Jen Fuller penned this writeup recently from an exchange with a couple of US Coast Guard personnel she had out at Ft. Baker (home of the US Coast Guard Station Golden Gate). Suffice to say that the Coast Guard is enforcing their standup paddler safety regulations for a PFD and other safety gear while paddling on San Francisco Bay.

Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) Coast Guard Regulations:

Yes indeed, the rules and regulations from the United States Coast Guard are real in the San Francisco Bay Area! The message was delivered loud and clear from two different Coast Guard gentlemen right here in our back yard of Sausalito.

It used to be many of us would paddle right out of Richardson Bay with or without a leash, PFD or whistle. The Coast Guard never took notice of me while I paddled leash-less and PFD-less around their big CG ship anchored out near Richardson Bay in Sausalito, that is until recently.

Early one morning last week, a student and I went paddling out of Fort Baker where the Coast Guard is located (Station Golden Gate).

We were on the water at 6 am, so it was still dark. Leashes and PFD’s attached we started off in the dark and paddled a most amazing course out into the bay returning to the launch area after the sun had risen.

Two different Coast Guard representatives came up to us, unbeknownst to the other, and let us know that SUP folks now need to have a PFD, a whistle and, if on the water before or after sunset, a light. They also both said that they would “board our vessel” if there was a question if any of these items were not on board. This last statement brought a smile to our faces because of the image of a Coasty boarding a SUP. I guess swimming is part of the drill?

I do not in any way want to portray that the Coast Guard guys were being pushy or harassing. In fact they could not have been nicer. They simply wanted us to pass the information on to others to educate and help make safe a sport that is putting more and more people on the water and one that they expressed is hard to find the man power to help keep up with rescue efforts. So, with that:

Here is the write up on SUP from the Coast Guard:

“The Coast Guard determined that SUPs (standup paddle boards) are “vessels” when operating “beyond the narrow confines of a surfing, swimming or bathing area.”

A vessel, according to 1 USC 3 “includes ever description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used. Or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.”

What does this mean to a boarding officer?:

It means that if you (officer) see an SUP operating:

A. In the surf or swimming/bathing area, leave it alone.

B. On other waters, treat it as a kayak or other paddlecraft.

What Boating Safety regulations apply to a SUP?

Like any paddlecraft, a SUP operating outside a surfing or swimming area is subject to the NAVRLES, carriage requirements for PFDs, VDS, sound producing device, navigation lights and accident reporting.

What Kind of Lifejackets are required on a SUP?

Just as with other boats, children (12 years old and under in CA) must wear a lifejacket. Adults must have one onboard. PFDs must be Coast Guard approved and either Type I, II, or III.

Note: For people 16 years and older, who can swim and are comfortable in the water, a good choice is an inflatable lifejacket. They are less cumbersome and come in suspender style and belt –pack style.

What kind of sound producing device is required on a SUP?

A whistle will suffice for a sound-producing device.

What about Navigation Lights?

As with any rowboat, kayak, or other paddlecraft, the operator of a SUP need only carry a flashlight that can be shined in enough time to avoid collision. They are not required to have installed navigation lights.

What about Visual Distress Signals (VDS)?

 For boats in CA, VDS are only required when operating offshore. If a SUP is operating offshore it would be required to carry VDS under the following circumstances:

A. It the SUP is less then 16 feet long the operator need only carry VDS if operating between sunset and sunrise.

B.If the SUP is 16 feet longer, the operator needs to carry both day and night VDS anytime it is underway (33 CFR 175.110 (a).

Do SUPs have hull ID numbers (HIN)?

No, the Coast Guard waived that manufacturer requirement.

So SUPs have to have registration numbers?

No, State D11 do not require registration of paddlecraft (CA, AZ, NV, UT). However, other states might.

What about “traditional” paddleboards that don’t use a paddle but are powered by hand, kneeling or laying down like a surfboard?

 “Traditional” paddleboards have been around for about 100 years. This style of paddleboard is typically long, pointed and does NOT use a paddle. The operator “paddles” with his or her hands like on a surfboard. These were not considered in the Coast Guard’s “vessel” determination, which said, “The sport involves a person standing on a board similar to a surfboard and propelling themselves through the use of a paddle.” Even if a traditional paddleboard had been classified as a “vessel” it would be exempt from lifejacket carriage requirements because it is powered by hand rather then “by machinery”, sails, oars, paddles, poles, or other vessel.” (33 CFR 175.11)

Where can I find these regs in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)?

Most recreational requirements can be found in 33 CFR, between 173 and 187.” Just FYI this is like trying to find a needle in a haystack so I was quite happy when the CG gave me the sheet they had written up for all of us SUPers.

Link to the US Coast Guard SUP Regulation from 2011 is here.