S a f e t y  a t  S e a

Ocean paddling is a sport with inherent risks. We are playing in a hostile environment which can, and has cost lives. These risks involved can be mitigated though.

Make wise choices

The most important piece of safety equipment lies between your ears.

Assess the conditions on the day. Be aware of the weather forecast for your area. Don’t allow peer pressure or race pressure to influence your decision.

If the conditions are beyond your abilities, don’t go out. If you are unsure if you have what it takes, ask a fellow paddler who is experienced and familiar with your skills. Heed their advice. Try not to ask the local cowboy, ask someone whose judgement you trust.

Remember if you have to be rescued you are placing other peoples’ lives in danger. Make wise choices.

Choose a boat matched to your skill level and the conditions of the day

We all like to sprint around in super sleek craft, as paddled by the current world’s best. But if you cannot stay in your boat when conditions get choppy you will be in trouble. Use a stable boat!

Surfski paddler assisted after big surf rescue
Surfski paddler assisted after big surf rescue
SA Champs 2014 Singles surfski crash in big surf
Surfski wipe out on in big surf

Be highly skilled at getting back into your ski

Following on from the point above, if you do fall out it is imperative that you know how to get back in your boat quickly, from both sides, in rough conditions.

Perhaps the biggest reason for rescues is paddlers who cannot remount. Depending on the water temp, you have maybe 5 attempts in you before you are too exhausted to get back in. Even if you do manage to get back into the boat on the 5th attempt, you will most likely fall back in again due to sheer exhaustion.

Practice and master this skill, it could save your life.!

Bright Colours

Wear life saving orange hats, shirts, PFD’s even underpants. The brighter you are dressed the more chance you have of being spotted. Consider bright orange stickers for your ski and paddles. A white ski in a sea covered with white caps is invisible.

Use a leash

Today’s super light carbon ski’s can be blown away by the wind and swell faster than Chad Le Clos can sprint. If you come off at speed, perhaps while on a run, your boat’s momentum will carry it away from you. Once the wind and waves have it you will NEVER catch it.

A lone swimmer in the sea is borderline impossible to find. How far can you swim? Use a leash. Make sure the leash is strong enough for the job. Make sure it is attached to a strong point on the boat. A critical piece of kit when the wind is above 15 knots.


Tell people where you are paddling from and to, what time you are expected home and who they should call if you go missing. Have a cell phone or radio on you so you can call for help if needed. Use a phone app or dedicated device that tracks your location and can call for help if needed. Check out the Safetrx app on this site.

Big Ocean Swells surfski
Wave on the head
Wave on the head

Use a PFD (Life Jacket)

This is a contentious issue. Those that come from a life saving purist back ground seem to be anti PFD’s. They maintain they swim better without one and can therefore catch a drifting ski or dive under waves. Perhaps this is true for the local life saving hero, but for the rest of us avg joes a PFD is non negotiable. Wear one every time you go to sea, no matter how calm the conditions. Shit happens and a PFD will help reduce the depth.

ID Stickers

Lost equipment with no sign of the paddler it belongs to is bad news. The NSRI is obliged to launch a search and rescue assuming you are still treading water somewhere in the deep. Having ID stickers on your boat AND paddles means you can be contacted easily and perhaps an unnecessary search avoided. Follow the safety sticker link on this page to order a set of stickers for your self. A measly R100 is all it costs. If you do lose kit and it’s not marked, call the NSRI and let them know.

Use the buddy system

And by a buddy system I don’t mean paddle a DW with a friend where it is an all out race to the other side. I mean paddle with a buddy where you keep a visual of each other for the entire paddle. I find it best if the stronger paddler follows the line of the paddler in front. That way she is able to get to the paddler quickly, if needed, and it’s very easy to keep a visual. If the stronger paddler wants to test their skills, then let the weaker paddler get ahead and then see how quickly you can catch them. Once you have caught up, take a breather and let them get a head again. Alternatively make a plan ahead of time to follow a particular line and to regroup at certain points along the paddle. Most important, respect the decisions made. If you don’t follow the line or regroup, your fellow paddlers will think you are in trouble.

There are skills one can use to help a fellow paddler remount, or to return a drifting ski to a swimming paddler. Perhaps these need to be a topic for a blog complete with how to videos. Any of the more experienced paddlers want to volunteer for this to help me put a vlog together?

 This is a quick review of safety as I see it. It’s a contentious issue and I invite comment and discussion. Certainly there is more to it than I have presented here.

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