’ve lost your paddleboard.  Your leash is your first line of defence, to ensure that you don’t lose your paddleboard!
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 .