Canoeists and surfers are currently debating as to the proper classification of Stand-up paddleboards (SUP). Is it surfing or does the use of a paddle make it a canoe? The outcome of the debate, to be settled by the Court of Arbitration, might result in the activity becoming an Olympic sport.
Dreams of Olympic medals aside, the U.S. Coast Guard has already made its decision. SUPs are vessels, like kayaks and canoes, and therefore are subject to navigation rules and carry requirements for flotation devices. This matters only when you’re using one outside of a designated swimming, surfing or bathing area, but it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with all laws or requirements.
As the popularity of SUPs rise, so does the danger. Therefore, the Coast Guard has made it their mission to increase Paddlecraft (Paddleboard) Safety Awareness. In the Northeast alone, there were 28 paddler deaths in 2016. That is more than double the national average. To understand and prevent deaths like these, we urge all boaters to get familiar with the safety and navigation rules for paddlecrafts, whether or not they regularly use SUPs, kayaks or canoes.
Paddlers are required to have a sound-producing device, like a whistle, on them when out on the water. A flashlight that can be shined in enough time to prevent a collision can count as your navigation light. Lights do not have to be installed on SUPs. Per Coast Guard regulations, life jackets must be on onboard in all states and are required to be worn by those 12 and under, however some states require adults to wear them as well. Check your local state regulations on the Coast Guard Boating Safety page.
Operators of vessels like SUPs, kayaks and canoes must report accidents to the USCG. This information is crucial to analysis and prevention of accidents, as well as making sure all involved are rescued and accounted for after the fact. Usually these accidents don’t require a USCG investigation but paddleboard/commercial vessel accidents have occurred and can be very dangerous. For information on how to file a report check out the USCG website.
One important thing to do is label the paddleboard (or kayak, or canoe) with your name and phone number so that if it is found the local authorities and/or Coast Guard can reach out to you. Doing so avoids setting off a search for a missing person. You can even buy waterproof stickers on Amazon to do this!
It is up to all of us to stay safe on the water and reduce the risks for paddlers in any sort of vessel. Whether you’re out there training for the Olympics, or simply to soak up the sun, be prepared and be aware of your surroundings.