Did you know that the United States Coast Guard (USCG) recorded ten deaths related to paddle boarding in 2020? Six out of ten drowning deaths were caused by not wearing a life jacket.
When you go boating or fishing, you may wear a life jacket, but you might wonder if it is necessary to wear one when you paddleboard.
Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place!
- Do You Need A Life Jacket?
- Reasons Why You Need A Life Jacket On A Paddle Board
- Things You Need To Know About PFD Regulations
- How To Choose Right Life Jacket For Paddle Boarding
- Types of Paddle Board PFDs
- Life Jacket Sizes for Adults
- Life Jacket Sizes For Kids
- What Other SUP Equipment Do I Need?
- Wear A Life Jacket Now Before Paddle Boarding!
Do You Need A Life Jacket?
The answer is simple: yes, you do need a life jacket on a paddle board.
Paddle boarding requires wearing a life jacket unless you are in a surfing or swimming zone. The USCG identifies paddle boards as vessels which means using the latter requires following their rules, regulations, and standards.
Reasons Why You Need A Life Jacket On A Paddle Board
Aside from state laws, you also need to wear it for safety purposes. With so many reported recreational boating accidents—like the statistics mentioned above—you are better off being equipped.
Accidents can happen anytime, anywhere, so gearing yourself up can help a lot.
Save Your Life
Good swimmers do not need a life jacket. Wrong.
Even if you are a good swimmer, do not underestimate the power of a life jacket. Regardless of your swimming skills, your body may not respond well when experiencing a life-threatening event.
You must be wondering why.
Well, when fear overwhelms you, it may freeze your body for a moment, making you unable to move your body—swim, for that matter.
And here is a devastating fact: you could die.
But if you are equipped with a life jacket, and you slipped off your board, fell on the water, and become unconscious, the jacket can help you stay afloat.
Keep You Warm
Hypothermia can also cause death.
A strong wind or wave may knock you down straight to the water. You are lucky if you only need a couple of minutes waiting for your boat to come and pick you up.
The catch is, what if you are alone?
No boats or lifeguards may be out there to rescue you when you need one. You may not drown, but you may lose your chances of surviving when exposed to water for an extended period, causing your body temperature to drop.
Keep your body warm by wearing a life jacket.
Your body temperature would not drop rapidly because most of these jackets are made of insulating wetsuit materials—retaining body warmth even when soaked. Thus, increasing your survival time until help comes your way.
To Help Orientate You If You Fall Off Your Paddle Board
A life jacket has a turning ability.
This jacket can help you face up when you lose a sense of direction after falling in the water, and it also keeps you afloat or your head above the surface. As a result, you can breathe and recover, allowing you to swim towards your board or the shore.
Floating is necessary when you are waiting for a rescue. You may not know how to swim, but it allows you to be on the surface, so you will not drown.
Things You Need To Know About PFD Regulations
As mentioned, a paddle board (SUP) is now a vessel classification as per USCG.
Even if you are manually operating a vessel—the paddle board—you must abide by the life jacket rules under the small boat safety equipment regulations or the federal Navigation Rules and “carriage” requirements. Below are some of them.
- Each person needs to wear a USCG-approved life jacket: the special requirements or standards are met.
- A paddle boarder can wear a belt-pouch type inflatable personal floatation device (PFD) or a Type V jacket as long as it is applicable for the activity and is USCG-approved.
- Paddle boarders should always wear a life jacket that fits and corresponds to their sizes.
- Avoid wearing deteriorated, torn, or ripped jackets; always check that they are in serviceable condition.
- If a child younger than 12 years old is with you, they should also wear one.
- For 13 years old and above paddlers, Type I, II, III, or V is required.
- For adults, use Type III and PFD.
How To Choose Right Life Jacket For Paddle Boarding
Labels and icons are also important. Not only should you focus on a USCG-approved jacket, but you must also understand the tags and icons attached to it. Doing this will help you find the most suitable jacket for your paddle boarding trip.
While various states may have specific boat safety laws, the labels and icons are universal. They indicate when and where to use it.
Are The Old Labels Obsolete?
The purpose of the new labels is to use universal icons. The old and new labels mean the same thing, and the former is still accepted and in circulation until its last piece. But for new productions, new labels are required. Hence, you may see both old and new tags in shops, and that is okay.
