Paddleboards are vessels too

Published 3:07 am Saturday, August 3, 2013

From afar, paddleboarding seems like an awkward way to explore the river. Take one out for a spin, however, and it’s more than fun — it’s like walking on water.
It’s the latest trend in aquatic sports. Liane Harsh, owner of Inner Banks Outfitters says she rents just as many stand up paddleboards as kayaks per week, but paddleboarders are being advised by the U.S. Coast Guard that, like kayakers, they are operating a vessel in certain areas and must abide by the regulations.
Areas close to shore, where people surf or swim, are the exceptions to the rules, but once a paddleboarder heads for open water, their vessel must be adequately equipped. That means a personal flotation device has to be onboard, whether the vessel operator is wearing it or not, but children under 13 years of age must wear a Coast Guard approved PFD. According to Coast Guard regulations, paddleboarders outside of swimming areas are also required to have a whistle, or some other sound-making device to alert boaters to their presence, and at night, a light must be carried to alert other boaters that another vessel is in the area.
“A lot of paddleboarders don’t wear their life jackets because it hinders the paddling process,” Harsh said. “They have to have it onboard with them, though. But I wear mine.”
Harsh said all of her Inner Banks PFDs are equipped with a whistle, but when it comes to the store’s popular Full Moon Paddles up the Pamlico that draw many regional kayakers and paddleboarders, she just tells people to use their best judgment to illuminate their vessels.
“We talk to them about it — it’s not like we surprise them with it when they walk in the door,” she said. “I tell them you can have any light that you feel will protect you from getting hit by a boat. I leave it up to the individual.”
With paddleboarders out in areas with boater traffic, stand up paddleboards are at least minimally equipped to prevent and respond to accidents. Like with any other vessel, the Coast Guard requires paddleboard operators to follow standard navigation rules and report accidents on the water.
“People are just learning about paddleboards and it’s kind of the thing to do,” Harsh said. “They’re the ticket right now.”
Harsh said she hasn’t heard of Coast Guard officers pulling over a paddleboarder to perform a vessel check as they often will with boats, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen—and that a ticket won’t be forthcoming if the rules aren’t followed.