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Is It Legal To Stand Up Paddle Board Anywhere?

Is it legal to stand up paddle board anywhere - Big Blue Guide

So, you’re wondering if it’s legal to stand up paddle board anywhere. Perhaps you’re a professional stand up paddle boarder, or maybe you’ve just picked up the hobby. Either way, you’ll know how SUP boarding can be either slow and meditative or fast-paced and thrilling. 

But have you ever considered breaking your routine? For example, maybe you’re used to a lake but want to try the ocean? Or perhaps you’re used to the surfs and want to try a nature reserve? 

What’s holding you back? 

The uncertainty of new things is always daunting, but we’re here to settle your mind. This article will cover all sorts of rules and regulations for different areas. We’ll let you know where it’s legal to SUP board and what rules you should follow.

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It is legal to stand up paddle board in most areas, including lakes, nature reserves and harbors. However, paddlers need to watch out for local regulations and rules, which are instated by the authoritative bodies of the area.

So before you grab your board and get on the water, it’s always a good idea to check which rules may apply. 

Here are some places of interest for SUP boarders and whether or not it’s legal to SUP board there or not. 

  • Harbors
  • Nature Reserves
  • Lakes
  • Next to a cruise liner
Read also: When Is It Too Windy To SUP? (Paddle Boarding Wind Speeds)

Harbors are perfect spots for both advanced and beginner SUP boarders. Their calm waters, small waves and slow boat speeds allow for smooth boarding. 

As a general rule, it is perfectly legal to stand up paddle board in a harbor. However, harbors are often watched over by harbor masters who have the final authority over the port. It’s always a good idea to check in with them and even offer them a float plan. 

Float plans highlight a couple of things like the who and the where. How long would you be on the water? Who are you with? Where do you plan on SUP boarding?

To get a better understanding of what a float plan is, check out this free template from the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. 

Paddle Boarding in Nature Reserve
photo: Unsplash

Stand up paddle boarding in a nature reserve is one of the most scenic activities you can do on holiday. The best part about it is that most nature reserves don’t just allow SUP boarding, but encourage it. Being an attraction for tourists, it only helps the reserve. 

When stand up paddle boarding in a nature reserve, it’s important to be mindful of your surroundings. Nature reserves will have careful regulations when it comes to disturbing fauna and flora.

To be safe, it’s best to check with a ranger, management or the reserve’s website. If the rule applies to a vessel, it applies to a SUP board, as well. (You’ll find out why that’s the case later on in the article.)

The calm waters of lakes are actually the best place to take SUP lessons and practice standing, turning and falling, until you get rid of shaky legs. Larger lakes with scenic backdrops are especially beautiful and a great SUP location for paddle boarders of all experience levels. By the way, if you want to get into SUP yoga, lakes are the place to be!

SUPing is not only allowed but even encouraged on many lakes throuhghout the US. Here’s a list of a few of the most popular lakes that allow stand up paddle boarding:

  • Lake Tahoe (California & Nevada)
  • Lake Powell (Arizona)
  • Flathead Lake (Montana)
  • Lake Michigan (Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin)
  • Lake of the Ozarks (Missouri)
  • Yellowstone Lake (Wyoming)
  • Lake Havasu (Arizona)
  • Lake Kabetogama (Minnesota)
  • Echo Lake (New Hampshire)

Just remember to take safety precautions: Always wear a life jacket and keep your paddleboard well maintained.

On the other hand, there are a number of lakes where SUPing is not permitted, for example on Hanging Lake (Colorado). The reason for those restrictions ususally have to do with safety or environmental protection.

paddle boarding next to a cruise liner
photo: Unsplash

It is legal to SUP near a cruise liner, but we don’t recommend you take the risk. There is a thrill that comes with SUPing near such a big ship, but it can get quite dangerous as the waves from a moving cruise liner are much more powerful than those of smaller boats.

If you decide to go for it anyways, make sure you check the rules set by the Coast Guard that need to be followed. For example, all vessels (including Stand Up Paddleboards) should keep a distance of 100 yards from ships.

