There are a few key pieces of equipment that are necessary by law in Canada while paddling and one we think that every paddler should have. Transport Canada understands stand up paddle boards as human powered vessels when they are being used for navigation. This would make them fall under the same guidelines as a canoe or kayak. What does this mean exactly? Well, when undertaking a trip or circuit such as a group crossing or solo outing, this is considered navigation, and you are subject to have a Canadian coast guard approved PFD (Inflatable Belt Pack), sounds signalling device (Whistle), and 15 meters of floating rope. Their is a exception when being used within the surf zone for surfing activities these requirements are not in force. Without these 3 pieces of equipment (expect if you are surfing in a surf zone) you could face a fine if asked to produce such items by law enforcement. If traveling before sunrise or after sunset a navigation light is also required. Here is a link to the latest Transport Canada – Safe Boating Guide.
The final piece of equipment that is not required by law but highly recommended is a leash. A leash should be worn at all times and can save your life! If you fall off your board and into the water and there is wind, current or even a breeze on a lake, river or in the ocean, your board will catch the wind and literally sail away from you. Swimming after your board especially with a paddle in your hand can be exhausting even with a PFD.
There are 3 different types of leashes: Coiled, which is best for flatwater as the leash won’t drag in the water while you are paddling; Straight, which is best for surfing, as it allows a bit of distance between you and the board when you fall off, and less chance of the board “recoiling” back towards you; Lastly a breakaway or quick release leash, which is primarily used in whitewater so you can release yourself if you become entangled by a branch, rock etc. Paddling in a river or anywhere there is a current is not recommended for new paddlers, and must only use breakaway-quick release leashes.
Our last piece of advice is to never unleash yourself from your board to swim into shore. Worst case scenario if you break your paddle, loose it, or are exhausted/stuck in the wind is to lay down on your board put your paddle blade under your chest with the handle facing the nose of the board, and paddle it like a surfboard towards shore (prone paddling). This will be more efficient and more stable in severe windy conditions. Always check weather forecasts and your paddling route before you depart!
And… whenever possible paddle with a friend, it’s more fun that way!