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Pro tips for SUP-Safety from Norm Hann

We recently met with SUP expeditions leader and instructor, Norm Hann, to talk about safety on the water and uncovered some common misconceptions about safety precautions when standup paddleboarding.

Standup paddleboarding (SUP) has become a popular watersport that offers a unique way to explore the beauty of the waterways. But just like any water-based activity, SUP can be dangerous if proper safety measures are not taken. As an instructor and strong advocate for safety, Norm Hann sees lack of proper precautions all too often. But where does this originate?

Recognizing that standup paddleboarding emerged out of surf culture explains the disconnect. In theory, all you need is a board and paddle. Getting onto a SUP is pretty easy and if you fall off, you simply get back on… in theory! Practically, there is a lot more to it than that. Understanding the skills, ways to keep you safe and being properly prepared are important for safe paddling.

Discover the essential items that Norm Hann takes on his half and full day tours when out on the water:

Closeup of Norm Hann wearing a Mustang PFD

Photos by: Landon Copplestone

1. Mandatory Equipment

Listed here is the mandatory equipment you would need anytime you are paddling your standup paddleboard.

  • Personal Flotation Device (PFD) with whistle: A PFD is mandatory equipment for all SUP riders (including children and dogs). It helps to keep you afloat in case you fall into the water. The whistle can be used to signal for help. Additional tip: keep Emergency Contact information inside your PFD.
  • Coil Leash: The leash is an essential safety tool that keeps you attached to the board. If you fall off, the leash ensures that the board remains close by and prevents it from being carried away by the current.
  • Board, Fin, Paddle: Hard to paddle without these but easy to forget to bring.

2. Safety Equipment

3. Recommended Gear

The following items aren’t essential, but can certainly add confidence and comfort to your adventure and help you to “Be Prepared.”

Know before you go!

Aside from bringing the proper equipment it is important you are aware of your skill set and have the proper training for where you are paddling. We highly recommend taking a lesson from an experienced instructor like Norm.

If you are on the ocean you can go to or one of the many weather apps like Windy or PredictWind. Familiarize yourself with local conditions, forecasted wind, current and tide conditions, and how they might affect your paddle throughout the day.

Our interactive map is a great resource when planning to visit day-use sites along the coast. You can also find launch sites near you and see comments and photos from other paddlers if you’re a BCMT Member.

Lastly, let someone know you’re heading out, where you are planning to paddle, and when you plan on returning. This becomes increasingly important for multi-day trips but it’s always a good idea to leave a trip plan with someone you trust!

Let us know if there is anything else you like bringing on a day SUP adventure or if there is something from our recommendations that you'll be adding to your list. Keep in mind that additional items, such as clothing, will be needed depending on the time of year you're paddling in.

Paul Grey

Paul has been a kayaker for over twenty years and has paddled a number of locations around Vancouver Island, Thailand and Hawaii. He has his Paddle Canada I and II and level 1 kayak guide training and certification. He has worked for the BC Marine Trails as a volunteer for approximately ten years in a number of capacities including being the president of the association. He is also the co-author of Easykayaker: A guide to laid-back paddling and Kayaking Vancouver Island. Paul is a fourth generation islander with his roots in the Nanaimo-Extension area. He also enjoys hiking, traveling and reading. He has received awards in 1993 and 1996 from the Prime Minister of Canada for his work in education; Paul is a recipient of a Royal Bank of Canada fellowship to Queen's University.