Updated: Jan 5
Making sure you carry the right equipment on your paddleboarding trip.
Everyone loves the freedom of jumping barefoot onto their paddleboard on a summer’s day, wearing just a swimsuit or trunks, and sunglasses, and heading off for a paddle.
But when we paddle on the Thames we need to think carefully about what we need to wear and bring with us, both for comfort and safety reasons.
Here’s what our coaches at Richmond take with them on the water, apart from their board and paddle:
o Knife, whistle, throw line
o Tow line
o Water and snacks
o Cash / credit card
o Warm clothing
o Fin, fin screws and paddle
o Tools – multitool for repairs on the water
o Buoyancy aid
More detail below, plus links to some of our favourite gear:
Safety and rescue kit
Attached on a lanyard to our buoyancy aid, for attracting the attention of the group or calling for help. Best to have a whistle like a Fox 40 – it’s loud, with no moving parts, so won’t jam up in salt water.
We use one loud blast on the whistle to get someone’s attention on the water, and the internationally recognised six blasts every minute to call for help in emergencies.
We carry one of these on our buoyancy aid. Useful for cutting ropes etc, and vital if anyone gets tangled in a mooring or fishing line. We prefer blunt nosed rescue knives, as they reduce the risk of puncture wounds, and won’t pierce our inflatable boards! All of these are good:
Top tip: tie the knife handle to your buoyancy aid with some shock cord, so you don’t lose the knife if you drop it.
We also carry a throw line, which is a vital bit of rescue kit on moving water. If someone gets tangled in branches or pinned against a moored boat, a throw line can be the only way of safely helping them.
Our coaches carry a waist pack tow rope in case we need to tow someone home if they get tired, or the wind conditions are too strong for weaker paddlers. We use NRS tow ropes, but cut the rope length down from 15m to 8m.
If you’re paddling at night or in low light, you are required to display a white non-flashing light visible front and back.
Note that a red light is not allowed, and head torches can dazzle other users. We use small Lumo Nebo lights attached to our buoyancy aids, but you can also be creative and attach an old plastic milk container with a torch inside to your board, which will create a 360 degree white glow…
Mobile phone – in a waterproof case
For taking photos of the session, and of course in case we need to call for help. The apps on our phone mean that we also have charts, tide, weather and flow data easily to hand. We use hard waterproof cases, rather than the clear plastic pouches. Lifeproof make great cases, but you can get cheaper versions on Amazon.
Top tip: Touchscreen phones can be difficult or impossible to operate with wet hands – but on most phones now you can dial 999 by pumping the on /off button 5 times, meaning in an emergency you can always summon help quickly.
Paddling can be hard work, so bring a re-usable water bottle and stay hydrated.
For when you need to give your energy a boost. We love Bounce Balls but everyone has their favourite:
Cash or credit card
In case we stop for an ice cream or a drink
To keep the mozzies and midges at bay.
Sunscreen and lipsalve
It’s very easy to burn on the water, so look after yourself with decent SPF protection.
Spare warm clothing in case anyone in the group gets cold after a dip in the river. Clearly this is vital in winter, but even in summer people can get very cold. Typically we carry a couple of spare fleeces and waterproof shells, plus a beanie hat – all kept safe in a large dry bag.
In winter, hand warmers to provide instant heat are great to have on board, like these.
Paddles can break occasionally, or get lost. We carry a spare three piece paddle on our boards, just in case (very rare – but you don’t want to be up a creek without a paddle!).
Spare fin and fin screws
Again it’s unusual to lose a fin, but it can happen. Once you’ve tried to paddle a board without a fin, you’ll want to keep a spare with you – it’s impossible!
We also carry a small multi-tool like the Leatherman Wave. This means we can carry out minor repairs to kit on the water – sometimes fins come loose or paddle shaft screws come undone for example.
First Aid kit
Plasters for cuts or grazes that people can pick up from the river bank or foreshore, antiseptic cream, insect bite lotion etc. We use the waterproof Lifesystems First Aid kits, and 'double dry-bag' them to make sure the contents stay dry.
We always wear a buoyancy aid when we paddle on the Thames, in line with the guidance from the Port of London Authority and advice from RNLI. A buoyancy aid helps you to float, keeps you warm and is a real lifesaver. Buoyancy aids also often feature useful pockets for storing kit, and some come with hand warming pockets! Remember that, even if you are attached to your board with your leash, you may need to detach it if you become entangled in anything, or – as can happen – your leash can break.
We use NRS buoyancy aids, designed for kayaking, as these allow sufficient arm movement and flexibility for paddling. Palm and Peak also make great buoyancy aids designed for our kind of watersports.
The key is to make sure that you have 50 N of buoyancy (enough to support you in sheltered water) and that the buoyancy aid has the correct CE or ISO mark – you need ISO12402-5 or CE EN393 to ensure that it is safe.
Belt or hip pack inflatable lifejackets, are also popular – they look like a slimline bum bag until you inflate the life jacket by pulling a handle and release the CO2 cylinder, or orally inflate. We like the British designed Palm Glide. which provides 100N of flotation – enough for offshore paddling, but not enough to support you if wearing foul weather clothing where you may need a 150N or 275N jacket. Not necessary for paddleboarding!
Using a leash on your paddleboard on open water – the sea or a lake for example - is vital, as there is a high risk of becoming separated from your board if you fall off. In a breeze, your board can float off faster than you can swim.
However, there are different considerations on moving water, like the Thames or when there are fast tides, and where the risks of entanglement and pinning are high. See the current advice re leashes on the Thames from the Port of London Authority (PLA):
As a consequence, we don’t use leashes on our paddleboard sessions at Richmond, as all our customers wear buoyancy aids, and we are never more than a short swim from the river bank. In our experience, even when the tide is moving fast, you float at the same speed as your board in the water, and it is never difficult to recover it.
Note that the risk of entanglement in moorings, buoys or branches can make a standard ankle leash very dangerous indeed, as it can be difficult or impossible to reach down and release yourself in an emergency. Instead we recommend Quick Release waist leashes - which attach from your waist to your board using the standard leash, but can be very quickly released if required. There are two main types:
Quick release waist belt from Blue Chip – the original waist leash, featuring a quick release cam buckle mechanism. The belt attaches to a standard leash, and can be released very quickly by pulling the cord which will immediately detach you from your board. Once released you still have the cord in your hand, giving you the opportunity to let go and fully detach, or hold on, untangle yourself, and then regain your board easily – a second chance!
Alternatively, the NRS Quick Release Leash features a quick release snap shackle and carabiner that attaches to your buoyancy aid or belt. This works in a similar way to the Blue Chip belt, although the disadvantage of this type of leash is that once you release it, you are fully separated from your board – you don’t have a second chance to consider your options (unless you adapt the release cord).
Finally on the subject, here’s the latest advice from British Canoeing.
This may all sound like a lot to carry with you, but in practice it all fits in your buoyancy aid pockets, on the board under the cargo straps or in a dry bag. And as long as you’ve followed the preparation and risk assessments in Part 1 of our Paddleboard Safety article (here), you’ll be prepared for anything on the water! Happy (and safe) paddling!