Solo paddling can provide you with the a sense of escape, a search for solitude and/or it may be your only option with a busy schedule. The benefits of paddling solo are many, read on to learn more.

Reasons for Paddling Solo

For those with busy lives or difficult schedules, paddling solo is often the only way they’ll get on the water.  Others prefer to paddle solo to find solitude or personal discovery.

Reasons for not Paddling Solo

Some don’t paddle solo due to not feeling comfortable for safety concerns. Or they prefer to be in a group for safety or for social reasons.

Balancing Risks of Solo Paddling

The benefits of paddling solo vary in risk depending on the type of water you’re going on.  In some cases there’s no risk at all, in others paddlers have to measure the risks and choose to stay in conditions at their skill level.

I’ve been solo paddling for years mainly for the reasons above. Being self employed, I have the flexibility in my schedule to get outside often and it’s a great break from work.  I generally don’t have time to set up meeting someone else to paddle. I also surf and downwind solo in conditions I’m comfortable with but always leave a float plan with friends (see below).

Sometimes in paddling with others less experienced, I feel less safe than if I were solo. I can think of a few situations where paddling with others was actually more risky. In one case in high winds, the other paddlers had no plan, weren’t interested in setting up any sort of safety plan and at one point each went their own way without any notice. And I knew if anything happened to me, I couldn’t rely on them to notice or rescue me.

Tips to keep in mind for solo paddling..

Leave a Float Plan with a friend or family member.  This is a message detailing where you’re going, how long you’ll be out, when you’re planning on returning, and a cell number you can be contacted at while on-water.

Friends run a Float Plan on Facebook Messenger which makes it easy to leave before and after notifications.

Carry an on-water communication device such as a cell phone and/or hand held floating waterproof VHF radio.  Make sure to tether each to your PFD. VHF How To’s

Know Your Limits!  If you’re not comfortable with wind or current, stick to a calm protected marina or bay with easy access to your car.  Marinas are great for finding super calm water and access.  If you notice wind coming up while on-water, ask yourself if you really can handle it and whether you should return to your car.

Sometimes pushing yourself a little bit is ok to improve your skills but sometimes this can lead to getting over your head.  Save those confidence building days to one with a friend.

For example, I like paddling in heavy wind up to 30 knots for the reward of the downwind rides and surfable beach break in Seattle.  But on those days if I go solo, I’ll only access areas near my car where getting blown downwind is either impossible or worse case I’ll be blown into the shore by my car.  If I’m not feeling confident, I’ll call a friend to join.

But if I’m out solo in any conditions which feels sketchy, I’ll turn back or seek safe harbor to change my plans.  Follow your instincts.  When in doubt, don’t go out.

Sticking to your original plan because you’ve always wanted to go there or drove all day to get there isn’t the way to go.

My rule of thumb is to stay off the evening news.

Check Weather Conditions before you go and once you’ve arrived at your put-in, determine if the real conditions are within your skill level and/or comfort zone.  Is there a storm coming?  It’s not uncommon for folks to see blue sky and rush to the water to paddle. It may be calm when you get there but strong wind or a gale may arrive within the hour.  Are you ready for it? Use local web cams, NOAA buoys/stations or inquire from paddling shops.

Here’s some great apps to help you plan you trip / paddle:

  • WindAlert – Real time wind observations and forecasts (forecasts tend to run on the higher side)
  • Windy – Great for seeing how the wind and swell is flowing
  • NOAA buoy and weather stations (Great for surf forecasts)
  • NOAA Tides App (other Great apps for tides Tides Planner, Mobile Graphics).
  • Marine Traffic for seeing where the ships are (backups: Ship Finder / Vessel Finder)

Check with Paddling & Surf Shops about the Location where you’ll be paddling. They can fill you in on hazards, local conditions, the local vibe, etc.

– Carry hydration, an energy bar and a first aid kit – The latter can just be your medications (I get migraines and carry my Imitrix with me at all times).  Store in your PFD, fanny pack or an on deck bag.

Do a Gear Check Before Leaving the Beach.  Is your fin secure? Is your leash properly attached and is the string in good shape (knot secure?).

Always Wear your Leash (SUPs)!  There’s been several SUP paddlers over the years who have disappeared or died due to not wearing their leash.  One two years ago was an experienced racer in Florida. His board was found but not him.  If it ‘gets in your way’ attach it to your waist or PFD to stay clear of your feet.

I once downwinded with a guy who ‘always fell by his sup’ but never wore a leash.  On a 35 knot day downwinding, he fell off and the board took off.  Lucky there was two of us.

Even on my sea kayak and surf ski, I wear a leash whether solo and/or in rough water.

Wear or Have Easy Access to your PFD.  Many find PFDs uncool to wear or in some climates too hot. There’s several ways to still have one on you or your board or boat.  Wearing it is best.

If you have an inflatable PFD buy two cartridges and test fire one in the water so you know how to put it on. It’s not as easy as you may think. Know how to use the self-inflation and deflation tube.

If you do decide to attach a vest style to your board, make sure it fits you and you can remove it very quickly.  I can recall two recent deaths of paddlers who weren’t wearing leashes and also couldn’t remove the strapped down PFD in time. It does happen.

Know How to Get On/In Your SUP, Ski or Kayak.  You’ll be surprised how many paddlers can’t get back on their board or have difficulty doing so.  Overweight paddlers, those who are tired or have an arm or shoulder injury (or recent surgery), sea sickness, or not enough upper body strength – are all reasons for not getting back on. I’ve seen a few of the above myself. Once again, there’s been a few deaths from those unable to get back on their boards.

Surf Skis – Use a leash as ski’s are light and can blow away easily. Enter with a low center of gravity, paddle extended on one side in the water for support. Legs over side until you’re ready to paddle.

For SUPs – 

Whether on an inflatable or hard board, get on on the rear tail section (not middle or tail/end). Kick hard to raise you body to the surface while pulling on. Keep ahold of your paddle.

Prone Paddling – Body down on board paddling like a surfer with both hands. Paddle under chest.  This is the most efficient way to get upwind.  Practice as it can be tiring but is great cross training.

Sitting – 2nd most efficient way of getting upwind.  Single blade pull or hold paddle at throat/neck and use rest of paddle shaft as a second paddle – use like a kayak paddle! It works.

Kneeling – Most common but you’re still a sail!  Hold paddle mid shaft.

The benefits of paddling solo are many if you keep within your skill level, pay attention and can self-rescue.

About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races throughout the year.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips