PFDs and Leashes: What’s Safe, and What’s Legal?

Belt PFD


Legal? Yes, provided your at least 16 years of age, and you wear it (or stow it) on board.

Safe? Somewhat. When used properly, it offers similar buoyancy to a life jacket. The belt PFDs downfall is it relies on a rider that’s able to pull the inflation tab, and position the inflated vest (or pillow) for flotation. If severely injured, if unconscious, a belt PFD compromises rider safety.

Why Wear It? Paddling mobility. Far more svelte than a life jacket. That, and fanny packs are coming back.

Usage Tip: Spin to a front facing position prior to inflation.

Want One? Find yours here.

Life Jacket/Chest PFD

MTI Vibe-Big Winds

Legal? Yes, adults may wear it or stow it onboard. Riders 12 years or younger, however, must wear it.

Safe? Absolutely. Fall in and you float. No fumbling with pull tabs to deploy an air canister. Buoyancy is a given at all times. If severely injured, if unconscious, a life jacket lives up to its namesake.

Why Not Wear It? Cumbersome. Life jackets can impede progressive paddle strokes. When paddlers hinge at the waist, drawing on core muscles for maximum paddle power and endurance, a life jacket gets in the way.

Usage Tip: Parents should be wary of life jackets sized for children to grow into. Too big is risky, as children can slip out of their jacket.

Want One? Get floaty here.

Board Leash

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Legal? Board leashes are not required by law. And here at Big Winds, this baffles us. We believe leashes are more essential for rider safety than the PFDs in this comparison.

Safe? Outrageously. A leash tethers a rider to their board: Their largest, safest flotation device. And in wind, waves, or when riders are injured, a board can easily float away. A leash keeps it close. It’s a vital lifeline. A must!

Why Not Wear It? You might step on your leash chord while paddling. A leash may snag on things when carrying your board. But these are nuisances when compared to losing your board on the water.

Want One? Good. Go for it! 

Water Permit

Oregon Residents must have a Waterway Access Permit on board when paddle boarding.

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Video Transcript

Alright summer is here and we want to keep you safe and legal on the water.

You’ve got your new stand up paddle board. You’ve got your paddle. But in order to be safe and legal, you must be wearing a buoyancy device.

A PFD for adults, children or infants is required by law when paddling. Chest PFDs are the safest. They’re worn over your shoulders. Fall in, and you float, with your head raised above the water’s surface.

Belt PFDs are also a legal flotation device for adults ages 16 and up. Belt PFDs are not as safe as a chest PFDs. They require a user to pull a inflat

But in my opinion, the ultimately buoyancy device that ensures your safety is your board. Don’t lose it. Stay attached to it. WEAR A LEASH!

You gotta have a whistle. Yes, required by law.

You also have to buy – if you’re an Oregon State Resident – the Waterways Access Permit that is required and purchased online at the Oregon State Marine Board.

Keep the sun off your skin. Keep safe.

Don’t wear an impact vest. They are not to be used as a PFD replacement. They are not legal.

And finally, know where you are going. Come by Big Winds and grab a map. We’ll tell you the ultimate spots for paddle boarding here in the Gorge.

So keep it safe this summer. Let’s see you on the water having fun. And come on by Big Winds if you have any questions regarding the legalities of stand up paddle boarding.

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