Stand-up paddleboarding

Looking for an activity that can be enjoyed by the whole family and also keep you fit? Stand-up paddleboarding or SUP is becoming increasingly popular. Here are our expert tips on how to paddleboard and stay safe.

A lady and a child wearing buoyancy aids are paddleboarding in a calm, flat sea

RNLI/Nathan Williams

Stand up paddleboarders going for a paddle at Swanage beach

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is one of the fastest growing watersports. Whether it’s on an inflatable paddleboard or a solid one, SUPing is a great way to have fun on the water and to get fit. Do it often enough and you can improve your overall fitness, in particular your core body strength, which is where the most of your paddle power will come from.

Whether you are a complete paddleboarding beginner or more experienced, it’s always useful to know a few tips and tricks to help improve your SUP experience.

Simple tips to improve your time paddleboarding

  • If you can, always go with a friend. It’s more fun, and they can help you if you get into difficulty.
  • If you are going out alone, always tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back. Don't leave the house without a mobile phone or communication device.
  • Bringing your phone to take some photos? Make sure you keep it in a waterproof pouch. That way it won’t get wet, and you can use it to call for help in an emergency too.
  • Check the weather forecast and tide times before you set out. If the water is too choppy, you might find it difficult, especially if you are a beginner. And be aware, the conditions can change quickly. 
  • Avoid offshore winds. They will quickly blow your paddleboard far out to sea, which can make it extremely tiring and difficult to paddle back to shore.
  • You should wear a suitable Personal Floatation Device (PFD) like a buoyancy aid. Choose one that still allows you plenty of movement so you can paddle freely. Not only will it keep you afloat, but it will also help give you time to recover should you fall in – and chances are you will!
  • Wear suitable clothing for the time of year. In the winter, you will want to use a wet or dry suit. In the summer, you might be able to get away with a swim suit. But if you are going to be in the water for a long time, you might want to upgrade to something that keeps you warm. 
  • You should always use a paddleboard with a appropriate leash. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to swim after your paddleboard if you fall off. The leash will also help you stay connected to your board if you get into trouble and help you float. British Canoeing has some great tips to help you decide which leash is right for you.
  • If you are launching on a lifeguarded beach, make sure you launch and recover between the black and white chequered flags. There should be less swimmers in this area, giving you more room to manoeuvre. Consider other water users by learning the rights of way in the surf. This can save you and others getting injured.
  • Get the appropriate level of training. You might be tempted to just buy a board and head out. Having a few training sessions can teach you the right technique, so it’s more stand-up and less fall-in paddleboarding!

In addition to the general safety tips, when paddling on an inland waterway, lake or river:

  • In an emergency call 999 and ask for the Fire and Rescue service.
  • Use a quick release belt system for flowing water and tidal waterway.
  • Be aware of hazards in your location and plan accordingly.

Keeping you safe

Here are ways we’re working to help you get the most out of stand-up paddleboarding and keep you as safe as possible while enjoying your sport.

  • Raising awareness
    We’re talking to paddleboarders to raise awareness of the risks out on the water, no matter how calm the tides may seem.
  • Working in partnership
    We’re also working with BSUPA (British Stand Up Paddle Association) to ensure we’re giving you and your family the best paddleboarding safety advice.

Frequently asked questions about paddleboarding

Do I need to wear a lifejacket when paddleboarding?

Choosing the right personal flotation device (PFD) for paddleboarding can give you peace of mind and help keep you afloat if you fall in (which you will!). You should choose a PFD that allows you to move your arms freely, so you can paddle as efficiently as you want. Find out more about the different types of PFD in our Choose It, Wear It guide - PDF 3.48MB

What conditions are best for SUP?

You can’t always wait for perfect weather to head out on your SUP. You should avoid going out when there are offshore winds, as they can quickly blow you far out to sea, making for an exhausting paddle back to shore. If you are on a lifeguarded beach, keep an eye out for the orange windsock to see which way the wind is blowing.

Should I choose an inflatable or solid paddleboard?

Both types of paddle board have their merits. Inflatable boards are sturdier than you might think and can be easily deflated and stored away at the end of the day. Just be careful of punctures and you may want to invest in an electric air pump to save you getting out of breath before you even begin SUPing! Solid boards are still more sturdy than an inflatable paddle board, and you don’t have to worry about blowing them up.

One thing you should do is make sure your stand-up paddleboard has a leash, no matter if it’s an inflatable paddle board or solid. That way you won’t lose your board and can use it to keep yourself afloat if you get into trouble.

There are many sizes and shapes of paddleboard, from around 2.5m to 5.5m. It's ideal to start with a board around 3.4m long by 75cm wide.

SUP safety: Useful links and resources

Figures taken from:

  • The National Water Safety Forum’s Water Incident Database (WAID UK) 2011-2015.
  • RNLI lifeboat return of service data UK and Ireland 2020.
  • RNLI lifeguard incident data, UK only, 2020.

Don’t be a statistic

88 lifeboat launches to paddle boarders in 2020

342 paddle boarding incidents were attended by lifeguards in 2020