Is Paddle Boarding Dangerous? 7 Ways to Stay Safe on the Water

Stand-up paddle boarding is one of the most fun and versatile water sports you can take part in. But no matter what you plan to do on your board or how high your experience level is, you need to consider paddle board safety every time you head out.

Every trip out on your board requires proper planning and safety precautions. In this article, I’ll take you through proper paddle board safety to have fun on your paddle board while keeping out of trouble.

So, Is Paddle Boarding Dangerous?

Paddle boarding is not a particularly dangerous sport, but it is of course essential to prepare for every eventuality while out on the water.

Safety is paramount with any outdoor activity, and while SUP is generally thought of as a low-risk sport, you have to remember that anything involving being out on the water carries an inherent risk.

This is why it’s important to do your homework when it comes to SUP safety! 

Can You Paddle Board if You Can’t Swim?

You might be surprised to know that yes, you can paddle board if you can’t swim. This comes with a caveat, however.

If you are a non-swimmer, or even just not a particularly strong swimmer, you should avoid paddling in waters that are deeper than about chest-height. You can still get a decent SUP workout while staying in the shallows. 

Can You Paddle Board While Pregnant?

While you should obviously consult your doctor first, the answer is yes, you can paddle board while pregnant. Gentle exercise is actually encouraged for pregnant women, and the great thing about SUP is the fact that it can be as gentle or as challenging as you make it. 

Just take care while paddling, don’t strain yourself, and if you do fall into the water, be sure to fall away from the board.

Paddle boarding has a ton of health benefits and is a great way to incorporate gentle exercise into your lifestyle, so as long as you practice proper safety, it can be a great option for pregnant women. 

Do Sharks Attack Paddle Boards? 

One of the big concerns among new paddlers (and perhaps one of the most unwarranted), is a fear of shark attacks. It’s only natural to wonder ‘do sharks attack paddle boards’, or if paddle boarding itself is likely to lead to a shark attack.

Fortunately, the chances of a shark attacking you while paddle boarding are incredibly slim! In fact, less than 150 attacks occurred last year alone – which should be an encouraging statistic. 

There are, of course, safety measures you can employ to help mitigate any potential attack (such as not wearing contrasting colors, for example) but the truth is that shark attacks are so rare, the chances are you’ll be fine.

Seven Ways to Prepare for Safe Paddle Boarding

Before starting your next SUP adventure, it’s essential to check your equipment and to  carry out some basic planning. SUP safety precautions don’t have to take long, so you shouldn’t skip them. Follow these six safety tips, so you stay safe on your stand up paddle board.

1. Check the Condition of All Your Equipment 

Before hitting the water, make sure that you give all of your equipment the once over. You don’t want to need something in an emergency and find that it’s not working. 

You’ll find our vital SUP safety equipment list below. Ensure that you check the condition of all items thoroughly, paying close attention to these key areas: 

  • Check your SUPs condition and ensure that nothing is damaged. If you suffered some damage the last time you were out but never got around to repairing it, it would be best to cancel today’s trip (obviously). You can almost guarantee you’ll have a problem if you go paddling while hoping it doesn’t get worse.
  • Double-check that you’ve pumped an inflatable SUP to the correct pressure. It’s always a good idea to leave your board (away from direct sunlight) for about 10 minutes after you’ve inflated it. You can re-check the pressure to ensure that there aren’t any small leaks.
  • Check that you’ve assembled your paddle correctly and that the clamps hold solid. A paddle failure on open water is a big problem, so it’s worth taking the time to check that yours is up to the job.

2. Check the Weather Forecast and Conditions

Before heading out, be sure to take a good look at a local weather forecast for where you’re planning your day’s paddle boarding. Check the forecast conditions for the whole day and always be cautious if things look borderline.

Wind (Can Make Paddle Boarding Hard work)

Even a small amount of wind can make paddle boarding hard work, or even dangerous. Beginners who have not mastered a strong paddle stroke should be particularly cautious.

Wind can make it hard to return to your starting point on a lake. Not only does the breeze itself blow you, but it can cause choppy waters that take more effort to paddle. Strong winds can even cause you to have trouble balancing and maneuvering, and can cause you to capsize.

You must take particular care with wind direction if you are SUP boarding on the ocean. It is best never to head out if there are off-shore winds forecast. These can blow you away from the coast and make it very hard to get back. 

Generally, experienced paddler boarders avoid going out in winds higher than 10 knots. If you’re a beginner, it’s wise to be even more cautious or stick to a site like a small lake where if you did get blown off course, it wouldn’t be a disaster.

Remember, it’s always wise to start your session by heading into the wind. That way, when you’re getting tired, and it’s time to head home, the breeze on your back should help you.

Rain (Can Cause Calm Water to Become Dangerous)

It’s always a good idea to carry some waterproof clothing in your dry bag just in case you encounter some unexpected rain. However, planning to paddle in the rain isn’t a great idea and generally isn’t enjoyable.

If you’re paddling on a river, rain upstream also needs to be considered. While you might not get wet, heavy rain upriver can quickly cause usually calm waters to become dangerous raging torrents.

You should always avoid paddle boarding in lighting storms. You’re the highest point around and might become an unexpected lighting conductor.

Swell (Creates Larger Waves)

Swell creates larger waves that need more effort to paddle into and maneuver against. Large waves can make it difficult or impossible to turn your board without falling off. 

If the ocean is forecast to have more swell than you are used to, you should carefully consider how much energy and effort you’ll be using. Plan an extremely cautious route.

Tides (Can Move Your Sup – and You!)

If you’re paddling in tidal waters, you must have at least a basic understanding of how tides work. Always consult tide tables when planning your trip.

Tidal flow can move your SUP rapidly over long distances and can be exhausting to paddle against. Make sure that you plan your entry and exit points so you’ll be able to get out safely. It’s essential to avoid areas known for rip current as these can suck you far out to sea.

Check Sunrise & Sunset – and Be Prepared for Changes

Make sure you’re aware of sunrise times, so you don’t plan to go out before it’s light. It’s crucial to keep track of when sunset is so you can get back to shore in plenty of time to pack up your gear before it’s dark.

And finally, you should always be prepared for changes. 

Even the best weather forecast can get it wrong, so be sure to constantly evaluate the weather conditions while paddling. Be prepared to change your plan if things start to look uncomfortable or dangerous.

3. Take Advice, Especially if You’re Visiting a New Location

Check with local lifeguards, the Coast Guard, or other paddlers if you need help or are visiting a new location. It’s always a good idea to get the opinion of someone with more experience. Not only could it help you stay safe, but it might also make the trip more fun.

4. Make Sure the Paddling Location and Conditions Are Suitable for Your Skill and Experience Level

It’s always a good idea to evaluate whether a location is suitable for your skill level and condition. Remember that a site can change significantly from one day to the next due to the weather, tides, and water conditions. 

If you’re an inexperienced paddler, it’s best to practice in calm in-shore waters while developing your skills. When you do venture onto the ocean, stay close to the shore or in sheltered lagoons. 

Don’t be afraid to take lessons. They can teach you the essential skills, but the instructors can also show you how to get the best from your local area.

5. Dress Appropriately

The weather forecast will generally control the clothes you need to wear. Remember that you will always be cooler out on the water than on land, so you might need to take layers with you to stay warm. 

Be prepared that you might fall in. Unless it’s really hot, take a spare set of clothes and a towel in a dry bag. Alternatively, particularly when paddling in cooler waters, you might need to wear a wetsuit. Remember to consider life jackets and personal flotation devices.

Take light waterproof clothes so you can stay dry if there’s a chance of some rain. Don’t forget a hat and waterproof sunscreen to protect you from the sun’s rays.

If you’re an advanced paddler heading into flowing rivers, ensure that you have the appropriate safety equipment. You may need a helmet and elbow and knee protectors.

6. Let Someone Know Your Plans

Even if you’re not paddling alone, you should always let someone know your plans. Tell them where you’re going and when you’re expected back. Make a plan to call your contact by a specific time to let them know you are safe.

Vital Pieces of SUP Safety Gear

The following items of SUP safety equipment can help you stay out of harm’s way. You should consider carrying them even if you’re in calm waters.

