Standup Paddleboarding Safety

There are three basic types of stand up paddle boarding (SUP). They are river, surf, and touring. General safety rules apply to all of the types. Special safety rules apply to each specific type.

General Safety Rules to Follow for Safe SUP

Understand your limits, know the area, and buddy up.

  • Learn Slowly – Beginners need to take it easy and try places that are familiar for the first practice runs. It is helpful to go along with a more experienced SUP partner, especially in the beginning.
  • Buddy Up – It is always better to have a SUP buddy go along with you, than going solo. In case of troubles, the other person can really help.
  • Stay Connected With the Paddle Board – Wear an ankle tether to be sure to stay connected to the paddleboard, otherwise it is very easy to lose the board.
  • Stay Connected With Others – In areas that have adequate cell phone signal it is a great idea to carry a water resistant cell phone in a waterproof bag. As an alternative, give information about the timing and location of the paddleboard trip to someone who stays behind. Call them to let them know upon a safe return home. This information is very valuable for that person to use, if the paddle boarders do not return on schedule.
  • Stay Warm – In places where the water is cold, wear a wet suit for a much more enjoyable experience and to avoid the dangers of hypothermia, which may be life threatening.
  • Use Sunscreen – Sunburn is nobody’s friend. Even on cloudy days, when there is no feeling of heat from the sun, UV rays cause sunburn. Any exposed skin and the face needs protection with a waterproof sun blocker of the highest SPF 50. Take it along in a floating safety hip bag for needed reapplication during the day.

River SUP

Riding a river is fun, yet it has unique dangers, which require extra precautions that include:

  • Safety Gear – Always wear a life jacket and a helmet to protect from head injury. Also, wear knee and elbow protection in rapid water.
  • Release Strap – Use a release tether strap (or no strap at all), which allows a quick release from a device worn around the waist. Boards can get trapped in rocks and pull a person down under the water to drown, unless releasable when necessary.
  • Know the River – Before entering the water, investigate the entire downriver area of the trip or go with a competent local guide. Beginners should only go in a river with a calm current in long lazy stretches to practice their new skills.

Surf and Touring SUP

Touring is going for longer trips and it done on lakes and oceans. Touring has similar safety requirements for surf. Ocean surf presents unique challenges, with additional safety precautions, which include:

  • Choose Safe Zones – Avoid areas crowded with regular surfers. Avoid dangerous surf zones. SUP is not about big tall waves. SUP is more fun in shorter, long, gentle waves.
  • Life Jacket – Each person must take along an inflatable safety jacket in a small-packed belt kit or hip bag. This is a legal safety requirement from the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Carry a Whistle – Have a whistle on a cord around the neck that floats, used to signal other boaters.
  • Right of Way – Know the water right of way rules, which means to stay out of the way of larger boats.
  • Weather Conditions – Check the local weather conditions and be aware that ocean weather may suddenly change in unpredictable ways. At the first sign of bad weather, immediately head back to shore.


Stand Up Paddle Boarding is fun for all ages, best enjoyed by following all the appropriate safety precautions.