Safety Tips for SUP Instructors & Guides

Here's a few tips for SUP instructors and guides for gear to take on the water..

Get SUP instructor certification. There's 3 programs in North America for instructor certification (see my blog posting on the subject). Such training helps instructors become better teachers and learn new techniques for teaching. Safety training is also covered. For all 3 programs, certified instructors are listed on the organization's websites. Several folks I've spoken to have receive new clients from the sites. I use Pachner & Associates LLC: http://www.pachner.info

Get your First Aid card and take a Wilderness First Aid course. Both can prepare you for the worst. And sh.. does happen. You may be thinking, "ahhh SUP is so easy, there's no way someone could fall off their board and drown." Google up 'sup accidents' or related, you'll be surprised what you find.

Get Instructor Insurance and a good liablity form for your students to sign. Have your attorney check your form to make sure it's solid. Both items will help you feel more comfortable on the water and will allow you to work with companies such as REI which require $1 million in liability to teach for them as a contracter. In case of the worse case scenario accident you'll be glad you're insured. Keep your signed liability forms for 7 years.

"Hypo Kit." Kayak guides in my neck of the woods where the water is always cold have always carried a Hypo Kit for fatigued and cold customers or those that have capsized. Hypo = Hypothermia. For a SUP, pack items in a waterproof drybag, kayak deck bag, or fanny pack to be attached to yourself or your board via tie-downs. I have EZ Plugs and NSI Plugs for my boards. Cargo netting is great for securing gear to your board. Adding leash plugs to your board is the most reliable anchor to tie gear to and less obstrusive on the deck.

Ideas of what to put in your Hypo Kit:
- Warm packable synthetic clothing such as fleece, capeline, and/or poly pro shirts and hats.
- Neoprene hoods and gloves.
- Nylon or Gortex kayak style paddling jacket or packable rain shell.
- Nylon or Gortex rain pants.
- Chemical heat packets. Make sure expiration date is good.
- Waterproof water socks (neoprene, fleece, etc).
- Neoprene or similar material hooded vest and/or wetsuit top.
- For warmer climates bring warm rash guards.
- Sun hat, lip baum, sun block, sunglasses retainer, etc.

Tow Rope
Have a student who may be fatigued, seasick or injured and needs a tow? Carry a kayakers throw rope or tow belt. Some lifejackets have built in tow systems such as this one by Astral Buoyancy. See my previous posting here on Towing for Sup'ers. Tow ropes can also be used in camp to dry gear or attach to a mesh bag for keeping your beer chilled.

Lifejackets and Leashes
Make sure your students have the proper PFDs and leashes for your paddling location or trip. Inflatable belts aren't the best idea for beginners who aren't trained not only in using the belt but in paddling or falling off the board. Use full (foam) life jackets/vests for novice paddlers. Leashes keep your students close to their boards in a fall especially in wind or rough water. Doesn't look cool? Neither does being on the news.

Tool Kit
To prepare for dings in the field, broken paddles, etc, here's some basic items to help keep you going...
- Ding Repair: Solarez is great for a quick fix if you have some UV to work with. Another great product is the NSR 150 Quick Repair Kit which can fix any material, even wet quite simply. Contact Rhonda Schwab in Wa State for more info. Other less reliable but sometime useful stuff for repair include duct or Gorilla tape, and superglue (for paddle chips, etc).
- Bring extra tie-down plugs in case of a break such as NSI or EZ Plugs.
- Extra bungy for deck tie-downs.
- Extra fin screw and bolt thingy.
- Multi-tool. Also fin tools (hex, philips, etc).
- Going overnight? Tent repair supplies.

Extra Water
Most of the SUP'ers I see leaving shore have little if anything on them in terms of clothing, sun protection, and especially water for hydration. Carry extra water for your students or make sure they're carrying water prior to leaving shore via a water bottle, hydration pack, etc.

Know where you're going?
I took off on Thursday for a circumnavigation or a medium sized island part of the outer San Juans in Washington State. Once I reached the island after a short crossing, I realized I had left my marine chart in the car, (dork). This particuliar island is known for wacky currents. Despite the ebb, current was still flooding on one side, swirling on the other, etc. I had no problem finding the WWTA.org site (and great outhouse) but after reaching some rougher water, I wasn't sure how much further to go before the island rounded back to the car. Next time I'm preparing myself properly and doing my homework prior on the currents situation of a destination. Things to bring: Tide and currents tables (can also be written in a grease pen on your board); Marine Chart in big ziplock bag; Watch to track current/tides; and GPS to confirm locations. Ask a local. Local info even from boaters can be useful.

Got the 411 on the weather?
There's nothing worse than telling a client, "ya, the weatherman said it is going to be nice today" then gale force winds swoop in. Bummer. I don't trust the weathermen/women. In coastal places check with NOAA for your local weather predictions. Learn to understand how to read barometer readings and carry a waterproof VHF radio to re-check the weather. I use a local NOAA link that has real time readings at the location I'm paddling. Then check a webcam to confirm the NOAA readings. When you get to the water, does it look ok for the skill level or your customers? If not bail, or find a smoother or more protected paddling location.

Communication on the water:
For client trips in open water, consider using the following communication tools..
- VHF radio to check local weather, shipping traffic status which may affect your route, use to communicate with other boaters or even those in your group, and use to call the Coast Guard in case of an emergency in your group or for others in your area. Get a floating waterproof VHF by companies such as ICOM or Standard Horizon. Bring exra batteries, keep clean from saltwater, and know how to use before leaving shore. Use on high power for calling the CG.
- Waterproof Walkie Talkie: Whitewater guide and instructor Dan Gavere uses these to communicate to his students while on the river. If a student floats out of sight, he can check on their status till he reaches them.
- Cell Phone / iPhone for all of the above functions where you have service. You can store it in a waterproof bag or case. Bring extra batteries, and keep handy for easier use.
- Learn water safety hand signals, (see my book for samples). Teach your students how to communicate with each other via hand signals in case of an injury, bad wipeout, sea sickness, etc. Patting your head for example is the sign for 'I'm OK'.

Note: Research solar chargers to restore battery power while in camp.

Need more info? Check my book!


Check out our SUP classes in Seattle - Beginning to advanced instruction including freighter and tug wave surfing, coastal surfing, rivers and racing, plus PSUPA Certification.

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