Top tips for paddleboarding safety with MAD Water Sports
There’s a reason that these two words are so ingrained in our brains! So, let’s explore some key points of safety.
ALWAYS use a leash
Being attached to your SUP is critical, you would be amazed how quickly you can become separated from your board in the slightest of breezes, so always ensure you are attached. Make sure you use the appropriate leash; a coiled ankle type is good for general paddling, straight surfboard-style leash if you intend on surfing, and a waist quick release if you’re in fast moving water. If you’re not sure, speak with us at MAD Water Sports and we will help.
The decision to (or not to) wear a buoyancy aid (BA) is up to you; if you’re attached to your board via a leash then arguably you have a massive floating device that is adequate. However, if you’re new to the sport or perhaps not confident in the water, then wear a BA. Some locations may stipulate the use of a BA is mandatory, so before launching check first. If you are carrying passengers, perhaps children, we would always advise they wear a buoyancy aid. Do you know the difference between a buoyancy aid and a life jacket? A buoyancy aid will keep you afloat (so long as it is the appropriate size for the paddler in question) but if someone fell into the water face down unconscious, they would remain face down. However, a life jacket in the same circumstances will always turn you over and keep the airway clear, hence the name life jacket! For most water sport activities, a BA is used and is adequate. The exception may be for a non-swimmer where a lifejacket might be better suited, but ensure it isn’t an auto-inflation model, as clearly this wouldn’t be suitable for SUP activities! If you’re supping with your pooch, be sure to secure them with a doggy life vest as well.
Always check the weather forecast; pay special attention to the wind strength and direction, and make sure you know which way the wind is coming from at your chosen location. Remember, offshore winds can be deceptive – the further from shore you go the stronger the wind will be. If you are launching in the lee of buildings, cliffs or trees, look at the height. If, for example, they are 100 feet high, it’s only when you get 250 feet from shore that you’ll get the true strength of the wind, i.e. 2.5 times the height in distance. If you intend on staying close to shore, then strong winds may not be an issue for you. Familiarize yourself with the Beaufort scale so when you listen or read a forecast you understand what a Force 4 means in terms of strength. Also, understand how to read the wind patterns on the water; speed of clouds or trees bending are all good indicators of wind strength. Open water is clearly more challenging in windy conditions, rivers and canals less so, and if you are in any doubt, don’t go out! In warmer climates, be aware that in the morning you may have an offshore breeze, but as the day goes on the land mass will warm up and cause on onshore breeze.
Tides and tidal flow
If you’re in a tidal area, it’s really important you know the times of the tides; high water, low water and the speed and volume of water changes at different states of tide (Rule of Twelfths). At the fastest state of tide, which will be mid-way between high and low, the conditions could be treacherous and impossible to paddle against. Understand the difference between springs and neaps. Spring tides are very high and very low tides, where neap tides have less of a range in the rise and fall. Buying a tide chart will prove to be very usueful. On a beach the change in tidal direction could make returning to shore more difficult. Add wind against the tide and you have far rougher water to contend with, so do your homework and again, if you need help ask. Beach Lifeguard’s are always a great source of information, and they will be only too pleased to help. They will also advise you of rips on specific beaches which you should be aware off. (A rip is a large body of water moving back out to sea). If you’re doing a trip on an outgoing tide remember, in areas where the channel narrows the speed of the water will increase as the same volume of water is being forced into a channel. Sometimes large, moored vessels can create such an effect, so be aware. Stay clear of moorings that could be a hazard, especially in tidal flow areas or moving rivers.
Choose your location carefully
Consider all the above when looking to launch, and check that the area of water is suitable. Avoid commercial shipping areas and areas of water that are designated for water skiing which could be a major hazard. Some Port Authorities may charge for launching, landing and indeed simply crossing a designated area. If planning a trip, ensure you know possible exit points on route that are accessible in an emergency or simply for you to meet your transport. Check before you launch!
At the very least you should carry a whistle so if you get into trouble, you can attract attention. Carry a mobile phone in a dry bag or a VHF and know how to use them. Make sure you have the Coastguard number stored in your phone. MAD Water Sports have a variety of waterproof phone and key cases to keep smaller items dry!
Make sure you know how to paddle your board lying down if the water becomes rough or it becomes windy; laying on your board, paddling as if on a surfboard is not only stable but also easier paddling into wind. Make sure you can get back on your board if you fall off in deep water. Practice! Lay in the water let your legs float to the surface and pull yourself back onto your board. If you’re paddling with novices, make sure you know how to assist them if they struggle.
Ensure you have the appropriate clothing for the time of year and air temperature. Remember, sea temperatures change during the year; the coldest is in January and February. It’s good to carry a dry bag with a windproof top and hat to keep the wind off. Carry some water to stay hydrated, and some emergency sweets and a small first aid kit.
Whilst it may feel cooler out on the water with the ocean breeze gently swirling around you, if the sun’s out, then you should definitely be wearing sunscreen. Without it, you could be at risk of sunstroke or worse. To keep these at bay, be sure to check out our range of Sun Protection products. Also, wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare off the water is a good idea, so take a look at our selection of sunglasses too!
Whilst not so much a safety concern for you, the last thing any of us want is to drop our valuables into the sea and break them! With that in mind, it can pay to have a handy dry bag in which to stow any valuables and electronics.
These are just few tips and each one could be the subject of a post on its own. Many books are available to read, so do your research and get advice before you go on the water, or even better get some training. There is no substitute for good training but make sure it’s with a recognized and qualified instructor. British Canoeing has been recently appointed the Governing Body for SUP, this is a great resource for any paddler.
Steve has been teaching SUP instructors for over ten years and is also an accomplished and qualified British Canoeing Sea Kayak Coach.