Here is what the USCG has to say to all you paddlers out there, please read and heed. You are officially a mariner now, so follow the CFR’s ( code of federal regulations by the USCG). Know your rules of the road and most importantly use your common sense.
"The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has officially classified stand up paddleboards (SUP) as a vessel. With the rapid growth of SUP in recent years on the West and East coast of the United States, the Coast Guard recently classified “paddleboards”, meaning SUP’s as “vessels.” SUP, the newly classified vessels must comply with federal Navigation Rules and “carriage” requirements when operated beyond the limits of a swimming, surfing or bathing area. Adult stand-up paddlers are required to have a USCG-approved life jacket also known as Personal Floatation Device (PFD, Type III) for each person, a sound signaling device (whistle), visual distress signal and navigation light (flashlight).
With this said there are many details with the new PFD law that most cities and harbors are now enforcing. All persons 12 years old and under are required to wear a USCG-approved life jacket or PFD however all operators over 12 years of age are only required to have a Type III adult USCG-approved life jacket or PFD either attached to the vessel or on the operators person.
The same requirements apply to kayaks and other manually propelled vessels of similar size. Stand-up paddleboards are exempt from hull identification number and registration requirements. Please know that motor and large sail vessels have the right of way over paddleboards, kayaks and SUP crafts. It is your responsibility to know the rules of the water, so be safe considerate of other large vessels. The Harbor Patrol will continue to educate and enforce the new law with all stand-up paddlers.

The USCG issued that classification in October 2008, so it’s not a “recently” issued directive by any means. It’s been well publicized at various paddling and outfitter sites over the past years. Frankly, you’re preaching to the choir here in advocating PFD usage.

USCG Regulations are defined and discussed at the following link, which also includes state boating laws (worth reading):

In my Great Lakes state, the law is pretty clear: “All vessels must be equipped with a personal flotation device for each person on board.” There are no exceptions. Penalty is a fine up to $500. I’ve yet to see it enforced even if a marine patrol is in the area.

Bryan Hansel recently published a thoughtful article on his site:

He wrote: “And while I believe in personal responsibility, I also believe that personal responsibility extends to those who make kayaks (canoes and paddleboards), those who sell kayaks (canoes and paddleboards) and those who paddle kayaks (canoes and paddleboards). Everyone in that chain has the responsibility to make sure that paddlers understand that not wearing a lifejacket when on the water significantly increases the likelihood of death during a capsize.”

I don’t know the magic formula to make sure those unprotected paddlers understand the possible consequences of not carrying/wearing a PFD. Do you?

Yes I do, promote safe paddling and spread the word through the community. Thanks for the input.

I constantly nag my friends that using a PFD as a backrest doesn’t provide much protection, but it falls on deaf ears.

@Paddle The Coast: Good (and very important) info, thanks for posting. When it comes to SUP safety, I think it has to come from the top down in order to get the message out there in a way that truly has a meaningful impact. Publications and pros have a responsibility to set the example, and SUP safety awareness will naturally trickle down when the movers and shakers in the industry make it a top priority.

I’m in the process of creating a series of infographics to help raise awareness on paddling safety. Here’s the first one — if anyone has any input on how to improve it, I’d really appreciate the feedback: