SUP PFD & Life Jacket Requirements

US Coast Guard (USCG) SUP Rules & Regulations

inflatable sup pfd

On October 3rd 2008 the US Coast Guard (USCG) ruled that a stand up paddleboard (SUPs) is classified as a “vessel”.  To learn more, check out the USCG vessel determination page. Once SUPs were classified as vessels that made them subject to certain boating safety regulations.  Please note that this refers to Stand Up Paddleboards where the user stands on the board and uses a paddle to propel it.  (Note: “Traditional Paddleboards”, where the user uses his hands to propel the boat forward, are not subject to these rules).

This guide is only an informational overview of the federal rules - it is not legal advice!  State and local governments may apply additional rules, so please consult your local authorities for additional information.

Summary of the Rules

Area of Use

  1. Surf or Swimming/Bathing Area - when using a SUP in either of these areas you are exempt from “carriage requirements” and so not required to have items like a PFD, whistle, or light.
  2. Other Water - whenever in an area outside of the surf break or defined swimming/bathing area, the SUP is classified as a vessel and falls into a category with other paddle craft, like a kayak.

Carriage Requirements (What You Must Have while Paddleboarding)

While you are in an area of “Other Water” as classified above

  1. PFD (Personal Floatation Device)
  2. Sound Producing Device
  3. Navigation Light - if on the water after sunset
  4. Visual Distress Signal (VDS) - subject to SUP length and time of day*

PFD (Personal Floatation Device) / Life Jacket

PFDs or Life jackets are always a good idea to have with you while on the water.  The requirements state:

  • Children of age 12 and under are required to wear a USCG approved life vest at all times. It can be either Type I, II, or III. Make sure the life vest is the correct size for your child's weight and height. 
  • Adults and children over 13 are required to have a PFD onboard, not necessarily on their body. Once again the PFD must be a USCG Approved Type I, II, or III.

View StoreYourBoard’s collection of SUP Life Jackets

Inflatable PFDs - a popular type of PFD for Paddleboarders is a belt type or suspenders type inflatable life vest.  These can only be worn by people 16 years and older. They also must be worn at all times, even by adults.


View StoreYourBoard’s Collection of Inflatable SUP PFDs

More details on life vests from the USCG can be found here.

A nice overview of the different types of PFDs can be found here.

Sound Producing Device

A whistle or sound producing device must be carried to warn other boaters. Something like this SUP Saftey Whistle

Navigation Lights

A navigation light is required only if you are on the water after sunset and before sunrise.  SUPs and other paddle craft are only required to have a flashlight as a navigation light.  They do not need to have installed navigation lights.

Visual Distress Signal (VDS)

**A VDS is only required when paddling offshore and between sunset and sunrise (for typical SUPs under 16ft in length).

A VDS is something like a flare that can alert other boats or rescue personnel of your location. If your SUP is 16 feet or longer you are required to carry a VDS both day and night if paddling offshore.  If your SUP is shorter than 16ft than you are only required to carry a VDS between sunset and sunrise.

Required Rules to Follow as a Vessel Operator

Since a SUP is a vessel there are a few other rules that need to be followed to stay safe.

  1. Navigation Rules - similar to the rules of the road there are certain rules to the water so that all types of vessels can use the water safely. USCG Navigation Rules can be found here
  2. Accident Reporting - as a vessel operator you are also required to report any boating accidents to the local reporting authority, either the USCG or other agency that have been delegated that authority.

Other Notes

  • Registration Numbers - In most states you are not required to register your SUP or display registration numbers.
  • Hull Identification Numbers (HIN) - The USCG has waived the requirement for manufacturers to put unique HIN on Stand Up Paddleboards.

Additional Resources

State Boating Laws by the USCG here.

Searchable Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) can be found here. Most recreational boating regulations can be found in 33 CFR between 173 and 187.