Blown a Mile Offshore: What Would You Do?

Blown a mile offshore: What Would You Do?

Several news stories captured my attention over the last few days, prompting me to again think about the what if’s of paddling and how I’d handle them.

First off, this one from Hawaii.  Just a day after returning from Maui, I see a local news story about a 51 year old resident who was rescued by local authorities after spending the night at  sea on her paddle board.

Then, in Seattle, emergency officials are looking for the body of another paddler who was seen falling off her board and not resurfacing.

And at the end of July, two paddlers were rescued after getting caught in a storm in a place known for crazy weather.

Just to underscore the situation, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution reports that up to 80 percent of their emergency call-outs off the coast of Scotland are paddleboarders in trouble.  The reason? The paddlers get too far offshore and are unable to overcome changing tides, winds and exhaustion. The more folks take up sup, the more these numbers and stories will increase.

I am not wrting this to criticize these paddlers – I don’t know their skill levels or the complete details of their paddles.  But it did get me to thinking:  These scenarios could happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Especially on the ocean.  What would be my plan if it happened to me? Am I doing enough to prevent it from happening in the first place?


Here are some things to keep in mind to stay as safe as possible on the water.

Before Paddling

  • Weather is changeable. You can keep yourself safer by knowing the short term or hourly forecast. Know how increasing winds can affect the area where you plan to paddle.  And know your own limits.
  • Have a plan. It doesn’t have to be elaborate,  but take a moment to think about the route you plan to paddle and where you could go if you needed to bail.  Where are the easiest places to come ashore?  Think about which direction you’d be pushed if the wind changed. If there was lightning, how would you get to safety?
  • Don’t take things for granted.  Sup is so easy and so relaxing, we often take conditions for granted. Especially the more we do it without incident. 
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back, like the Maui paddler apparently did.
  • Dress for Success.  Wear bright, hi-viz colors that can easily be seen in the water and from the air – orange and dayglo green or yellow are good choices.  Wrap some reflective tape on your paddle, and consider decorating your board with hi viz tape and stickers if it’s a darker color.

During the Paddle

  • If possible, paddle with a buddy. And talk about safety and what you’d do together in an emergency before you paddle out.
  • Use your life jacket and leash. Always. Staying afloat and connected to your board is paramount.
  • Carry a whistle.
  • Consider using technology to help others track you like one of these apps.  Keep your phone with you, in a case and dry bag, secured with a lanyard.
  • When paddling in the ocean or in remote areas, consider using a Personal Locator Beacon.  PLB models are small enough now to easily clip on to your life jacket or stow in its pocket.  When activated, the PLB sends an SOS signal out via satellite that can greatly aid rescuers in finding you.
  • MB radios are bulkier but they can provide emergency communications when your cell phone won’t when offshore when your phone might not.
  • If you get in trouble, do your best not to panic. Stop, sit down, and take stock of your situation. Go over what you have with you that can help (water, snacks, your phone, etc.) and do what you can to minimize exhausting yourself. One of the biggest mistakes people make is over extending themselves.

Hopefully none of us will ever find ourselves needing to be rescued. But a little preparation that becomes part of our paddle routine can go a long way toward a happy ending in the event we do.






  1. Save yourself by paddling in a prone position. Even if you gotta ditch the paddle. In prone position it’s possible to paddle against the wind and make landfall. If you get into trouble don’t expect to hit the shore in same location of launch. Just make landfall.