1. Personal Flotation Device (PFD) or Life Jacket

For SUP safety, the United States Coast Guard states that a child under 12-years must wear an approved life jacket. Any older paddle boarder must have an approved life jacket or a personal flotation device.

If you are not paddling in an area where local laws or the coast guard require them, a personal flotation device is a vital piece of safety equipment. It would be best if you always considered wearing one.

Modern, waist-mounted PFDs are compact and can be worn comfortably by strong swimmers when they paddle. They don’t get in the way but are there if you need them to stay afloat. 

If you aren’t so confident in the water, then a life jacket is the best choice as they’ll give you immediate positive buoyancy if you should end up in the water.

2. Leash

If you fall off your SUP board, wind, moving water, and strong currents can quickly separate you. A SUP safety leash keeps you connected to the board, but you need the right type for the conditions.

  • Coil Ankle SUP Leash – Ideal for flat waters, including lakes and the open ocean.
  • Straight Ankle SUP Leash – Best for surfing. Won’t spring your board back onto you.
  • Quick Release SUP Leash With Waist Belt –  An ankle leash can be very dangerous if you are paddling in flowing waters, including rivers and estuaries. Your leash can get tangled on underwater obstructions, creating a high risk of drowning. An upper body quick-release waist belt leash allows you to be connected to the paddle board. However, you can rapidly free yourself with either hand in an emergency.

3. Mobile Phone (in a Waterproof Case)

Always carry a fully charged mobile phone with you so you can call for help. Even though many phones are waterproof, it’s best to have yours in a waterproof case, as this provides an added level of protection. 

Also, while mobile phones may be waterproof – they aren’t exactly buoyant – so no amount of waterproofing will matter if your phone sinks to the riverbottom! Look for a waterproof phone case that floats and that you can carry around your neck or attach to your paddle boards D-rings.

4. Safety Whistle and Flashlight

A whistle or other noisemaker is handy if you need to attract attention. While you can shout for help, you’ll find that the noise from a whistle carries much further.

A waterproof flashlight is also especially helpful if you’re paddling close to sunrise, sunset, or in poor visibility. You can use it to see where you’re going, signal for help, or alert other people or where you are.

5. Quick-Fix Kit

If you have an inflatable board, consider taking a repair kit with you, particularly if you’re planning a long or solo trip. A puncture repair kit and some duct tape could make all the difference if you get a leak.

Also read: How to fix a leak in your paddle board

6. Dry Bag with Spare Clothes and Towel

It’s a good idea to carry a towel and some spare clothes in a dry bag. Even the most experienced paddle boarders can fall in. Unless it’s a scorching day, you’ll need to be able to get dry and stay warm.

 Remember to carry lightweight waterproof clothes as well if there’s a chance it could rain while you’re out. Getting wet and cold will sap your strength and could be dangerous.

7. Food and Drinks

Avoid SUP safety problems caused by dehydration by carrying plenty of liquids with you. Consider sports drinks that provide energy and essential salts and minerals. 

It’s also a good idea to carry some high-energy snacks with you. Even if you’re not planning to be out for a meal, it’s always a good idea to be able to boost your energy levels.

8. Sun Protection

Make sure that you stay protected from the sun. Even in mild weather, it’s a good idea to wear a hat, waterproof sunscreen, and sunglasses.

Rather than just wearing a swimsuit, consider a rash guard if it’s hot. These are lightweight so that you won’t overheat, but they will protect you from sunburn.

9. Paddle Board Buddy

I know, I know. This isn’t technically paddle board safety gear – but it’s definitely something worth reiterating! 

It’s always safer to paddle with someone rather than on your own. It’s also usually more enjoyable to go out on your SUP boards together. Remember, you should always plan your trip to meet the abilities of the least experienced buddy.

Final Thoughts

Paddle boarding does not have to be dangerous. A lot of paddle board safety comes from sensible planning and using common sense while you are out.

Ensure that your equipment is in good condition and take appropriate safety gear. Don’t push yourself beyond your experience and physical abilities. Remember to have fun!

I hope you enjoyed this SUP safety tutorial and that it helps you stay out of harm’s way when you’re next paddle boarding. Let us know what you found helpful and if there are any extra safety tips that you’d like to add. 

Please remember to share the article with anyone you think might enjoy it.