PFD and SUP vs Kayak and PFD question

-- Last Updated: Jul-06-12 9:20 AM EST --

We have a local TV program that recently featured a story about the new SUP fever, but i only saw 1 person in the program w/ a PFD. What's up the people not wearing them in this sport? How is different from kayaking or canoeing? Please help me understand why this is safer than boating? Or thought to be safer? Sorta made me mad to see this, a lot of families watch this show. I know it's a choice but geez.

were the others wearing? If the water is cold many might have been wearing wetsuits which make a person quite floaty although not approved for such use.

the lakes are warm here right now, they
just wore swim suits and shorts.

Life jackets even more important
for SUPs especially around piers and other boats. Think about it. A SUP’s head can fall about 4-6’ before it hits something - hopefully water, not a dock, underwater rock/piling, or other boat. Mandatory wear for my family. Glad some states consider SUP boats and require life jackets. Sad that recent SUP magazine photos have few wearing life jackets. More about flogging SUPs than safety. R

surf heritage?
Surfers rarely, if ever, wear PFDs, because the ability to dive under a wave is seen as more important for safety than the need for extra flotation. Surfers as a group tend to be fit and good swimmers.

I can see that folks on SUPs would think of themselves more as “boarders” than “boaters”, and dress accordingly.


– Last Updated: Jul-06-12 11:51 AM EST –

The Coast Guard considers SUP boards to be vessels and paddlers have the same PFD reqs as kayaks or canoes. Except in the "surf zone". SUP paddlers do not need PFD's when in the surf zone. There they're like any other surfer and they do not need PFD's. What you often see are paddlers wearing CO2 inflatable PFD's worn around the waist in small fanny packs. If you are not looking for them you might miss it or just assume it is a small fanny pack for gear. Having said that, a few SUP paddlers choose to ignore these regulations based on the idea that the SUP board itself is the floatation and they are attached to it via their leash. The coast guard does not see it that way but that is what is happening.

Just to address your questions a little more specifically. A stand up paddle board is different from a kayak or canoe in at least two significant ways. One is that they do not "capsize" or fill up with water. Therefore, unlike a canoe or kayak, if you come off it or it flips there is no issue at all with a water filled boat and a "self rescue" is as easy as climbing back on the board. The other major difference is that the paddler is (or should be) attached to the SUP board by the leash. The board provides hundreds of pounds of floatation and keeps the paddler almost completely out of the water unlike a PFD which provides only a dozen or so pounds of float and keeps the swimmer almost completely in the water. They really are very different animals but the coast guard seems not to be interested in thinking too hard about the differences.

Required to “carry” not wear …
In some waterways around the DC area, small craft (such as kayaks, sups, canoes, etc.) are required to have a floation device on board but not necessarily for the paddler to wear it. Other requirements such as signalling devices etc. also apply. The police has been ticketing SUP-ers and others for these violations (but not fanatically, so some just don’t do it). All rental SUPs I see have the paddlers wear the PFDs when they get on the water. Same for the SUP lessons.

Other areas of the river are specifically marked that the PFDs have to be worn (as opposed to just have them) at all times. For most areas the requirement to wear is only applicable during cold months.

All that said, a SUP is a lot easier to climb back on compared to any kayak (sit-in or sit on top). Of course, as mentioned, the chance of hitting one’s head with more force from a SUP compared to a kayak on flat water is higher (and thus losing consciousness, where PFD might be of some limited use if there are others to help as most PFDs are not designed to position and hold a victim face-up automagically)…

On the bright side, most SUP-ers are tethered to their boards by the leg, so they are easy to retrieve off the water, dead or alive -:wink:

okay…seeing some differences now
and it’s making more sense to me.

SUP fever?
is that anything like swimmer’s itch?

I was thinking the same thing
I have never seen a SUPer wearing a PFD, not even the waist kind. Doesn’t mean they don’t exist, I just haven’t seen it. I was flipping through a SUP magazine at REI a couple days ago while waiting in line at the checkout. Lots of bikini’s. Not a single PFD in any of the photos. With that in mind, I flipped through one of my paddling mags when I got home. PFDs in every single photo of canoeists and kayakers - no exceptions. Unfortunately, no bikini’s in the canoe mag. Different culture, I guess.

still going to wear my PFD
no matter my water sport.

Others that don’t wear PFD’s
Outrigger canoe paddlers, surf ski racers and rowers don’t wear PFD’s even out in the ocean.

I was at many outrigger events in California and I was the only paddler among many hundreds, racer or recreational, who was wearing a life jacket. Same at surf ski races. The paddlers of these crafts consider the hull itself to be the flotation device and they attach with leg leashes.

I also don’t see PFD’s worn at marathon canoe races.

I assume all these racers and high tempo paddlers consider PFD’s to interfere with technique. Perhaps some or most carry, or may be required to carry, PFD’s in the boat.

I have a national rowing center in my town, which trains US national teams, and I have never seen a rower wearing a PFD. I guess they assume they are not going to tip over and that a PFD is just too restrictive.

