SUP fatality – 31/08/2020

An adult paddle boarder has been pronounced dead at the scene after getting into difficulties whilst paddling in the Camel estuary in Cornwall.  The paddler appears to have become entangled after falling off the board in an area of tidal flow with fixed moorings and other obstacles.

Whilst it seems the deceased was an independent paddler the incident highlights the importance, for providers and instructors of SUP, of a careful consideration of the use of leashes and/or buoyancy aids in the context of specific locations and environmental conditions.

Leashes connect the paddler to a buoyant object (their board) without the possible restrictions of wearing a buoyancy aid which, in some circumstances, could make getting back onto a board more difficult or paddling long distances uncomfortable. They rely on the paddler having sufficient awareness, water confidence and familiarity with the equipment to either use their leash to regain contact with the board or take a decision to disconnect from it by removing their leash – as specific circumstances dictate.

Paddlers, or in the context of instructor led activity those responsible for them, need to be able to make such decisions, action them effectively and then manage the outcome. All in potentially stressful and dynamic situations.

Issues raised:

  1. Equipment

There are occasions when wearing either a leash or a buoyancy aid creates additional hazards – these should be recognised and considered (risk assessed) in making decisions about whether a leash, a buoyancy aid or both are appropriate.

No single approach (for example – always wear a leash) is likely to be appropriate for every location/situation.

Providers should consider the equipment carried by their instructors and whether it is capable of dealing with potential scenarios given the location/environment – such as entanglement, a paddler who has become separated from their board or the need to summon assistance. This consideration should include what to carry and where to carry it.

  1. Environment

Canals, rivers, lakes, estuaries and the sea provide different environmental hazards. Safety relies on a combination of the paddler’s (or instructor’s) ability to manage their chosen craft plus their understanding, awareness, and experience of the environment in which they operate.

Instructor competence should match the environment in which they will operate and include the skills, techniques and management control required to avoid and/or deal with foreseeable risks.

Competence (of instructors and participants), venue selection and conditions (flow/wind/tide) are interrelated factors in defining appropriate safety management arrangements.