Guest Water Blog By Carol Newman Cronin and Susan Shingledecker
From The Paddler's Point Of View
With stand-up paddleboarding getting more popular by the day, how can paddlers and boaters safely navigate around each other? Let's learn from both sides. First up, our paddleboarder, Carol Newman Cronin.
Stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) can be like fiberglass gnats: unpredictable and hard to spot. Beginners, especially, need to paddle defensively, which means avoiding congested areas until you can reliably control your own board. It takes time to develop the skills and strength needed to maintain a stable speed and direction. Until you do, the best place to learn is somewhere away from boating traffic. Once you're confident in your board-handling skills, the key to defensive paddling is to take responsibility for getting out of the other guy's way. Here are some specific tips:
Anticipate interactions.You'll see other boats coming before they see you. Don't wait for them to alter course. With enough lead time, you can get out of someone's way, even if you have to paddle perpendicular to your planned route to do so.
Make your intentions clear.SUPs can seem erratic in direction. Hold a steady course and, if necessary, use hand signals: Point to your chest first, then hold your arm or paddle out in the direction you intend to go. (Repeat these gestures a few times.)
Avoid the channel.Most harbors have a clearly marked route for larger boats to pass through the anchorage. Paddleboarders, please don't use this. If you have to navigate in the channel, hug the starboard side.
Cross traffic efficiently.Take the shortest route possible across a traffic lane (usually perpendicular to traffic). It's often hard for other boaters to figure out where you're heading, so do your best to maintain a steady pace and direction.
Can You See Me Now?
SUPs are hard to see from any distance. Freeboard is the biggest factor in boat visibility, and even boards with really thick rails have only around 6 inches of it. You may feel quite tall, and your board might be bright red when you look down at it, but from a quarter mile away, your profile will blend in with the background — even against an open horizon. Here are two ways you can increase the chances of being seen:
Wear bright colors, especially on your torso and head. Sometimes the only difference between a too-close encounter and safely passing port to port is the quick eye-catching "What's that red thing?" question from the boat coming at you and the second look its operator might take as a result.
Be flashy.On sunny days, the most visible part of a distant SUP is the reflection off a shiny paddle blade or handle, the same way the windshield of a boat too far away to see can flash as bright as a strobe. Consciously "flashing" your paddle at an oncoming boat will help draw attention to your location.
Safety, Visibility, And Rules
SUPs are defined by U.S. Coast Guard rules as "vessels" outside a surf zone, so paddlers are required to carry or wear a life jacket and a signaling device (whistle in daylight, flashlight after dark). Other smart ideas:
Wear a leash at all times.If there's any wind, your board will blow downwind faster than you can swim.
Add an "if found" sticker on your board(if available in your area). Otherwise, write your contact info on the board — not just to help find it if you lose it, but to track you down if your board is discovered floating without you.
Consider painting one side of your blade international orangeso it can be used as an overhead sign of distress if needed.
Maneuverability — A Mixed Blessing
SUPs can turn, go straight, or come to a full stop very quickly, and they're almost never constrained by their draft. But this directional flexibility can tempt us to go places we shouldn't, like into marinas and empty slips. Doing so makes our next move quite hard to predict for a boat operator. By using our maneuverability to stay out of the way, rather than to explore places where larger vessels are trying to maneuver themselves, we'll minimize the chances of surprising or annoying their operators. More tips:
Stay away from casting areas.Like other boaters, shoreline fishermen may not see you until it's too late. I've had several anglers cast right across my bow, only to realize after the hook was in the water that I had to stop in my tracks to avoid running into their lines. If you can, paddle far enough away from the shoreline to avoid casting areas. Otherwise, call out to fishermen who look ready to cast right across your bow. Once they see you, most will wait until you're safely beyond the fishing area — or drop the tips of their rods so you can paddle over their lines.
Beware of blind spots.When paddling between moored boats, keep a sharp lookout for traffic. You and your board may be completely hidden from view.
When in doubt, use your whistle.Paddlers are required to carry a sound-signaling device. If another boat doesn't see you, blow your whistle. It's amazing how far a sharp piercing sound like that will carry.
Carol Newman Cronin paddleboards every day around busy Newport and Jamestown, Rhode Island. She's a writer, editor, and Olympic sailor.
From The Boater's Point Of View
Especially in areas with lots of SUP rentals, users may not be well versed in navigation rules. In order to share busy harbors, let's look at the sport from Susan Shingledecker's boating perspective.
On any given day, boaters can be faced with a minefield of commercial traffic, moored boats, kids sailing Optis, and flotillas of kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders. SUPs are considered vessels, so operators must follow the same navigation rules as other boats. For many, however, this may be their first time on the water, so for boaters, collision avoidance should supercede all other considerations. Here are a few tips for boaters to help us all share the water:
Move slowly in congested waters.Allow time for others to see you and vice versa.
Pay close attention when entering and exiting slips and fairways.Novice paddleboarders often like to stay close to docks for added security, making them difficult to see.
Assign a spotter.It's smart, especially when lots of paddlers are around, to assign a designated lookout stationed in an area of the boat that offers maximum visibility.
Expect the unexpected.Paddlers falling off their boards can happen easily.
Watch your wake.Being aware of our wake is always important, but even more so with SUPs around. Even a modest wake can send a paddler into the drink. Reduce speed whenever operating in congested waterways, especially near paddlers and SUPs.
Use clear signals to indicate your intentions.When making sudden changes of direction or crossing the path of paddlers, point to your chest first, then hold your arm out in the direction you intend to go. (Repeat a few times.)
Assess the skills of paddlers near you.Paddlers making strong strokes and good progress likely are more stable and predictable. Paddlers unsteady on their feet, sitting on boards, or making little progress may be inexperienced. Steer clear!
Look for light at night.While SUPs, kayaks, and other paddlecraft are required to carry appropriate lights for operating after dark, the assortment of lighting methods used varies from suction-mounted navigation lights to headlamps to glow sticks. Be suspect of any lights you see on the water at night.
Help others in distress.Especially in cooler temperatures, keep an eye out for paddlers and any other boaters who could be in distress. Many paddlers don't carry VHF radios or other signaling devices and have limited means of seeking assistance.
Susan Shingledecker, vice president of the nonprofit BoatUS Foundation, started boating on the Great Lakes and now enjoys exploring Chesapeake Bay with her family on their 28-foot sailboat.