Quick release belts for SUP leashes

Words by Louise Royle
Photos: by Louise Royle, Lisa Boore, David Mattingley, Davide Sartoni and Tony Bain

Why would you want to use a leash with a SUP? – Because it could save your life

Why would you not want to be attached to your SUP? – Because it could save your life.

This article provides information on the types of quick-release belts that are currently available; the features of the different kinds of a belt with their pros and cons; and how this relates to the environment you intend to paddle. It is essential to understand that there are different opinions and options. You need to decide for yourself, which is the most appropriate and safe option for you, given the conditions that you intend to paddle in on the day.

Why use a leash?
Because you do NOT want to become SEPARATED from your SUP, it is usually safer to be on your board than not. Your paddleboard is your craft; you can get to where you want or need to be (e.g. in an emergency) faster than if you were not on the SUP. Water (in the UK anyway) is often cold, sometimes dangerously so, therefore you do not want to be in the water for too long, or you could get hypothermia.

Even in a light breeze, your board can travel out of reach within seconds; the leash allows you to get back in contact with your board quickly; this can be a lifesaver particularly in open water situations. A leash also will enable you to swim to a riverbank without having to worry that you are going to lose your board.

Why do you need to be able to release the leash and board in an emergency?
There are, however, also situations where you do NOT want to be ATTACHED to something that can trap you or pull you under the water, such as tree branches, rocks, buoys or other snag hazards. In the white water SUP paddling community, there is plenty of debate about when, where and even if you should even wear a leash.

Still, if you do, everyone agrees that there MUST be a quick-release mechanism so that you can quickly and easily detach yourself from the leash and board. However, there is a general lack of awareness of anything other than ankle or thigh attachments for leashes within the general SUP paddling community. Even on a canal, there are plenty of snag hazards, everything from tree branches to shopping trolleys; some of these hazards hide underwater, and you may only find them if you fall in and get caught up.

When touring on rivers, estuaries, or coastlines, there are plenty of hazards, including trees, moorings, and buoys. It only takes a gentle current, wind or the tide, and you could easily be in a situation where you cannot quickly release yourself from your board. Except in very calm conditions, you will NOT be able to reach any attachments that are on your ankle or leg.

There is a great video that demonstrates this, that I recommend you watch by Barry Hughes: https://youtu.be/-NJEYNWaD8Q.

Although filmed on a white water course, this is the type of flow you would expect to find on popular touring rivers such as the River Wye at Symonds Yat in the summer at low flow levels. In tidal estuaries, the flow can be substantially faster than this.

QR system
Unless you’re only paddling open water with no potential snag hazards, then I would highly recommend getting a quick-release (QR) belt for attaching yourself via a leash to your board. This also helps keep the leash out of the water preventing drag or snagging; most people use coiled leashes except for surfing where a long straight leash minimises recoil. The QR system is worn at waist height or above, where it can easily be reached and should release efficiently both with and without tension on the leash (as you can get tangled with objects even in still water). Avoid material on material release fittings where possible: a metal fitting (D-ring or carabiner) will release quicker and with less resistance and chance of entanglement than material (e.g. ankle cuff) from material webbing.

The QR belts should be adjusted (where possible) or trimmed so that only about 15cm of webbing protrudes from the buckle when closed; longer belts will take longer to release and may tangle. You should be able to find and release the QR mechanism without looking with either hand (practice this with your eyes closed on the land and in the water in a safe environment with supervision).

Leashes come with different fixings for attachment (left): ankle or thigh cuffs; carabiners (you should only use screw gate carabiners in SUPs because open gates carabiners can become snagged); D-rings; or quick release shackles (NRS and Hala make leashes with a D-ring attached plus a QR shackle with a carabiner).

You can remove ankle or thigh cuffs using an FCS Allen key then replacing with a rail saver (the bit that is attached to the other end of the leash and is used to attach it to the board); thread either a screw gate carabiner or a D-ring through the Velcro on the rail saver. This rids you of the bulky cuff allowing you to attach any leash to the belts discussed below via metal rather than material.

I have chosen a range of quality belts currently available to give you some ideas of the types of quick-release belts available. Which system is best for you will depend on what sort of paddling you do and your build (I am a small female with short arms; I paddle touring rivers and lakes as well as white water). These pros and cons are my opinions from what I have found using these systems. Also, be aware that manufacturers often update, so always check out the features of the current models before you buy.

I would not recommend attaching a leash directly to a buoyancy aid or rescue vest. The quick-release belt on a rescue vest is threaded through side panels and designed to release under tension only; keep this for what it is intended.

Palm quick release belt

A simple QR belt with a leash attachment point at the back, you can attach the leash by threading the webbing through a D-ring, screw-gate carabiner or ankle cuff.

Pros:

  • Has two QR buckles – one at the front which releases the whole belt; one at the side which just releases the leash.
  • QR toggles are easy to find, hold and pull. They are different shapes and colours.
  • If the belt moves around the waist, you can always reach at least one of the QR toggles.

Cons:

  • Cannot be used for both carrying a throwline and attaching a leash on the same belt.
  • Has no built-in fail-safe, so will not break under excessive tension.
  • Not adjustable; once fitted, cut the webbing to size for quick release.

Environment:

  • Suitable for easy white water rivers, touring rivers, estuaries, coastlines and open water.

Soul safety leash

This is a belt and leash system all in one, which uses a large strip of Velcro as the belt.

