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Just as when you are driving you observe the rules of the road, when you are on your SUP board there are certain rules you need to follow, especially if you are on your SUP board on the sea or where boats and other water vehicles may be around you.
Usually, when a SUP board is bought we hop straight out onto the water to enjoy the serenity of being on the water and on the board. We rarely take a moment to consider the rules of navigation that apply to waterways as well as the big, deep sea.
There is nothing worse than being out on your board on a beautiful summer’s day and having a fisherman shouting at you.
It’s embarrassing and also often we don’t know what we have done wrong. Let’s change that! Here we look at the basics of maritime law and how you should pass a fishing boat on a SUP, helping you to stay out of trouble on the water.
Table of Contents
First things first, in Maritime Law they don’t refer to SUP boards specifically. A SUP board would fall into the category of a small human powered watercraft, quite the mouthful!
While we like to rest and casually paddle on our SUP boards we may be breaking the maritime law by doing so in a boating channel where you do not have the right of way and where you are expected to be educated on what you should do in certain situations.
In the US all those who operate a vessel or some watercraft are expected to follow the USCG Navigation Rules as well as state and regional laws related to waterways and larger bodies of water.
Here are the basics that apply to you as a small human powered watercraft
- Motor, Fishing, and Commercial boats have right of way over small human powered watercrafts on the water. If you believe you are in the way or possibly going to crash into a boat it is up to you to get out of the way.
- Sailboats have right of way over most water vessels due to their lack of visibility, especially when the sails are up
- When paddling through a channel, stick to the edges as often these will be more shallow than the center. If you need to cross a channel treat it like a highway and only pass when you know you will not be in the way of another, larger vessel
- Be aware of the current in the areas you are in as this may make it difficult to turn quickly or get away from oncoming traffic on the waterways. Only go where you can go against a tide comfortably
- If you are on your board between sunset and sunrise you are required to have a light on the tip of your board to signal your location to others on the water. This rule applies to all weather conditions
- When there is restricted visibility you must carry a whistle and sound a signal to highlight your location by blowing your whistle with a prolonged blast every two minutes. If you hear a foghorn or whistle you should stop moving immediately and sound a response, don’t move until you know where the other vessel is
- Avoid restricted areas; these include fishing spots, drinking water reservoirs, privately owned or government owned property, and protected wetland and water bodies
Essentially, if something is bigger than you it has right of way over you as it is more difficult for larger vessels to turn than it is for you to get out of the way on a SUP board.
Always stay alert and have the necessary safety and required equipment to ensure you can follow the rules in any situation as weather is interchangeable and visibility can change within minutes.
How You Should Pass A Fishing Boat On A SUP Board
This situation comes up time and time again and it is extremely important that you know what to do to keep both yourself and the occupants of the fishing boat safe. Below we outline your responsibilities when passing a boat.
- Passing an oncoming boat: pass to your starboard side (right)
- Passing a boat going in the same direction as you are: pass on the port side (left)
Always slow down and keep a lookout when passing vessels of any size. Give the vessel space when passing to show you understand what is required of you as a SUP board user out on the water.
Additional Safety Precautions
While SUP boarding is supposed to only be some fun being on the water it is extremely important that you follow the maritime laws and take the necessary safety precautions that will help to keep yourself safe as well as those around you. Below we list a number of additional safety precautions we recommend for SUP board users:
- Use a board leash: will prevent your board from floating away
- Paddle during the day: the light of day always presents the best visibility
- Know how to swim: falling off the board is inevitable, knowing the basics of how to get back to your board and how to stay floating in the water is important
- Check the weather: strong winds are not ideal as they can blow you out to see
- Stay near the shore: should you need help there is more of a chance someone will see and signal for help for you
- Bring a dry bag: this dry bag can hold a whistle, torch, water, and suncream, all important things to have out on the water
- Tell someone where you are going: should you get caught in a current and go missing this will aid the coast guards in recovering you promptly
The more SUP board users that become educated about the rules that apply to them when out on the water the better as it is the lack of education and respect that is shown that has led to such restrictions on SUP boards in certain areas.
These rules are mostly common sense and by having additional safety precautions you will always be prepared on the water allowing you to relax and enjoy.
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I’m an Colorado native, who learned to surf in the Pacific Northwest, and SW Canada. I live inland near the mountains now, and love to get out on my SUP. It’s weird, but I love windy, choppy days as no-one is out and I like the challenge.