62% of UK paddleboarders, kayakers and canoeists don’t see Personal Flotation Devices as an essential piece of kit

Research from Helly Hansen reveals many ignore lifesaving advice as RNLI release new paddleboard rescue statistics

Photos: RNLI and Karl Midlane

New research released today by global sailing brand Helly Hansen, a strategic partner of the RNLI since 2018, has revealed that many people are not taking safety precautions and are potentially putting their lives at risk while participating in activities such as stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), kayaking and canoeing.

SUP, in particular, has seen a massive increase in popularity over the past few years due to the accessibility of the activity. However, results from a new survey commissioned by Helly Hansen reveal many people may not be taking the correct safety precautions to keep themselves as safe as possible when out on the water.

When asked what they saw as essential pieces of kit for SUP, kayaking and canoeing, 6 out of 10 of those surveyed (62%) did not include a personal floatation device (PFD) or lifejacket.

When asked why they chose not to wear one, the most common answer from almost a third of respondents (31.8%) was being a confident swimmer. The next most popular reasons for not wearing a PFD were not owning one (24.5%) and a dislike of wearing one (21.8%). 30% of respondents also said they would not change their plans on the water after looking at the weather forecast.

Emma Russell, Marketing Manager for Helly Hansen in the UK, Ireland, and Benelux, said, “The results highlight a persistent issue in the UK, that those taking part in water-based activities such as stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing do not feel the need to wear a PFD during their time on the water. No matter the activity or competency level, everyone should see PFDs as an essential piece of kit that should always be worn.”

The survey findings come as new figures released by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) reveal that the charity saved the lives of 42 people last year after they got into trouble while paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing.

The figures also show that:

  • The RNLI saved the lives of 59 paddleboarders in the last 10 years with 75% (44) of those coming since 2020.
  • Lifeboat launches to paddleboard incidents went up 64% in 2021 (144) from the previous year (88) while RNLI lifeguards responded to 132% more paddleboard incidents in 2021 (504) than the previous year (217).
  • In the 10 years from 2012-2021, the RNLI has saved the lives of 300 paddleboarders, kayakers or canoers and helped 6,361 people.

Samantha Hughes of the RNLI’s Water Safety team said, “Paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing are all extremely popular, especially during the summer months, and the RNLI has seen a large increase in our lifeboats and beach lifeguards going to the aid of people involved in these kinds of activities over the past few years.

“That’s why it’s important to be aware of some simple safety advice which could save your life.

“If you are heading out on the water, we would always advise you to wear a suitable personal flotation device for your activity. If you are on a paddleboard, choose the right releasable leash for the location you are paddling. Always check the weather forecast and tide times as this can affect your paddling and always tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back.

“Keep a means of calling for help attached to you in a waterproof pouch or close to hand so that in an emergency you can call 999 and ask for the Coastguard if at the coast or the Fire Service if inland.

“If you get into trouble in the water, remember to Float to Live: lean back, using your arms and legs to stay afloat. Control your breathing, then call for help or swim to safety.” 

Helly Hansen and the RNLI have been strategic partners since 2018 and are committed to working together to educate and influence those at risk of drowning.

About thepaddlerezine (467 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK and Windsurfing UK magazines

2 Comments on 62% of UK paddleboarders, kayakers and canoeists don’t see Personal Flotation Devices as an essential piece of kit

  1. As a worldwide policy ASI – academy of surfing instructors don’t recommend pfds on SUP due to issues with remounting boards. Leg ropes are a required essential safety devices as SUP is a board not a canoe or kayak. We have run a SUP school for 12 years and also a have worked in lifeguarding in Australia and England. I seen this issue with remounting with a PFD with larger people leaving people stuck in the water. If people are wearing a leg rope they are basically tied to the biggest life jacket there is. It’s a bit like asking surfers to use a lifejacket.

  2. Some countries like Holland and Australia, most people don’t wear flotation devices.
    If you know how to read the weather and conditions, water flow, rips, and understand when conditions are safe or not, the you will not go into conditions that are unsafe. If you know how to swim and how to paddle correctly, use the correct equipment and wear suitable clothing, you will stay safe
    The problem is that the people seem wear to personal flotation device in place of these skills. Its like people who know nothing about the ocean go straight out into a rip and have to be rescued.
    A flotation device is not a magic cloak to make up for poor skills and knowledge.
    How do we make sure people have the correct skills and knowledge? See SUP standards. It’s a good place to start. http://www.supstandards.com

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