Water safety is an ongoing topic in the SUP community, and rightly so. Multiple accidental deaths as a result of drowning have occurred around the world. Most, if not all of them, were preventable. The bulk of the conversation has centered around wearing PFDs and leashes. This is perfectly reasonable as the two items, when used correctly, offer paddlers a good chance of staying afloat. water safety
But what if a paddler needs to do more just stay afloat? First it is important to look at what staying afloat means. In my mind, staying afloat can adopt one of two possible scenarios; With your board or without it.
Staying afloat with your board is preferable for obvious reasons. But what if you dropped your paddle and are unable to retrieve it? Sure you can call out for help, but will that be effective? The distance to your potential rescuer may be too great to be heard. This can easily be impacted by the conditions and make any attempt to prone paddle a challenge. You may also be tired and unable to muster a strong voice for a sustained period of time. Sure you can try to wave your arms in the air, but if no one is looking then you are going to be out of luck.
Now imagine the aforementioned scenario, but you are now afloat without your board. Hopefully you are wearing a PFD, so the likelihood of drowning is minimal. You can see a group of fishermen along a cluster of nearby rocks, but they are not looking your way. You repeatedly try to call out to no avail and are quickly becoming exhausted.
Cold Water Survival
Let’s take the above scenario one step further. What is the water temperature? Will you be able to survive long enough to be rescued before hypothermia sets in?
If you’re in the tropics, then yes you probably will. For those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to live in Hawaii, however, the clock started ticking as soon as you entered the water.
As a point of reference, the mean water temperature in San Diego for the month of November is 65 F. Up the coast in San Clemente near the hub of stand up paddling it drops down to 61 F. Slide on over to the East Coast and paddlers in the Miami area can enjoy a November mean water temperature anywhere between 76 F – 81 F, whereas paddlers in the Wilmington, North Carolina area will have to contend with 69 F. Further north in Atlantic City the mean water temperature for November is a mere 53 F. Back out West in Seattle paddlers can expect to encounter a mean water temperature for November of 51 F.
Water Safety Essentials
There are a number of factors which will come into play and affect your chances of survival if you find yourself in need of rescue and having a whistle is by no means a silver bullet. Even so, having a whistle will most certainly significantly increase your ability to signal for help. In a survival situation, it will not matter if you are the burliest of boys or the girlies the of girls, your voice will likely go unheard.
Many PFD manufacturers, including some reviewed by this publication, provide a whistle with their PFDs. Some hydration packs also incorporate a whistle into the sternum strap. If your PFD does not come with a whistle you can purchase one at your local outdoor shop. Most have a selection of signaling whistles available, some with an audible range of one mile or more.
Whistles are small, weigh virtually nothing and can be easily attached to your PFD. There is no reason not to carry one. So if you don’t already have one, do yourself a favor and pick up a whistle before heading out on your next paddle.
Be safe, practice smart water safety principles, and have fun. See you on the water!