The Leash is a Big Difference
As is the ability to just climb back on.

I use a PFD always when surfing in a kayak, and mostly when surfing with a waveski. When using a surfboard with a leash I have never felt the need to use a PFD, but note big wave surfers when doing tow in surfing (No leash) on huge waves do use PFDs.

One exception was surfing on a shortboard on the St. Lawerence River, that was scary without a PFD, I would encourage river SUPers to use a PFD in whitewater and skip the leash.

I don’t usually wear one swimming
I think the absolute - “must wear pfd at all times” mantra is a little over the top. I can swim a few miles in typical conditions, and on a warm summer day, with warm calm water, I just don’t see the need. “what if you hit your head?” you say? Well, I don’t usually hit my head, and the chances of doing so in the canoe are probably less than in the kitchen. Likewise, if I am knocked unconscious, the type 3 pfd won’t save me anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, I think safety gear is important, but it can’t replace good judgement. In a similar vein, I’ve often wondered if self-bailing sot’s and such require a bailer by law.

I wear an inflatable waist PFD, but as many times as I’ve fallen off, I’ve never used it. As others have pointed out, the safest thing (best flotation) is the board, so when I come off the first thing I do is climb back on the board. No roll, paddle float, or capistrano flip required in a paddleboard recovery.

My Wife Makes Me Wear a PFD
So I will float in case of a cardiac or stroke event. Problem is because I paddle surfski, the bloody things are a hindrance and detrimental to open ocean paddling. They chaffe, get in the way, and interfere with my stroke, so sometimes capsize because of them. Remounting the ski with them on in heaving/tossing seas is impossible, and they must be removed in order to remount. So since it is impossible to hold ski, paddle and pfd at same time, they are lost at sea. Therefore, unfortunately for me, they are a hazard and a nuisance.

comes out of the Hawaiian surfing tradition. There was and still is no need for surfers -Hawaiian or otherwise - to wear additional floatation, in the surf zone or out of it.

Of course, surfers can swim, and usually are strong swimmers. Who really surfs who can’t swim?

As the sport expands, there will be some nominal number of ppl who are weak or flustered swimmers who need additional buoyancy to stay in position for the 3 whole seconds it takes to get back on the board. Anyone with decent swimming skills doesn’t need a pfd for that.

The idea that a paddling pfd (type III or type V) would keep a person’s nose/mouth above water if they got knocked out by their board is not realistic and has been demonstrated as such. A big puffy Type I (the old Mae West “horse collar” worn on boats) is the only one that might do that in some instances. It would be way too bulky for SUP. In fact many typical touring vests worn by kayakers are way too bulky.

There is also a lot of misgiving expressed, largely misplaced, about ppl hitting their heads on the boards… you learn to fall, butt first, off to one side or another. No big deal. The head is well away from the board when the SUPer goes into the water. In fact, many times when the person falls, the board shoots well away from the entire person… thus the leash.

I recently bought a board and SUP a few nights a week, wearing a very small, very flat Type III pfd when I SUP in accord w. the letter of the laws. I don’t agree it’s necessary… It’s a board, not a vessel. The USCG overreacted and got it wrong on paddleboards, but it’s not worth getting a ticket or citation from them or from the state DNR.

totally getting it now…thanks
wouldn’t mind a SUP myself someday. Being inland on the East Coast i haven’t been exposed to surfing and it makes sense now. Ya never know unless ya ask right?

good point!
I’ve never see a swimmer wearing a pfd!

And sometimes when kayaking, I do see swimmers way out off shore where I am. They clearly feel they can swim back to shore without problem!

I think for good swimmers, a pfd should be a decision they alone will make, just like a swimmer deciding who far off shore to swim. I wonder many of the knee jerk requirement of pfd are coming from weak swimmers, and/or targeting presumed weak swimmers.

I’m not a strong swimmer so I wear a pfd and learn a bunch of recovery skill. I’m not going to presume everyone is as uncomfortable in water as mmyself though.

So for me, standing up on a piece of plastic on water isn’t appealing at all. I’m guessing most SUP paddlers are fairly competant swimmers.

kayaking & SUP
really complement each other… I bring a board and a boat and spend a half day w. each. Standing up is nice after hours in a cockpit. Cruising around in a kayak feels good after standing up a few hours.

A lot of the strokes are similar. I do flatwater touring. My board has glassed in tie downs for bungees I clip an insulated water bottle and a drybag w. lunch, sunscreen, extra layer, etc.

The total core workout I get w. SUP is gonna help my kayaking. W. the right technique the muscles get stretched & stronger while trimming down those areas. I wasn’t trying for this, but lost an inch off my waist and another inch off my abs in 4 weeks. Nice bonus.

Kayaking does some core, too, but imo combining it w. SUP accelerates the effect.

23 lbs is a breeze to carry around & rack. SUP is less gear intensive than kayaking so I can be ready to go in about 1/4 the time, which is good when I have limited time to get to the water.

Plus being on a board is fun :slight_smile: