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SUP safety considerations for beginners in 2024 – a reminder as we look forward to warmer weather

SUP safety hasn’t gone away. It won’t be long before the weather starts to warm up, and there will be a whole load of stand up paddlers ready to get their new SUP toys wet and dabble with a paddle.

SUP safety reminder.

We thought it worth reminding and reiterating some safety considerations ahead of this activity. Time to unlock your sense of adventure, but safely…

Basic SUP safety checklist.

Basic SUP safety checklist …

As a newbie entering the sport of stand up paddling for the first time it’s all too easy to bound along the beach with your SUP and paddle in hand before attempting to balance, paddle and ultimately propel yourself atop the water.

SUP safety considerations for beginners - a reminder as we look forward to spring.
Giving due consideration to SUP safety this spring is essential.

During bouts of sunny, calm weather this isn’t usually life threatening, and should on the whole be commended – enthusiasm, after all, needn’t be quashed. There are, however, always risks involved when going afloat – some not always obvious.

With that in mind here are a few tips to help you along the way condensed into one article to make it easy to refer back to. (Also, keep an eye on the McConks SUP Safety page for ongoing updates and deeper delves into specific safety aspects of stand up paddle boarding).

10 essential paddleboarding tips to keep you and your friends safe on the water

The 10 most important things you need to know before you use your paddleboard for the first time Cal Major and the Water Skills Academy have put together 10 really …

SUP leashes

Firstly, and most importantly, WEAR THE RIGHT LEASH! A leash is the way paddlers keep in contact with their boards – the main source of flotation available. There are of course other products you can and use to increase this – such as wearing a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) – but it’s a leash that will give paddlers that all important lifeline.

All new McConks boards come with a quick release waist belt that attaches to your ankle leash. We recommend that you use the quick release waist belt in all environments other than the surf zone. If you’re surfing, only use the ankle leash, everywhere else attach the leash to the belt.

A common breakage can be along the paddle shaft – even for the best paddles. This isn’t meant to alarm but merely highlight a particular scenario. If you’re adequately leashed to your SUP then at least you have the means of keeping above the water. Plus, a stand up paddle board is easier to spot than a lone rider bobbing about in the drink should emergency services be required.

There are a number of different types of leash available, all of which are designed for various SUP environments.

Why wear a quick release waist belt?

A straight surf style leash or even a coiled ankle leash in a flowing water environment environment that can get snagged on all manner of things – and 6 paddlers have lost there lives in the UK in the last three years by being trapped by their leashes – four in rivers and two in estuaries. This is why the coiled to quick release safety belt method mentioned above is the best option for most paddlers in most situations.

Please note the current advice from Paddle UK to whitewater paddleboard providers is not to use any leash in graded whitewater sections, although many whitewter paddlers still choose to use a quick release belt with multiple failsafes in certain whitewater conditions where their personal risk assessment is that a long swim without the board is a greater risk than leash entrapment or entanglement.

Flotation devices for paddleboarders – personal flotation devices

In some areas of the world it’s against the law to not be wearing a personal flotation device when in the ocean – and there are many options available. Fixed buoyancy aids, impact vests and an array of self inflating float belts now exist specifically with stand up paddling in mind.

For some a buoyancy aid may be a better bet. Just be sure to purchase one suitable to your needs and something that’ll stand the test of time. Cutting corners with safety equipment isn’t wise.

SUP safety float belts in particular – the kind that fit round waists in a bumbag and inflate with CO2 – are great. They’re pretty discreet, don’t get in the way of paddling and are easy to inflate if needed. The only downside is in the result of paddlers becoming unconscious they’re useless – although even bouyancy aids don’t keep unconscious paddlers faces out of the water – you need a fully fledged life vest to do this, and we certainly don’t recommend them for paddleboarding.

SUP helmets

Whilst not essential you may feel more confident going afloat on your stand up paddle board whilst wearing a helmet. If you’re falling, or feel unsteady on your feet whilst paddling then a helmet may help you avoid nasty bonce bangs – particularly if your SUP location is in close confines (such as close to river banks).

Some SUPers choose to wear a helmet in other environments such as at surf spot or in fast flowing, white water rivers. There’s a high likelihood of taking a dunking during these activities and a lid is just extra piece of mind. SUP foiling too for those who fancy a bit of levitating fun.

SUP safety and clothing

For most of us there’ll be a need to wear some form of clothing when out for a paddle. Whether that be wetsuit, drysuit (surface immersion suit) or other paddling attire there are very few instances when you wouldn’t wear anything at all – even if only to protect yourself from the harsh UV rays of the sun.

