Can You Paddle Board Alone? Is It Safe?


Picture of Back of Legs on a Stand Up Paddleboard at Sunset

If I waited for someone to SUP with every time I wanted to go, I would miss out on a lot of good times. My son likes to go paddleboarding with me, but not at sunrise. My wife loves joining me on nice sunny, warm days. If the temperature is less than 70 degrees, forget about it. So, I end up going out on my stand-up paddleboard alone a lot.

Paddleboarding by yourself is legal and safe but should only be done by experienced people. It is recommended that you take some precautions to remain safe. This includes telling someone where you are going and not straying too far away from civilization.

Before I get too deep into this discussion, let me clarify by what I mean going paddling alone. I am talking about paddling for a few hours without any immediate help available to you. I’m not talking about crossing the Atlantic Ocean alone or mapping the Amazon River’s tributaries for three years.

Padding hundreds of miles from the nearest help in life-threatening conditions is a much higher level of self-reliance that will not be covered in this article. It can be done, of course. But we will focus on the day trips here.

Tell Someone Where You Are Going

Adventurous man on a Standup Paddle Board is padding near Lions Gate Bridge during a vibrant winter sunrise. Taken in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Adventurous man on a Standup Paddle Board is padding near Lions Gate Bridge during a vibrant winter sunrise. Taken in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

This one is simple. If something happens to you and nobody knows where you are. There is no way for anyone to find you. This isn’t going to save you from falling off your board and hitting your head on a rock and drowning. If you had a paddle partner, she might have been able to pull you out of the water and allowing you to breathe until the next step could be taken.

Now, If you are on an inflatable SUP and run across a slightly submerged bed of broken glass bottles, ripping an irreparable gash in your board, You can ditch the board, swim to the bank and, if you had told someone where you would be, you could wait for someone to come after you.

Something as simple as:

“I am going to Town Creek at the Brunswick State Park Launch. I plan to paddle upstream for about 2 hours, then enjoy the help of the current on the way back. If you don’t hear from me in 5 hours, then something has gone wrong. I’ll let you know when I’m back at the Launch.”

By the way, if you want to SUP the area mentioned above, take a look at my post: The 11 Best Places to SUP Near Wilmington, NC

Know Your Limits

It is essential to know what you are capable of. You should feel comfortable with your paddling ability when you are out on the water by yourself.

This is an excellent place for this point: Beginners should not SUP alone!  Even something as benign as practicing your paddling close to shore by yourself could turn bad. What if the wind suddenly picks up? Now you are being blown away from shore and just trying not to fall off your board. If no one is around, you could be gone with no way to get back if you lack the necessary skills.

Know your endurance level. If you paddle hard for an hour downwind, will you have enough strength and energy to paddle back against the wind? How are your directional skills? If you go exploring in an expansive coastal marsh, will you be able to find your way back?

The last thought in this section is knowing how you handle adversity. If something goes wrong, are you going to freak out, or will you just take things as they come and deal with it? If you go out solo, you might want to be the latter.

Don’t Be Dumb

This is an essential piece of advice and one I give my 13-year-old son almost daily. Don’t be dumb. It means don’t take chances. Don’t paddle down a shallow river with a fast current and sharp rocks covering the bottom without a helmet. You know, Don’t be dumb.

Don’t paddle 3 miles out into the ocean on an inflatable stand-up paddleboard. If that inflatable starts leaking, you could be swimming before you know it. Even if you know you can swim back, do you really want to? Of course, it would be dumb not to have a life jacket too.

Check the weather before you head out. You should do this even if you are not going out alone. You should also keep an eye on it throughout the day. Getting caught in a lightning storm could be bad luck, but it could also be just being dumb.

What I’m trying to say is that you have to leave yourself a way out. If you are going to paddle that far out into the ocean, do it on a rigid sup, wearing your life jacket. If you do end up in the water for whatever reason, make sure you take heed of the next bit of advice.

Stand up paddle surfer turns over (drop out) from Stand up paddle board (SUP) into blue water of stormy lake
Stand up paddle surfer turns over (drop out) from Stand up paddle board (SUP) into blue water of stormy lake

Take a Phone

In this day and age, this is kind of a no brainer. Make sure you have a charged cell phone. A phone allows you to call for help. But seriously, if you can’t rely on a SUP buddy, at least you can to keep you out of trouble, or get you out of it. A phone will help you get out of a tight spot, and you just might have to wait a bit longer (Not as long as if you didn’t have one).

Self Rescue

If you are going to be going out by yourself, you have considered the possibility that if something goes wrong, you might only have you to depend on, even if you tell someone where you are going, you stay within your limits, you don’t do anything dumb, and you took your phone.

Self-rescue is the last option that you want to take. So think of this before you put yourself in dangerous situations where you don’t leave yourself outs.

So, when you go out paddling alone, keep in mind what you are capable of if the worst-case scenario happens. Are you able to hike back through 10 miles of soggy marshlands? If not, don’t go. If you fell in the almost freezing water and a bear ate your SUP. Could you warm up and get back to help? Unlikely events, but lots of people experience unlikely events daily. You should be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.

Some items you might want to take just in case might be:

  • first aid kit
  • lighter or a fire flint (not only for cold weather paddling)
  • change of clothes
  • repair kit for inflatable SUP
  • Food and water
  • map of the area (might not be able to pull up Google Maps)
  • of course, you already have your PFD and sound device

All of these items can be safely tucked away in a waterproof bag, along with your phone, and strapped to your board.

Solo Paddling at Night

At night, in the dark, you have to double all your precautions. It will be harder for boaters to see you. It will be harder for you to see obstacles in the water. Besides doubling down on the safety steps you take during daylight hours, you will also need to add lights.

The USCG requires stand-up paddleboards that have an all-around white light displayed from dusk till dawn. I would take that a step farther with adding a headlamp to illuminate the water in the direction I am looking for, and some folks add underwater lights like these in this affiliate link. It is your job to be seen. Not having lights on your SUP is against the rules and is dumb. Remember. Don’t Be Dumb.

Benefits of Solo SUPing

Picture of Lake Tahoe from east shore. There is a snow on the Sierra Nevada Mountains and some white clouds with reflection in turquoise waters of the lake. There is a paddle boarder arriving to the beach. Sand Harbor State Park is visible on the left side of the photograph.
Picture of Lake Tahoe from east shore. There is a snow on the Sierra Nevada Mountains and some white clouds with reflection in turquoise waters of the lake. There is a paddle boarder arriving to the beach. Sand Harbor State Park is visible on the left side of the photograph.

So far, all I have talked about is the negatives of stand-up paddleboarding solo. While it is essential to take precautions, there are also some great benefits to being out by yourself on the water.

Early in the mornings, I will take my board out into the intra-coastal waterway and watch the sunrise. I do this at least weekly, even in the winter. It helps me focus on my clear my mind so I can focus on the upcoming week.

I also like to explore fishing spots that are off the beaten path. This has the obvious benefit of finding fishing holes that are not being over-fished.

I like my own company and my own thoughts while working my muscles and relaxing my mind. Best of all, I get to choose my schedule, when to go, where to go, and when to come home.

Stand up paddleboarding solo is great. Just be careful.

Thanks for reading. ‘Til next time

TOM

Tom Walters

I have lived near the coast most of my life and I love all types of watersports. Stand up Paddleboarding is my favorite way to get out on the water, stay fit and have fun. I am the founder of FitFunSUP.com

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