Do Laws Governing Boats Apply To Paddle Boards?

In 2008, the United States Coast Guard classified SUPs as vessels, which means that most laws that govern boats apply to paddleboards, as well.   

This is especially important when it comes to water navigation and using a SUP outside the surfing or bathing zone. 

If you’re ever unsure about the laws in a specific area, you can contact the local coast guard. Alternatively, research the boating laws and assume they apply to you when leaving the surf zone.  

Do I Need a Special License To Paddleboard?

Your next thought might be, “If we should consider our paddleboards a vessel, do we need a license?”

Whether or not you need a license to stand up paddle board in the US depends on the state. While most states don’t require you to have a license, there are a few exeptions.

There is a reason why most states don’t require you to have a license to SUP. It’s because they are deemed manually operated vessels or non-motorised vessels. 

We recommend you contact your local Department of Natural Resources to find out if you need a license or not.

Regardless of your state, it’s a good idea to get a Boater Education Card. The Boater Education will teach you everything you need to know about navigation. 

This is highly recommended if you’re going to SUP around other boats. 

Do I Need to License My Paddle Board?

paddle boards and boat
photo: Unsplash

Whether you need to license your paddle board is heavily determined by your state and its regulations. Only a couple of states require a license, whilst others require invasive species stickers.

Which US states require a license?

The following states require that you register your paddleboard as a water vessel. This is for water safety measures. Sometimes, it depends on how long your paddleboard is.

  • Alaska 
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Minnesota 
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma 
Read also: What Size Paddle Board Should I Get For My Height?

What is an invasive species sticker? 

An invasive species sticker indicates that your watercraft needs to be washed and regularly inspected. 

This is to prevent the spread of possible invasive species that may be attached to your paddleboard. 

All proceeds from purchasing these stickers go to inspection stops and washing stations.

Which states require an invasive species sticker?

The following two states require an invasive species sticker for Stand Up Paddle Boarding:

  • Idaho 
  • Oregon 

It’s important to note that Oregon only requires stickers for watercraft of 10 feet or longer. However, most SUPs are 10 or 11 feet, so you’ll need one most likely.

What Are The Rules and Regulations of Paddle Boarding?

When is it too Windy to SUP?

According to the United States Coast Guard (USCG), you need to follow a handful of rules and regulations when paddle boarding, especially if you’re leaving the surfing and swimming zone. 

Life Jackets

Depending on your age, there are different life jackets and personal floatation devices (PFD).

These rules are set by the USCG and should be followed closely. 

  • Adult SUPers and children that are 13 years and older need to carry a USCG-approved type I, II, III or appropriate type V life jacket. It doesn’t have to be worn, however, we recommend you wear it at all times.
  • All children that are 12 years old or younger need to be wearing a United States Coast Guard-approved life jacket. 

When paddle boarding in a designated surf area, you don’t need a life jacket.

Read also: Can You Stand Up Paddle Board in Rain?

Signaling Devices 

When SUPing, you’ll need visual and audible signaling devices, which consist of a whistle and a visual distress beacon.

Wearing highly visual clothing and life jackets is recommended for busy waterways, in order to help large watercraft spot you and stay clear. 

General Rules

You should never consume alcohol whilst SUP boarding. Alcohol lead can lead to accidents with other water vessels.

You’re also putting your life on the line, as water and alcohol never mix – especially, when there are currents, tides and surges involved.

Also, remember to always be leashed to your board.

woman in the sea with a painted paddle board

SUPing is a fun experience for water sports beginners, SUP enthusiasts with dogs the whole family. Breaking your routine and exploring new places can lead to exciting experiences and life-long memories.

Just remember to adhere to the rules and regulations of your state. If you’re ever unsure wether or not it’s legal to stand up paddle board at a certain location, double-check with the authorities. 

We hope this article has answered any questions you might have had.

Now, have fun paddle boarding and stay safe!

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