Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Safe? Maybe Not
Most inflatable paddle boards are purchased by first time owners with limited experience, and most tend to paddle no more than a hundred meters from shore. However, it doesn’t take long to gain experience, confidence and paddle sessions go further and further from the shoreline. Soon, paddle trips 1-2 KM from shore or out to “the middle” of the lake seem like fun.
If long paddles far from shore are appealing, then using an inflatable paddle board might not be a safe choice. Inflatable companies like to promote the strength of their boards and imply that they are safe. They talk about the board’s material and its resistance to punctures. This is a smokescreen. Punctures don’t happen on open water. Nothing sharp is sticking out of the water to puncture your board. The strength of the material is irrelevant to your safety on the open water.
What is important for your safety is the board’s seams. All inflatable paddle boards are held together by glue. Yes GLUE! If the glue fails, the board can instantly deflate leaving the paddler no choice but to swim to shore. That’s not a big deal if you’re 100 feet from shore, but most people would have difficulty swimming 1-2 km back to safety.
In July and August of 2022, The UK Government’s Office for Product Safety and Standard issued two recalls for inflatable paddle boards for defective seams. The August recall specifically states the risk of drowning due to faulty glue.
This safety issue does not exist with rigid paddle boards. Only the cheapest rigid boards have seams. The vast majority do not. There is zero chance of a rigid paddle board deflating in the water. No matter what happens while out paddling on a hard paddle board, you will always have the safety provided by a hard, solid surface to climb upon. A hard board will not sink. In fact, if it snapped in half, it would still be buoyant and provide a level of safety. This is something that an inflatable just can’t do.
Split and leaking seams is such an issue for inflatable paddle boards that a Google search on the topic “inflatable paddle board seam repair” yielded 750,000 results. Amazon has more than a dozen different repair kits for sale. Clearly, these results indicate that split seams on inflatable paddle boards are an issue.
Are inflatable paddle boards safe? If the paddler stays close to shore, then yes, an inflatable SUP can be considered safe provided that the rider is a capable swimmer or is wearing a PFD. Staying close enough to shore is the key metric. However, if the rider paddles far enough that swimming to shore would be very difficult, then it wouldn’t be safe to use an inflatable. Seam separation is an issue. If a seam splits while on the water, you may have no choice but to swim to shore or drown. If you’re not comfortable with that option, you should get a hard board and the safety it provides.
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The Wappa Blog
Written by Wappa's founder Layne Pennell, the blog's aim is to educate and share his love of stand up paddle boarding with anyone interested in SUP.
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