SUP = Vessel

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2014 • all rights reserved

The Coast Guard says your SUP is a "vessel" and requires you to have certain safety gear with you. Stay safe and don't get a citation!Did you know that the US Coast Guard considers a stand-up paddleboard to be a vessel? I didn’t, and just happened to find out when looking for other boating regs. Here’s the word from the official Coast Guard blog.

What does this mean?

If you’re in a designated swimming or surfing area, not much. But outside those areas? Yeah, just like being in a kayak or small sailing dinghy:

  • PFD — you must have a USCG-approved Type III PFD on board for each person; those 12 and under must be wearing it. The reality is that it’s better to be wearing it . . .
  • Sound device — whistle or air horn capable of being heard a half-mile.
    • Whistles are much better than air horns when SUP-ing as they are easy to attach to your PFD and a plastic one won’t corrode.
    • “Regular” whistles with the pea inside often won’t work when wet. Instead, get a “survival” whistle that’s waterproof such as the JetScream (available from Amazon as an add-on if your total order is over $25) or the Hear-Me (also on Amazon, more expensive but no minimum purchase).
  • Light — if using the paddleboard after dark or in fog or heavy rain you need a light . . . a waterproof flashlight “that can be used to avoid collision.”
  • State or Local Laws — can impose additional requirements, so be sure to check. For example, some places require all SUP-ers, regardless of age, to wear their PDF (for example, the lake I live on during the summer makes SUP-ers follow the laws that apply to waterskiers).


The Coast Guard does not require paddleboards to be registered, and most states don’t either. Note that I said “most” not “none.” I know that Minnesota and Ohio require registration but I cannot find a comprehensive list of all states that require registration. Be sure to check where you are!

Use a Leash

While not a legal requirement anywhere that I can find, every paddleboard group that I can find says that wearing an SUP leash is probably the most important thing you can do safety-wise.

Reason? If it’s at all windy or there is any surf, the board will be taken away from you faster than you can swim (remember, one hand will still be holding a paddle and you may also have a dog or child to help). The SUP itself is a huge flotation device, but if you can’t reach it, it can’t help you (not to mention the loss if it gets blown out to sea and you never see it again).

This is the leash I got, which works for the longer length of most SUPs (regular surfboard leashes are too short). I find it very comfortable to wear (the ankle band is lined with soft material) and it doesn’t get in the way. When carrying or storing the board, I find it convenient to hook the ankle strap on the carry handle.

I’ve checked all over for the best price and got it on Amazon (of course):

Above all, have fun!

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  1. Anyone that boats should not be surprised at this. Being an old fart who paddles in the proper position in a “Canoe” I find these things so silly. No, I have never tried one … but then I never had a “Pet Rock” either … definitely an old fart …

    • Eric — I’ve seen very few people on SUPs with any safety gear, so I doubt that many know they’re required to have it.

    • Sorry, but people break the rules regarding safety on boats all of the time … I’m in Nova Scotia Canada and the two rules most often broken are regarding flotation devices and no drinking booze while underway … 😐

  2. Eric, if I was Carolyn, my feelings would be hurt by your assertion that she “should not be surprised” and that her SUP pursuits are silly and improper and faddish. Carolyn, I agree, many people don’t know the laws apply to boards, and they are not just being anarchists. Since they are not motorized, it feels safer, and since registration is not required, it is NOT obvious that there might be other legislation. Common sense to wear PFD, but I did not realize it was required or that there were specific rules until I stumbled on a flyer at the state website.

  3. Ha ha! People think it’s ok to be rude if they claim it’s because they’re old. Wrong! I’m sure you’ve been an asshole all your life! 🙂 Thanks for spreading the word Carolyn! A good deed for sure!

  4. lighten up all of you … and YOU are the ones being rude … except the Boat Galley …

  5. jeesh … how facebook of you all …

  6. Thanks for the information; going to pass this along. Lee Rodrigue — FYI

  7. What any of us can say about Carolyn is, Thank you for being such a great source of boating information. Yes a Stand Up Paddle board is classified as a vessel. No you are not required to wear a PFD only have it on board. Some people maybe surprised to learn that Canoes were going to be outlawed in the United States due to the number of drownings.

    • It makes sense that they’re classified as a vessel and subject to the same requirements, but I’ve never before seen anything publicized about it, even in the SUP owners manuals.

  8. I was surprised to learn our ASA sailing instructor received a ticket from the Coast Guard for not having a throw-able “readily available and visible.”

  9. I totally agree re the leash, but some people take their SUPs in the surf and wearing a life jacket and taking all that gear would be impractical. As for registration – that’s crazy!

  10. Next they will be making surfers wear lifejackets?

  11. bailing bucket,flares.extra means of propulsion,fire extinguisher,,,,etc lol

  12. SUP and kayak users should also take a safe boating course (even though it’s technically not required in most locales). I observe so many SUP and kayakers who are oblivious to the boating “rules of the road” and think because they are paddle-driven, they have right-of-way regardless of circumstance. Many paddle into heavily traveled channels or canals where larger boats have limited maneuverability and visibility. See and for more info.

  13. David Williams some interesting facts about paddle boarding

  14. As this is a GLOBAL audience,Please refer to your county’s own laws.

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