Drownings, Concussions and Contusions: What You Don’t Know about Water Sports Safety Equipment Can Hurt You

A real conversation

Transcript of an actual conversation, that has occurred on more than once

Customer: Ok I’ve got the board and paddle, let’s get this transaction done. I've hit my limit and and can't make any more decisions. 

Me: Ok but one last thing, you need a leash for your board. If you fall off, your board will move away from you. If you strapped your life jacket to your board, you’ll have nothing for flotation, and you’ll be at risk for drowning.  Then you’ll have to swim after your board, with a paddle in your hand. And if it’s windy or there’s a current, your board will move faster than you can swim. Also, remember the water is inhabited by creatures, some of which may or may not want to bite or sting you.

Customer: How much is a leash? 

Me: $39.95 

Customer: Nah, I’m good. I won’t fall off. 

Me: So, your life isn’t worth $39.95? 


You invested time and energy into researching and purchasing the big ticket items needed for your next water sports adventure; But how much time have you spent learning about the sport’s accessories that could potentially save your life? 

Here’s what you need to know about the essential accessories for staying safe and preventing injuries on the water when paddling, winging and foiling:

Personal Flotation Device (aka PFD aka Life Jacket aka Life Vest) 

What it is: Wearable buoyancy designed to help you float and keep your head above water 

Why You Need It: According to 2019 Recreational Boating Statistics, where cause of death was known, 79% of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 86% were not wearing a life jacket. 

Also Why You Need It: The USCG (United States Coast Guard) classifies paddle boards as “vessels” and requires the vessel to have a Coast-Guard-Approved Personal Flotation Device, a sound signaling device (whistle) and light (if paddling in the dark). 

When to Use It: Paddling beyond shore swimming limits. It is not required when paddle surfing or using wind-powered boards.

Real World Lesson: It was winter and I was paddling with my father. The day was sunny and warm and the water was calm but cold, around 55 degrees. We didn’t plan on paddling far and could see the shore the whole time so we decided to leave the life jackets at home. As my father was chatting, he suddenly slipped off the board and fell into the water. His leash was not on tightly and it slipped off his leg. The shock of the fall and the cold water sent him into panic mode and he began to breathe heavily and struggle to tread water. I was a few hundred yards away and watched his board move quickly down river away from him. I was closer to the board and captured it, then paddled to rescue him. In hindsight, I should have rescued him first, but I learned that lesson too. Everything happened so quickly, and unexpectedly. He survived the incident without injury, but we are both more cautious about paddling and always wear our life jackets, no matter how close to home we paddle. 

Personal Flotation Device Types for Paddling

The most popular types of PFDs for paddle sports are: 

Vest Type: Inherently buoyant vest-type which can be worn (recommended) or secured to the board (not recommended). If you fall into the water this type of PFD provides instant flotation even if unconscious. Shown here is a basic PFD that costs around $39. For more features and options, you can spend over $200 on a high-quality rescue-level PFD. 

Manual Inflation Belt Pack: Worn around the waist, the flotation is activated by pulling a tab to discharge a one-time use CO2 cartridge. This will not provide flotation if unconscious. Recommended only for use by strong swimmers in calm paddling environments. Belt Packs range in price from $99 to $140 depending on features and the amount of flotation. 

Carefully select the best PFD for your skill level and paddling environment.

Equipment Leashes

What it is: Attaches a part of your body to your equipment 

Why you Need It: Prevents loss of equipment, injury to others in the area, and limits the potential for drowning by keeping a large buoyant item nearby. Some locations have a “Leash Law” and require a leash for surfing and/or paddling. 

How to Use It: There are different types of leashes for the various paddling environments, board lengths and wing sizes. It's important to use the correct leash for the equipment and terrain. Review the Gear Checklists in the section below to see the types of leashes required for your sport of choice. 

Real World Lesson: I found an old leash on the ground. It was rusty and squeaked when I twisted the connection. But I needed a leash and I was in a hurry to get on the water. A few minutes later, I fell off my board and watched as it drifted away, carried by the current and the waves. I reached down to my ankle only to find the cuff attached to...nothing. Swimming and cursing commenced. By the time I retrieved my board, I was exhausted and done for the day. Ask any fellow waterman (or woman) and they will likely have a "leash story" to tell.

Leash It or Lose It

Paddle Board Leashes

Paddle Board Leashes

Wing and Foil Board Leashes

Wing and Foil Board Leashes

Wing Leashes

Wing Leashes

Impact Vests

What it is: A padded vest that provides impact protection from falls, flying equipment and provides flotation.  

Why you Need It: Prevents contusions and lacerations from boards, fins and foils and adds buoyancy in the water

When to use itWing Boarding - Wing Foiling - Foiling Behind a Boat/PWC - Foil surfing - Any time you want to protect your torso from falling impacts and flying objects.

Real World Lesson: A friend was learning to foil behind the boat. On his second try he was flying high above the water, lost control and crashed with his torso landing on the rail edge of the board. Knocked the wind out of him and bruised his ribs so badly he thought they might be broken. He famously said "now I know why people wear impact vests."


What it is: A hard shell or soft shell helmet provides impact protection from falls and equipment 

Why you Need It: Prevents concussions and lacerations to the head 

When to Use it: Wing Foiling - Foiling Behind a Boat/PWC - Surf Foiling - Whitewater Paddleboarding 

Real World Lesson - While learning to foil behind a boat, I fell and landed flat on the water, taking impact on my head and face directly. This resulted in a concussion that caused scary symptoms, a month of slow recovery, and recurring concussion symptoms. Wearing a helmet winging and foiling makes me feel safer and more relaxed.

Prepare for Impact

Impact Vests

Impact Vest Options


Helmet Options


Here's more information to help you make better decisions

Check out our Gear Checklists: Safety Equipment

See the gear you need for different water sports and learn which safety equipment is right for you

Learn the 3 C's of Safety

Check. Connect. Communicate: Learn and follow the protocols of "The 3 C's of Safety" and you'll have a good time every time you go out on the water


Interested in seeing the products we talked about in this post? Browse our Tagged Products below. And as always, if you need more information ASK US ANYTHING