Transport Canada Compromises and Makes a Ruling on SUP PFD Use

Wednesday, 02 May 2012

As you may or may not know, Transport Canada puts stand-up paddleboards (SUP) in the same classification as canoes and kayaks so they are technically required to carry the same gear which includes PFD’s, heaving line, etc. You can see the full list here.

Of course, being safe is a good thing but much of the required gear just isn’t practical in SUP and could even be potentially dangerous in surf (eg. PFD’s).

With that in mind, a grassroots movement started last year to get Transport Canada and in particular, Canadian Marine Advisory Council (CMAC) to recognize the use of board leashes in place of a PFD.

In response, Transport Canada recently released a statement clarifying their policy on required safety gear and it seems to be a good compromise. Transport Canada decided to follow the lead of the US Coast Guard and said that as long as you are paddling within the surf zone, you are not required to carry all the gear which also includes a PFD. That being said, they did go on to say that if you are using your SUP for navigation (group crossing or solo outing) then the regular rules are in place.

The thing to keep in mind with the change is that if you decide to paddle around the headland back to the parking lot then you are no longer surfing and thus in line for a ticket if caught without all the required safety gear. Stories of this type of enforcement have been trickling out of popular surf breaks in California over the last year.

Russ Garing, SUP Standup Paddle Boarder.  Surfing at Morro Rock in Big Winter Waves, Morro Bay, CA 11 Dec 2009.;

On the surface the clarification from Transport Canada seems to be a good compromise as it solves the real concern about putting paddlers surfing in danger due to a PFD (They could be in greater danger as a PFD doesn’t allow them to duck dive under an incoming wave when swimming).

I know that the compromise won’t make some people in the SUP community totally happy, but here is the problem from Transport Canada’s perspective as I see it. They have a hard enough time trying to convince everybody just to bring a PFD (let alone wear it) when in a boat that it really confuses the message to say it’s ok for one type of vessel but not the other. As far as I know all recreational, human powered vessels are required to carry a PFD except in a competitive match.

As far as the other requirements that SUPs are also required to carry (heaving line, etc.) a simple thing would be to reclassify SUPs and put them into the same category as sail or kite boards. In that classification, as long as you are wearing your lifejacket, you only need to carry a whistle.

I heard through the grape vine that Transport Canada is look into making the change and hopefully that will happen soon.

Thoughts, comments? Post them below.

Top Photo Credit: SUP Devin (1/13/09) / Steve Corey / CC BY-NC 2.0

Bottom Photo Credit: Russ Garing, SUP Standup Paddle Boarder. Surfing at Morro Rock in Big Winter Waves, Morro Bay, CA 11 Dec 2009. / Mike Baird / CC BY 2.0

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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