Understanding the New Labels
Whether you are buying a life jacket online or in a physical store, the labels will help you buy the right jacket. You will find the labels in various locations specifying the following:
- Warning and Exclusions: This icon shows prohibited activities through a slash over the picture of the action. While other life jackets are for general purposes, some are not.
For instance, an icon with a ski and a slash over it means the jacket is unsuitable for that water activity; it also means that it is not meant for paddle sports.
- Curved Arrow: This icon refers to the jacket’s turning ability: to turn a person face up, especially when the latter is unconscious. However, if the icon has a slash through it, the jacket cannot turn the wearer up.
- Buoyancy: Indicated by bold-faced numbers 275, 150, 100, 70, or 50, the buoyancy measures gravitational force. The lower the number, the lesser the floatation, and vice versa
- Level 70 Label: This is the Type III PFD, and it is the standard for USCG-approved life jackets. If this label has a dock, extended hand, and slightly wavy lines, it means you can wear the jacket in protected waters.
However, if you plan to paddle board away from the dock, buy one with a higher number and bigger waves since the Level 70 label does not have a turning ability.
Choosing a Life Jacket with Certification And Manufacturer Information
Certification and manufacturer information are also vital. Without this information, it may not have met the USCG carriage requirements, which means that these jackets did not undergo testing approval.
Do not endanger your life by buying this unlabeled PFD.
Types of Paddle Board PFDs
Also, consider what type of PFD is best for paddle boarding activities. Depending on where you are doing it, here are the five main types with their old and new labels you can choose from:
TYPE I PFD (Offshore Life Jacket – New Label)
If you are in rough, open water, Type I PFD can keep you buoyant. Its buoyancy is over 22 pounds, and it can help you face up when you fall underwater. In addition, it enables you to stay afloat for a longer time.
TYPE II PFD (Near-Shore Buoyant Life Jacket – New Label)
As its name suggests, this type is only suitable for areas near the shore, where a quick rescue is available. Or you can use this type on calm inland waters. Like Type I, it can also help you face up even if it is less bulky.
TYPE III PFD (Floatation Aids – New Label)
Unlike Types I and II, Floatation aids cannot help you face up. Thus, it may only be suitable for water sport activities with a very high chance of fast rescue or calm waters.
TYPE IV PFD (Throwable Device – New Label)
This type of PFD includes horseshoe buoys, ring buoys, and boat cushions. However, using these is not enough, and you should not wear them on your body.
Instead, use Type IV as supplements for life jackets.
You may use a throwable device for emergencies, but it is unsuitable for an unconscious person, a non-swimmer, or a small child.
TYPE V PFD (Specialty Use Device – New Label)
The Specialty Use Device has the highest buoyancy rating. Thus, they are perfect for public beaches, outside calm waters, or outside typical swimming areas.
However, make sure that the life jacket’s label has an SUP icon to qualify it for SUP activities.
Life Jacket Sizes for Adults
No matter how durable your life jacket is, it may not perform well if you do not wear the correct size. Hence, before grabbing the first one on the shelf, try and ensure it fits you.
Or you can use these chest sizes to get the best one for you:
- 28-32″ chest: XS
- 23-36″ chest: S
- 36-40″ chest: M
- 40-44″ chest: L
- 44-48″ chest: XL
- 48-52″ chest: XXL
- 52-56″ chest: 3XL
Life Jacket Sizes For Kids
On the other hand, you should use the child’s weight to determine the correct size.
- 8–30 lbs: Infant PFDs
- 30–50 lbs: Infant PFDs
- 50–90 lbs: Youth PFDs
What Other SUP Equipment Do I Need?
Other equipment can help you when you are paddle boarding. One is a whistle which you can use to warn others that you are coming, and the other is a light to increase visibility.
Bring a light source if you plan to paddle board after sunset. However, it must not be too bright, so you will not blind other boaters or paddlers.
You can also buy a life jacket that comes with a whistle and light source so you will not forget to buy them.
The last thing that you might need to ensure your safety on your paddle board is a leash. A leash will keep your board from getting too far away from you if you do happen to fall into the water.
Wear A Life Jacket Now Before Paddle Boarding!
Paddle boarding is both an exhilarating and dangerous activity. The water is unpredictable, and you need to be prepared by following the small boat safety equipment rules.
Thus, it would help if you have a life jacket on a paddle board together with the proper paddling SUP techniques, so you can enjoy paddle boarding without endangering yourself.
If you do not own one, follow the tips above to get the right life jacket for you.