SUP Safety: Are You Wearing Your PFD?


SUP Safety: Are You Wearing Your PFD?

Personal floatation devices, or PFDs have been a requirement for stand up paddleboarders since 2009. I’d be willing to wager that you probably knew that already. It might also be a safe bet that you aren’t wearing one every time you take your paddleboard out. And I completely understand, even if, when you don’t wear a PFD, you are breaking a simple regulation that is designed to promote safe boating for everyone.

Your Paddleboard is not a Surfboard

The origins of the paddleboard can be traced back to the surf experience in Hawaii. Beach boys were hired by resorts to work with tourists arriving on these sun soaked beaches looking to try out surfing. The next entrepreneurial leap was the attempt by these same beach boys to record the experience with photos. They essentially took an outrigger paddle and a surfboard, a heavy box camera, and took to the waves. From it’s inception, paddleboarding has developed its own rebel yell.

MTI Fluid Inflatable PFD Belt

MTI Fluid Inflatable PFD Belt

Once the concept of standing up or SUPing caught on, these early paddleboarders found out that they could access waves that were well beyond the the normal drop zone. But this created problems for the folks who protect you and your adventures. The question became: Is a paddleboard a surfboard with a paddle or is it a kayak you stand up in?

The PFD a Half Century Later

The first seat belt was designed in the late 1800’s but didn’t become a mandated law until the 1989. The first bike helmet was designed around the same period but has yet to receive mandatory wearer requirements in 29 states. It wasn’t until the Director of the Oregon Marine Board noticed and was somewhat alarmed by a huge influx of a new type of water user, the paddleboarder. The SUPer was crowding the rivers, lakes and open oceans and his concern prompted the first regulations passed concerning the activity.

Essentially, this 2008 regulation from the United States Coast Guard, simply titled, “Coast Guard classifies paddleboards as vessels” ended the surfboard/kayak debate with the following conclusion: “This classification means that when used beyond the narrow limits of a swimming, surfing, or bathing area, no person may use a paddleboard unless in compliance with the Navigation Rules, and applicable carriage requirements for this type of vessel. This may include a Coast Guard approved life jacket for each person on board, a sound producing device, visual distress signals, and proper navigation lights.”

Equipping Your Paddleboard and You for Safety

It doesn’t take long for the thrill seeker in all of us to recognize the sport of stand up paddleboarding as the answer to our rebel prayers. SUPing allowed us to seek deeper waves further offshore, explore lakes and rivers from a unique perspective, and to do so from an excellent vantage point, standing up. But with these new freedoms, the ability to range far and wide and often in areas where emergency access is incredibly limited, comes new concerns for safety.

We often think of PFDs in terms of those bulky, orange vests boaters wear. The PFD for the SUPer however has evolved over the years. And one of the leading manufacturers focused on the way paddleboarders use their boards wanted to make a PFD that is all but invisible. One of the most accessible PFDs of this kind available, The MTI Fluid Inflatable PFD Belt is all of that and more.

One of the excellent personal flotation devices from MTI

One of the excellent personal flotation devices from MTI

Marine Technologies International or MTI was launched in the early nineties devoted to addressing the flotation device issue (those big, orange vests) for paddling sports. Because of this, they were in a unique position to develop a PFD for the needs of the SUP boarder, addressing their unique range of motions. Their line of Inflatable Belts was the answer.

First off, it is worn around the waist. It is comfortable and nearly invisible. A green light let’s you know it is ready. Using a pull cord to activate the CO2 cartridge, the vest inflates allowing you to pull it over your head in a matter of seconds. This type of on-person device, required to be carried by paddleboarders by the USCG but not necessarily worn makes it easier to comply with common sense and do so by wearing it all the time.

Keep in mind, leashes break. Having the device on you allows you to secure your safety first and quickly and worry about recovering your board later.

Additional Considerations

You should never go out on the water without a PFD attached to your body. Period. But the USCG also requires you to carry a whistle and a flashlight. Being regarded as a vessel beyond swimming and surf zones brings a whole new level of dangers from boaters who may not be aware of your presence. Most of us can’t maneuver our boards quickly enough to get out of the way or be seen in the late afternoon. This equipment answers those needs, protects your activity, and makes paddleboarding much more accessible.

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