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September 13, 2020 3 min read

Stand Up Paddle boarding has grown tremendously in the past several years. Tons of people are hitting the water, many for the first time. It’s our job to make sure you have fun on the water, but you also need to be safe (and lega).

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has made the determination that paddle boards used outside a swimming or surfing area are “vessels,” similar to kayaks.

When inside a surf or swimming/bathing area you are exempt from the below “carriage requirements” and are not required to have items like a PFD, whistle, VDS, or light.

Outside a surfing, swimming, or bathing area you need to follow the below rules.

U.S. Coast Guard Regulations for Stand Up Paddling

Please be aware and follow the rules and requirements the USCG has made for using your paddle board outside surf and swim zones.

Life Jackets

  • Each paddler 13 years or older must have a USCG approved, Type I, Type II, Type III, or the proper Type V (read on for more information) life jacket (PFD). While it’s not required to be worn, we definitely recommend you wear your PFD on your SUP.
  • Any child 12 years old or younger is required to wear his or her USCG-approved life jacket.
  • The life jacket/PFD must be in “serviceable condition,” without tears, rips, or other deterioration that diminishes the performance of the life vest.
  • The life jacket must be properly sized and fitted for the individual wearing it
  • A Type V life jacket may be used (check our life jacket guide for an explanation of the different life jacket types) as long as it’s USCG-approved and applicable for the activity you’re using the jacket for. Type V life jackets may only be worn by paddlers 16 years and older, and must be worn at all times.
  • Belt pouch-type inflatable life jackets must be worn on the person (not attached to the vessel) to meet the USCG regulations. For other life jackets, check the approval description printed on the jacket.
  • Important: for all life jackets, read the labels carefully for any special requirements the PFD may have.
Related: Check out the best life jackets for paddle boarding.

Other Gear Requirements

  • You must carry a whistle (or other sound producing device) to warn other boaters if warning them becomes necessary or in an emergency
  • If you’re paddling after sunset, you must carry a Visual Distress Signal (VDS), like a flashlight, flare or other lighting device to warn other boaters.
  • A navigation light if you’re on the water after sunset. SUPs, kayaks, and other paddle craft do not need a built in navigation light, a flashlight will work for these water craft.

What You Need to Know

  • As a vessel operator, you need to know and follow the Navigation Rules.
  • You are required to report any boating accident or injury to the local reporting authority: typically either the USCG or other local agency that has authority over the body of water you’re boating/paddling on.
  • Registration: You are not required to register your paddle board or display registration numbers in most states.
  • Hull Identification Numbers (HIN): the USCG has waived the requirement for manufacturers to put unique HIN on SUPs

Wrapping Up

If you have the above gear and knowledge, and you follow the above rules, you should be legal under US Coast guard ‘regs. Always check local and state agencies for any additional rules.

We know SUP is fun and a blast, but remember - you’re smaller than almost all other vessels, so watch out and be careful of them. Wear bright colored life vests, bathing suits, and use your lights and whistles to signal other vessels if needed. Also, many boating accidents involved alcohol. We suggest leaving the party for the shore, after you’ve paddled.

Have a BLAST on the water, but always remember, safety first.

Jay Regan
Jay Regan

Chief Paddler - Jay has been surfing and paddling for over 5 years. When he's not dreaming up new stuff at GILI, he's writing articles about paddling, out paddling, or often traveling.


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