Paddling Safety 101: Always Wear a Leash and Life Jacket

This article was produced under a grant from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, administered by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned pro, basic safety practices apply to any and every paddler who steps off shore. The most fundamental of those rules centers on a single, essential piece of gear: Always wear a personal flotation device (PFD), otherwise known as a life jacket. For standup paddlers, that personal flotation extends to your paddleboard, where it’s critical to anchor yourself to your board by using a leash.

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It is hard to overstate the required need for a life jacket and leash with the uncertainties on any body of water. Beyond an unplanned swim that could quickly turn fatal, the law requires you to have one for every person in every boat, plus federal law requires all children under 13 to wear life jackets whenever they’re on the water (state rules may also apply). That includes kayaks, canoes, and SUPs. The folks at your local paddling shop can help you find the right kind of USCG-approved life jacket, and the right type of leash, for the type of paddling you do (especially for whitewater standup paddlers), and the proper fit.

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And if you’re one of those people who thinks life jackets and leashes are only for children or people who aren’t strong swimmers, think again. There’s a reason that you’ll never see an experienced paddler without one. It’s the first, most simple, and correct choice that you make prior to launch. And remember: A life jacket and a leash only work to save your life when you have one, and you wear one. Always wear a PFD. Always use a leash with your standup paddleboard.

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