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The Importance of Wearing a PFD and Leash While Paddleboarding

Updated: Jun 5

Paddleboarding is a delightful way to enjoy the water, be it on the ocean, a river, or a large lake. However, safety should always be your top priority. It's common to see people out on the water without a life jacket, and paddleboarding advertisements often depict individuals enjoying their time without any safety gear. While it may seem more comfortable to soak in the sun without a PFD, this practice is neither recommended nor safe.

Main Reason People Don't Wear a Life Jacket

They Want to Look Cool

The main reasons people avoid wearing life jackets are concerns about comfort and style. However, comfort should never outweigh safety. Whether in the ocean, on a river, or paddling across a large lake, wearing a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) can be a lifesaver.

They Think They Are a Strong Swimmer

Another reason people choose not to wear a PFD is because they believe they are confident swimmers and can easily handle any situation. While this may be true in calm waters or while conscious, it's important to remember that unexpected situations can arise that will challenge even the best of swimmers.

"I would really feel naked if I paddle without a PFD, ride the motorbike without a helmet or drive a car without a seatbelt ..." ~ Olivier UK River Guides

Paddle Boards Aren't Advertised With a Life Jacket (AKA The Paddle Board Industries Marketing)

The marketing tactics used by the paddle board industry often depict individuals enjoying their time on the water without any safety gear. This sends a message that wearing a life jacket is not necessary, leading people to believe they don't need one. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. Even experienced paddlers can find themselves in dangerous situations due to unexpected weather changes or equipment failure.

Let's Talk Statistics

A Dose of Reality

Here are some articles about paddle boarder fatalities because they were not wearing their PFDs.

And if that is not enough the Outdoor Foundation in the USA found 26% of boating-related fatalities in 2020 were from people using recreational human-powered watercraft like kayaks, Canoes, and Paddleboards.

Robin Pope, Ph.D., PA-C, Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Canoe Association, has stated, "Untrained paddlers often don't know how to re-enter their vessels after falling out, typically don't wear life jackets, and are unprepared for cold water exposure. It's crucial that we encourage more paddle craft buyers to utilize the numerous free and affordable safety education resources available to them." (Watersports Foundation)

Why You Should Always Wear a Life jacket (or PFD)

Wearing a life jacket, or Personal Flotation Device (PFD), is essential for water safety as it can prevent drownings, reduce impact when entering the water, counter distance misjudgments, enhance survival chances in emergencies, and regulate body temperature. By always wearing a PFD during water activities, individuals significantly improve their safety and well-being on the water.

With that in mind, let's explore in greater detail the many reasons why wearing a life jacket is essential.


Before delving into the numerous safety reasons for wearing a PFD while paddleboarding, it's crucial to address a fundamental point: it is legally required in Canada to have a lifejacket or personal flotation device on any human-powered watercraft, including paddleboards. So why take unnecessary risks? Just bring a life jacket and, ideally, wear it. It’s not only safer but can also save you from hefty fines.

Falling into Cold Water

When paddleboarding in colder regions, the risk of hypothermia significantly increases. Wearing a life jacket is crucial for various reasons. Upon falling into cold water, the initial shock may lead to gasping for air, potentially endangering one's life. This reaction can result in inhaling water and panicking, hindering efforts to return to the board and maintain body heat while struggling in the water. By donning a life jacket, you stay buoyant, ensuring your head remains above water, aiding in remaining composed, and facilitating a swift return to the board for enhanced safety and calmness in such situations.

Rough Waters

Paddleboarding on choppy waters or in strong currents presents both a challenge and a hazard, especially for less experienced paddlers. These conditions heighten the risk of falling into the water, making it difficult to stay afloat or keep your head above water without a life jacket. The danger of being swept away by currents also increases. Thus, wearing a life jacket is essential for survival in such scenarios. Even the strongest swimmers may struggle to remount their board in rough waters, putting them at serious risk of drowning.

Falling and Striking Your Head

Falling off your paddleboard and hitting your head can leave you unconscious. Without a paddling partner, this situation can quickly become a fatal situation. Even with a partner, without a PFD, your partner will struggle to keep your head above water and get you back on your board or back to shore.

Health Risks (Severe Cramps, Heart Attack, Stroke, Etc)

Adverse health risks such as severe cramps, heart attacks, strokes, diabetic shock, seizures, and vasovagal syncope (fainting due to low blood pressure) may seem unlikely, especially if you are young and healthy. However, they still pose a significant danger if they occur. Without a PFD, any of these health events could lead to disaster, regardless of whether you are with a paddling partner. Wearing a PFD not only increases your chances of survival but also makes it easier for your paddling partner to rescue you.

Read more about How to Choose a Lifejacket here.

The Importance of Wearing a Leash

Board Kickout

Often when people fall off their paddleboard they tend to kick the board out as they fall. This can propel the board away from you and make it harder to retrieve. Combine this with falling into cold water and not wearing your life jacket and it can become a very dangerous scenario.

Fast Currents

Falling off your board in an area with a swift current can cause it to drift away at an alarming speed, making retrieval nearly impossible. Wearing a leash prevents this scenario, keeping you safely tethered to your board.

Note: Leashes should not be worn around the ankle in rivers where you can touch the bottom or on rivers with fast-moving water. Instead, they should be worn around the waist with a quick-release belt or not at all. Wearing an ankle leash in such conditions poses a risk of becoming trapped underwater.

Wind Drift

Paddling on even slightly breezy days can make retrieving your paddle board challenging, especially if it's inflatable. Paddle boards are highly affected by wind and can swiftly drift away if you fall in without a leash, making recovery nearly impossible. Want to learn more about how wind can affect you while paddling? Read our post "Paddleboarders Guide to Wind Conditions".

To learn more about the importance of wearing a leash read our blog post To Leash or Not To Leash.


Safety should always take precedence over comfort, aesthetics, or confidence in your swimming abilities. Whether you are paddleboarding on a calm lake or a turbulent river, wearing a life jacket and leash is essential. These simple precautions can mean the difference between an enjoyable day on the water and a potentially fatal accident. Always remember to wear your life jacket or PFD and leash; your safety depends on it.

Stay safe and paddle on! 🚤

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