Did you know that there are certain rules you must follow when using your stand-up paddle board? Under UK maritime law, stand-up paddle boards are either classed as recreational beach gear or small sea vessel. Our handy guide explains how your board is classified, the must-know rules for navigation at sea as well as the all important safety advice when using a stand up paddleboard

How Your Board is Classified

How your board is classified will impact how you can use it and the rules you must follow. If you have an inflatable or hard stand-up paddle board less than 3.5m long, your board qualifies as recreational beach gear. If it is hard and longer than 3.5m, you have a small sea vessel.

With recreational beach gear, you must remain within three hundred meters of the shore. On the other hand, if you have a small sea vessel, you can travel up to two nautical miles from sheltered areas. However, you will need to wear a flotation device, as well as use your leash and carry a towing device (like a rope) and a light tracking device (like waterproof flashlights on your buoyancy aid).

Where and How You Can Use Your Stand-up Paddle Board

Whether you’re stand-up paddle boarding on a river, lake or sea, also impacts the rules you must follow.

  • When river stand-up paddle boarding, always wear a quick release waist leash.
  • You cannot use a stand-up paddle board in swimming areas or designated beach areas unless your board is recreational beach gear
  • You cannot cross port entrances and exit channels. At sea, red (right) and green (left) cylindrical buoys mark these channels.
  • Do not pass in front of another sea vessel that has restricted manoeuvrability like tugboats or sailboats
  • If you’re travelling more than 300m from the coastline, you must inform the authorities and travel with a stand-up paddle board partner.

Surfing on a Stand-Up Paddle Board

If you’re planning to take on the waves on a stand-up paddle board, there are some rules that you need to follow. These rules will protect you and your fellow stand-up paddle boarders.

  • Don’t Overestimate Your Ability. Check the conditions before you head out and never go on your board if you have doubts about handling the weather. If it’s your first time, start with smaller breaking waves.
  • Don’t Abandon Your Board. You must stay with your board at all times. If you find yourself caught in a strong current, stay on your board and wait for it to pass.
  • Never Surf in Crowded Spots. You don’t want to injure a swimmer as you try to take on the waves. Head away from the crowds to surf.
  • One Surfer, One Wave. Surfing priorities say, one surfer, one wave. Having multiple stand-up paddle boarders on a wave can lead to injuries and accidents. Generally, the surfer closest to the wave surge has priority.

Who Has Priority?

Who has priority varies depending on the type of water you’re on. There are different rules for sea, river and lake stand-up paddle boarding. Here are some of the basic guidelines.

At Sea

Who has priority at sea is determined by who has the most manoeuvrability. Sea crafts with more manoeuvrability are expected to give way to those with less. As such, stand-up paddle boarders have priority over fast, motorised boats like speedboats and must give way to sea vessels like sailboats or tugboats as these boats can’t move as swiftly as you can.

In Rivers and Lakes

The British Coastguard considers rivers and lakes to be enclosed bodies of waters. On these waters, stand-up paddle boards are small crafts. According to the rules of priority, stand-up paddle boarders must give way to boats bigger than 15m, like barges and cruisers, as well as sailboats. However, motorised boats, less than 15 m, must give way to stand-up paddle boarders.

In the UK, you need a licence to travel on inland waterways. You can buy a licence as part of British Canoeing membership, or from one of the three organisations that manage British waterways.

A Word of Advice -- Use Common Sense

In addition to following the above rules, you also need to use common sense when stand-up paddle boarding. Never paddle without a leash, always check the weather before hitting the water. As you practice your techniques, make sure to stay close to shore, so you never end up out of your depth (water or skill level wise). Visit Go Paddling for the latest safety advice and guidance on paddling safely.