Basic Safety Equipment When Paddling Outside the Surf Zone
Sadly, yesterday I read a tragic news story out of Oregon. A female in her 20's fell and became separated from her stand-up paddle board (SUP). Witnesses observed her struggling to swim and stay above the water. She eventually disappeared under the water and drowned before rescuers could reach her. When I read stories like this I find myself mentally reviewing my safety practices to ensure they are adequate.
Here on Amelia Island we have a multitude of paddling options when there is no surf. Depending on the wind, weather and tides you could enjoy a sunrise ocean paddle, explore the salt marshes and local creeks, ride bumps downwind from one end of the island to the other, tour historic downtown and Fort Clinch just to name a few. Each of these paddles offers something unique. However, they all have one thing in common. They all put you outside the surf zone.
Being outside the surf zone actually requires a bit more safety equipment including a PFD, whistle and, a leash. While often bulky for a paddler, the Class V inflatable PFDs on the market now are low profile and light. The first time I wore one I literally forgot it was there. In fact, I've had clients drive home wearing their PFD.
Another small but essential piece of safety equipment is the whistle. Ensure it is a marine whistle with no metal parts that corrode. I attach my whistle to the PFD with an aluminum carabiner. Remember three loud blasts of the whistle indicate you are in trouble and need assistance. It is a good idea to review this with your crew before embarking.
As for the leash, you would be surprised at how far your board can travel away from you after a fall. With some wind or a ripping current it will likely require a rigorous swim to retrieve it. I find a coiled leash is more practical for touring. We are able to get into some tight and shallow places on our paddle boards. The last thing you want is your leash dragging and then unexpectedly snagging on a branch or rock. Make sure your leash is securely fastened to your ankle, knee, or PFD. It can slip off your leg in a fall if it is not snug.
One of the things I like most about paddle boarding is that it affords us the opportunity to be on the water more often. Touring on a SUP is another way to enjoy being on the water when there is no surf. Wind and current, in particular, can present real hazards for even the most experienced paddler. An inflatable PFD, whistle, and leash are essential for ensuring you have a safe and fun session.