US Coast Guard considers SUPs & paddleboards vessels


The US Coast Guard has regulated that stand up paddle surfing boards are in fact vessels and therefore SUPers will be subject to be its laws (i.e. have to wear lifejackets and maybe licensed). This illustrates the need of the US stand up paddle community to get a national organisation together to work with Coast Guard, rather than just be subject to its edicts.

Here is the press release :

All applicalbe laws and regulations will apply to the use of a ‘stand up paddleboard & paddleboard’ that pertain to vessels under the U.S.C.G, such as wearing the appropriate USCG approved type of lifejacket persuant to the waterway being operated under, and not limited to other regulations. The Chief of Boating Safety for the U.S.C.G. has officially recognized a paddleboard as a vessel.

These laws will apply to enforcement of the boating safety regulations for paddleboard specific use. The USCG considers a “paddleboard” to be a vessel upon research and the criteria used and guidance provided in previous legal opinions regarding whether or not it is specified as a vessel under 1 U.S.C.&3.

Based upon the information available, the USCG determined when beyond the narrow limits of swimming, surfing or bathing area, the device known as a “paddleboard” is a vessel under 46 U.S.C.&2101, and therefore subject to applicable regulations administered by the US Coast Guard and its Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety, unless specifically exempted.


(1) Whether the watercraft is “practically capable” of carrying persons or property beyond the narrow limits of a swimming, surfing or bathing area:

A paddleboard is “practically capable’ of and intended to be used as a watersport activity beyond the narrow limits of a swimming, surfing, or bathing area. It combines traits of surfing and canoeing. In Paddleboarding, a person stands on a large board which is stable enough to support a person while they paddle the device using a paddle in a manner similar to operating a canoe.

Paddleboard manufacturers depict this activity as multi-use, ranging from use as a ‘paddling’ activity on inland waterways to a form of ‘surfing’ in the ocean. For novice and the less thrill-seeking, using the craft to simply enjoy time on the water is becoming more popular.

(2) Whether the useful operating range of the device is limited by the physical endurance of its operator:

The operator of a paddleboard manually propels the craft through the use of a paddle. To a large extend the operating range is limited to the physical endurance of the operator, although because of its stability, the paddleboard could easily drift with the wind and water current. This potential physical endurance limitation is similar to that impacting sailboarding, canoeing, kayaking and other boating activities requiring high levels of physical capability.

(3) Whether the device presents a substantial hazard to navigation or safety not already present:

Paddleboard maneuvered across a waterway to locations where other larger and faster craft travel present a substantial hazard to navigation or safety not already present. Paddleboards are not as powerful or maneuverable as larger craft and they are not as visible. The paddleboard user faces a similar hazard as other users of sailboards and canoeists/kayakers.

There are paddleboarding competitions in coastal areas and organized paddleboard excursions on inland waterways. Paddleboard ‘trails’ have also been established, including one on the Deschutes River in Oregon that is 60 miles long.

(4) Whether the normal objectives sought to be accomplished by the regulation of a device as a ‘vessel’ are present:

As a potential hazard to navigation or safety, regulation of paddleboards as vessels would meet the normal objectives sought to be accomplished by the National Recreational Boating Safety Program.

(5) Whether the operator and/or cargo would no longer be safe in the water if the device became disabled.

Paddleboards would provide a minimal level of safety to operators if they became disabled. Thus, the operator may no longer be safe in the water if the operator of the device became fatigued or disabled, or if the device itself became disabled.


1 U.S.C.&3 states that “The word ‘vessel’ includes every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.” Given the answers to the questions above and the definition of the word “Vessel” in the US Code, when utilized beyond the narrow limits of a swimming, surfing, or bathing area, a paddleboard is a vessel subject to regulations administered by the U.S. Coast Guard.