SUP safety is paramount, whatever stretch of water you use to indulge your passion for stand up paddle boarding.

From the first moment you step aboard a stand up paddle board there needs to be safety consideration in place. What looks like a completely safe and placid water activity can lull riders into a false sense of security. Every stretch of water carries its own set of risks. It mightn’t look unsafe, but looks can be deceiving.

SUP ability.

Over and above every other aspect, all stand up paddle boarders should be mindful of their own personal ability. Being honest and opting to sit out sessions is sometimes the best policy. If you’re not comfortable or confident then don’t put yourself in a situation you may regret.

And certainly don’t take or guide others in harm’s way. Often newbie SUPers will invite their mates along for the ride. Whilst in theory this isn’t a problem, with the wrong SUP conditions the whole affair can go awry quickly.

SUP safety considerations
Checking things out. Can you cope with the SUP conditions on offer?

Everyone needs to improve. And this does mean stepping it up in terms of what type of paddling you do. And where you do it. But incremental small steps rather than pushing the envelope off the bat!

SUP weather – know before you go!

Wherever you stand up paddle, the weather will influence your session. And in most cases, this influence will fluctuate as each session wears on. Ask any experienced watersports bod (not just SUPers) about weather and he/she will confirm the need for amateur meteorology. The following article from the Met Office gives a basic run through of how to read a weather forecast.

At a base level, simply knowing what inclement weather will be on your chosen day is important. From that, however, knowing how to interpret weather forecasts for your chosen venue is best practice. This may seem like homework is needed to ‘learn’ weather – which is true – but this will knowledge will keep you safe and allow even more enjoyment of SUP.

More on weather forecasting and interpreting the data can be found here.

Tides and SUP – know before you go!

If you’re paddling at coastal venues then you need to know tide times and understand the effects of tides. There’s a whole load of information readily available online about tides. And it’s not just as simple as water ebbing and flowing up and down the beach.

Tides explained in a simple fashion.

Tides can catch so many people out. How often have you seen footage of unfortunate souls who’ve parked their vehicles in the path of tides? At the start, a seemingly dry, safe spot quickly becomes a nightmare as the tide pushes in. The vehicle is engulfed by saltwater and the conversation with the insurance company will be tricky. From a SUP safety point of view, however, getting it wrong with tides can be lethal and result in emergency service help being needed.

Here’s an example of getting caught out by the tide.

Stand up paddle board clothing.

What you wear to SUP not only relates to comfort afloat it also can affect your safety. The most common issue is cooling down and having the onset of hypothermia bed in. Wearing too little clothing or the type that cools the wearer rapidly should he/she get wet is common.

In contrast overheating can also be a factor. So best practice dictates that for flat water paddling layering up is the route to take. Having a waterproof drybag onboard where you can stow dry clothes is then a good idea. Being able to remove or add layers as necessary should then allow you to regulate your temperature according to the weather and how damp you end up.

SUP surfing: waves are where you find them.
Wetsuits and wetsuit boots for SUP surfing. But is this the correct clothing for your kind of stand up paddling?

For anyone paddling in immersive scenarios – such as SUP surfing – wetsuits are a must. But you need the right thickness of wetsuit based on the time of year and conditions. It’s no good thinking a 3mm summer wetsuit will work in January. It won’t! And a good quality wetsuit will keep you warmer than something cheap.

Stand up paddle boarding equipment.

It should go without saying that your SUP kit needs to be in tip top conditions. If it’s not then it’s time to sort it out. And do so BEFORE your next paddling session. Dings and/or punctures should be fixed. Any dodgy leashes swapped out for new. Paddles checked and replaced if cracking or breaking. The list goes on…

SUP surfing a hard board vs an inflatable - the main differences.
Make sure your SUP equipment’s in good working order BEFORE you head out!

Checks of your SUP gear should be carried regularly as this will impact your SUP fun negatively if things start to fail. But more than this your safety afloat will be impacted as well.

Communication afloat.

If you’re carrying a drybag, securely lashed to your SUP, then you could store away a mobile phone. Or better still have this is a waterproof pouch about your person. Having the ability to raise the alarm if assistance is needed can be the difference between avoiding hazardous situations and ending up in a far worse predicament. Waterproof VHFs can be another good option. But you need to know how to use one. There are plenty of courses available for those paddlers looking at VHF use.

RNLI tips for raising the alarm with a VHF radio.

In some instances, you may also want to carry things like flares. But, again, you’ll need to know how to use them. Flares can run out of date and be hazardous in their own right if not treated with respect. But should you get into trouble they’re a good method of communicating distress. Especially in low light.

SUP leashes.

There’s much written and said about SUP leashes. Or rather, using the wrong types. For instance: a straight surf leash being used on rivers with flow can be deadly. If they snag and catch around a fixed object, pulling rider one side and board the other this is where the situation becomes serious. Flow pulls a paddler and board downstream. The leash that’s wrapped around the fixed object becomes taught. And there’s nothing the rider can do to stop from going under.

This video demonstrates exactly what we’re talking about.

Best practice these days is any paddler navigating flat water, rivers or inland stretches should be wearing a quick release safety belt. The leash attaches to the belt and in the event of disaster, riders can unclip themselves. It’s worth familiarising how they work BEFORE going afloat though. To make sure you can release the belt and get out of trouble.

All new Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co inflatables will be supplied quick release safety belts from January 2022.

Additional floatation.

There are plenty of options when it comes to additional SUP floatation choices. Why would you go for this? Consider the scenario described in the SUP leashes section where the rider becomes separated from their board. Whilst leashed your SUP is the biggest form of floatation you have. But if you lose it, what then?

SUP specific buoyancy aids are an option but not everyone favours them. Whilst some models can impede paddling movements, a BA can serve to lock in additional warmth and keep you toasty on cold days. Other options are waist worn, Co2 inflated lifebelts. These fold away into a bumbag style carry pouch and can be forgotten about until needed. As with all equipment familiarisation of use is key. And you’ll need to replace the Co2 canister after use.

This video shows how a Restube device works. Apply thinking to SUP, obviously.

More knowledge.

One of the biggest elements with SUP safety is having knowledge. Experience is one thing but actually having information in your head will serve the experience side of things well. This is particularly obvious when it comes to interpreting weather forecasts and tide data. The not so obvious are things like being able to read what’s going down on the water. A smooth, calm sea may have hidden dangers you’re not aware of.

For instance: tide flowing in the same direction as wind can cause that aforementioned silky smooth appearance. The result to you the paddler means you go in the same direction as both. And much fast than you’d imagine. If this is offshore wind with outgoing tide you’ll be heading towards the horizon quicker than you can blink. And trying to paddle back against the elements will see you fatigue just as fast.

SUP safety
Tides and currents flowing around headlands and rocks need to be accounted for when paddling your SUP.

It’s the same with inland waterways as well. Understand that rain sluicing down a mile or so upstream of a moving river will eventually wash in your direction. That means the river’s flow could suddenly increase in speed significantly.

Staying safe on your SUP is important to all of us. Here at Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co we want all riders to have as much fun as possible without coming unstuck. If you have any questions about this topic or others then please get in touch.

And don’t forget to keep an eye on Freshwater Bay’s blog for more articles like this.