Pros:

  • Can be worn around the waist or chest.
  • The belt is adjustable if different people need to use it.
  • Big ball toggle that is easy to find a hold and pull for manual QR.
  • Velcro tension regulator at both ends of the leash. You can adjust the amount of Velcro so that the leash releases under high or low tension. In an environment with no pin hazards (e.g. big volume rivers), you attach the maximum amount of Velcro, so your board does not release as you do not want to lose it. Where there are pin hazards in a rocky river, and you want the board to release, you set less Velcro overlap so that it will release under less tension.
  • Has several built-in fail points (in the coil and the fittings) so that it will snap and release under excessive tension.

Cons:

  • If worn around the waist, there is no option to carry a throwline on the same belt (it is not good practice to wear multiple waist belts each with separate release systems).
  • If worn around the chest, under tension, the manual QR ball can be pulled behind you where you cannot reach it.
  • Lots of Velcro, which gets caught in long hair.
  • The coiled leash is relatively thin and difficult to hold on to when pulling back the board towards you when swimming in powerful water.
  • Comes with open-gate carabiners; these can be replaced with screw gate carabiners to avoid the possibility of them opening and snagging.

Environment:

  • Designed for white water rivers, but also suitable for touring rivers, estuaries, coastlines and open water.

HF SUP belt SUP buddy

A QR belt with a leash attachment point at the back, where you attach the leash via a screw-gate carabiner or ankle cuff.

Pros:

  • Has two separate and different release mechanisms – one manual buckle, and one automatic Velcro release.
  • The toggle on the front QR buckle is easy to find, hold and pull; this releases the whole belt.
  • The leash attaches at the back of the belt around a small ring of webbing attached to a D-ring. This D-ring threads through more webbing that attaches via Velcro to the waist belt. You adjust the amount of Velcro overlap so that the belt will release automatically under either low or high tension. The D-ring provides a clean metal to material release when the Velcro releases if you are attaching via an ankle cuff.

Cons:

  • Cannot be used for carrying a throwline as well as a leash attachment.
  • If the belt moves around during use, it could be challenging to reach the manual release toggle with just one hand.
  • Not adjustable; once fitted the webbing should be cut to size for quick release.
  • The open webbing at the back of this belt could get tangled or snagged; a tidier system is more suitable for white water (see Synergy Belt).

Environment:

  • Suitable for easy white water rivers, touring rivers, estuaries, coastlines and open water.

HF SUP Belt Synergy

A padded QR belt designed for white water use, you can attach the leash via a screw-gate carabiner, or QR shackle.

Pros:

  • Has two separate and different release mechanisms – one manual buckle, and one automatic Velcro release.
  • The toggle on the front QR buckle is easy to find, hold and pull; this releases the whole belt.
  • The leash attaches to the back of the belt via a strip of Velcro, with a D-ring to attach the leash. You adjust the amount of Velcro overlap so that the belt will release automatically under either low or high tension.
  • Can attach a throwbag as well as a leash.
  • The leash can also be attached via a QR shackle (such as provided with NRS or Hala leashes), this adds a second manual QR point, thus allowing you to reach a manual pull even if the belt has twisted around.

Cons:

  • If the belt moves around during use, it could be challenging to reach the single manual release toggle with just one hand.
  • If the leash is attached via a QR shackle to the end of the Velcro: this additional QR is some distance from your waist making it a bit difficult to feel for and find, especially if you have short arms.
  • Not adjustable; once fitted webbing should be cut to size for quick release.

Environment:

  • Suitable for white water rivers, touring rivers, estuaries, coastlines and open water.

Whetman water belt

A waist belt with a buckle quick release at the front and D-ring anchored to the belt at the back.

Pros:

  • Has two QR buckles – one at the front, which releases the whole belt; one at the back which just releases the leash.
  • The toggles are easy to find, hold and pull.
  • You can attach the leash either (1) via a screw-gate carabiner, or ankle cuff to the rear webbing with the buckle release or, (2) via a QR shackle (such as provided with NRS or Hala leashes) to the D-ring. Either way, you have two manual QR systems.
  • If the belt moves around your waist, you can always reach at least one of the two QR mechanisms.
  • If you attach the leash via a QR shackle to the D-ring, you can also carry a throwbag on the rear of the belt.
  • Adjustable, useful if more than one person needs to use.

Cons:

  • Has no built-in fail-safe, so will not break under excessive tension.
  • QR shackles are useful, but I have found that the split ring can open up and fail after continuous use. So QR shackles must be checked each time before use.

Environment:

  • Suitable for white water rivers, touring rivers, estuaries, coastlines and open water.

Whetman SUP water belt rig

A waist belt with a buckle front quick release for the whole belt and an extender on the side with a separate QR for attaching the leash via a D-ring. It also has QR webbing on the back for holding a throw line.

The SUP water belt has a buckle release extender QR stitched to the belt. The standard extender is 22cm long and has a D-ring at the end for attaching the leash. It is also available with a shorter SUP attachment extender and can be made for left or right-handed access/release.

Pros:

  • You attach the leash to the extender via a D-ring, this has a buckle type QR which is preferable to using a shackle. It is much easier to release and reattach the leash and less prone to fail than a shackle.
  • There are two manual QR systems for the leash (plus one for a throw line).
  • If the belt moves around your waist, you can always reach at least one of the two QR mechanisms.
  • The toggles are easy to find, hold and pull. This front toggle releases the whole belt. The side toggle releases the leash. As I have short arms, I use a short extender so that the QR sits next to the belt where it is easier to reach.
  • Adjustable, useful if more than one person needs to use.

Cons:

  • Has no built-in fail-safe, so will not break under excessive tension.

Environment:

  • Suitable for white water rivers, touring rivers, estuaries, coastlines and open water.
About thepaddlerezine (394 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK and Windsurfing UK magazines

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