SUP is one of those sports that lulls riders into a false sense of security. After a period of time falling becomes less and less. Before long (at least during recreation flat water paddles) there are very few dunkings. This can cause paddlers to think reducing clothing layers is better. It’s true; SUPers get very hot when paddling – even during cold snaps.

But it only takes one ‘into the brine’ for the cold to zap all that heat (and strength) you’ve built up. Evaporative cooling, caused by windchill from only the lightest of airs, is then rapid. Consideration should therefore be given as hypothermia is a real risk. It’s better to wear layers that can be peeled away one by one as thermometer readings increase.

Weather conditions

If you’re going it alone (we recommend getting some coaching at least during those initial forays) then you need to be armed with knowledge. Having an up to date weather forecast, knowing what it means and how to interpret it is a good idea. The weather can change in the blink of an eye. If you’re ignorant to the conditions and how they’ll change during your session then you’re heading for a fall. Possibly literally…

It’s tricky to understand an in depth weather chart. This is something you’ll probably nail down in time. A simpler outlook – the kind you find on weather channel sites – will suffice. Some idea is better than nothing at all when it comes to SUP safety.


Hazards can be anything – even the unseen. One of the trickiest things to spot (especially for the uninitiated) is how tides can affect your chosen paddling location. Tides can almost be invisible if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. Yet they can be deadly.

A seemingly benign paddling arena can be anything but. Putting your board in ready for launch, in a heavily tidal spot such as an estuary, can result in paddlers being swept out to sea – if the current is ebbing. There is also a significant risk of you being entrapped by your leash and board if you fall off your board, and this has, sadly, led to two fatalities in the UK In recent years, and led to the campaign for all paddleboards to be sold with a quick releash waist belt.

All stand ups should familiarise themselves with basic tidal principles. And at the very least know the daily tide times. If unsure about your chosen put in then don’t be afraid to ask.

SUP equipment checks

It’s important to regularly give your kit a once over and check for any damage or signs of wear and tear. Paddles in particular should be inspected as it’s shafts and handles that can break. Leashes are also prone to snapping after prolonged use so worth a look and confirm yours is in good working order.

Then the board itself – especially inflatables. If there’s any kind of puncture or ding you need to jump on this and fix (or get fixed) as soon as possible. The fin box is another area that should be checked – especially the central fixing point. And then the fin itself. If you have a board with US box system then part of the skeg where the screw slides in can sometimes give way. It’s usually pretty easy to spot this when up close.

The simple fact is any equipment malfunctions (or those imminent) will need to be addressed. For those not in a position to remedy straight away it’s worth finding someone who can. Your local stand up paddle retailer will most likely be in a position to help, or at least have contacts for those who can.

At McConks, sustainability is guiding principle. So keeping gear alive for as long as is humanly possible is our missiong. That’s why our gear is made to last, and is designed to be repaiorable and fixable, and that’s why we keep a well stocked spares and repairs shop for minor issues. For more major problems with McConks gear, give us a shout if you’re still in your warranty period and we can advise.

If you’re out of warranty and need a board repair, speak to the genius Paul at SUP services. He is the master of extending the life of boards and keeping them on the water

SUP coaching

The easiest way to keep safe when learning and improving within stand up is to get some coaching. Most think SUP is an easy activity that has little in the way of skill and/or technique, which isn’t true. OK, within a short amount of time riders can be up and paddling. But paddling correctly and doing so in a safe manner aren’t things newbie SUPers get straight away.

With an expert, qualified coach showing you the ropes there’ll be no need to consider safety as this’ll be done for you. If you should get into trouble during a lesson then your instructor, watching over you, will simply come and retrieve you and your kit.

As well as covering safety an instructor can identify where improvements are needed with your technique and therefore get you to that next level much quicker than when solo. If there are others in your group then pack mentality prevails and with everyone pushing each other it’s a win/win.

McConks recommended SUP demo centres and SUP instructors.

This is where you’ll find all the map locations of SUP instructors and schools that McConks recommends. If you click on each location you can navigate to the company site …

Know your limits

Even if you do go down the coaching route at some point you’ll be heading out on your own. Hopefully you’ll have developed the necessary skills and have the knowledge mentioned above to be as safe as possible while on the water. There will still be points, however, when heading for a SUP might not be the best idea.

You may have progressed to paddle surfing or have been getting stuck into downwind stand up. Likewise sticking to recreational all round paddling may be preferable. In all environments, there’ll be times when heading out isn’t wise. If there’s one piece of safety advice to be given it’s knowing your limits.

SUP safety is about having the nouse to know when NOT to go is paramount. Better to walk away and come back another day than head out and get into difficulty, possibly denting your confidence in the process.

Stay safe and SUP happy!

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