The Flip Rescue is the most effective way to get an injured, fatigued, or unconscious swimmer or SUP’er out of the water.  It has been used by several instructors I know for hypothermic and fatigued students who didn’t have the strength to get back on their boards.  I also teach it in my instructor certification and full day courses.

In one of the certifications I took last year, the instructor didn’t teach us how to get the victim back to show. When I asked about it, he said, “you should never be more than 100yds offshore.” Wind, current, poor or naive judgement, and well, sh.. happens is how folks end up offshore.  *Note that in any rescue, if your life will be in danger involving yourself in the rescue, decide if you’re the right person for the task. If possible flag others down to assist, including boaters.

Nikki Gregg has a video on the Flip Rescue released in 2013 by NRS..


Here’s some additional tips because all rescues or situations are not alike…

– We prefer to keep our paddle within reach at all times. Prone paddling can be exhausting and if you have short arms, you may not be able to reach the water using the video’s techniques.  Losing your paddle may make you a victim as well as wind and current can move it out of your reach quickly.

Place both paddles between the victim and their board in the water.  This keeps them contained from floating away.  When you do the flip, both paddles get pinned under the victim’s chest to the board.  You can remove yours if necessary to continue the rescue.

– Holding on to the victim to do the flip (2 ways): either cross their arms and hold their hands or if they have a type 3 life jacket (vest style), hold their shoulder straps then all back.

– If the victim is much larger or heavier than you, make sure you stand on the board with your heels off the opposite side from the victim to increase the amount of leverage to do the flip.

– Using a coiled leash on your board?  Make sure your board is clear when you fall back.  Coiled leashes will keep your board close to you when you stand on the victim’s board.  Kick it away, then fall back.

– Practice often with different sized partners to simulate real world situations. Also try in rough or windy conditions.  If the wind or swell is at the victim’s back, it’ll make flipping the board easier.

– If you need to perform CPR or are too far from shore to paddle back and need to await rescue, you can cross your board on top of the victim’s board which creates a very stable raft or platform.

Getting To Shore:
Prone paddling the victim back to shore as the video is a great way to go.  But there are issues which may prevent this..

– If the rescuee is smaller or has short arms, they may not be able to reach over the victim’s body and their board to reach the water to hand paddle.  Many SUPs are very wide, thus will also prevent from reaching the water.  Can you prone paddle a 34+” wide board?

Practice prone paddling. It can be quite exhausting if you’re not used to it.  The best technique is an alternating arm stroke and cupping your hands to grab as much water as possible.

– If you can prone paddle the victim back to shore and you don’t want to leave your gear in open water, you may want to drag your SUP via your ankle leash.  Downside is that pulling a board fin first doesn’t always work as the fin will want to turn your board back and fourth. You might try to lift your board’s tail and fins on top of the rescuee board or rescuee.

Towing to Shore: Few on the water will have a tow rope, but if you’re an instructor, it’s a great tool to have.  We teach towing by attaching a line over the widest point of the victim’s board or to attachment points if they have them on the nose of their SUP.  You can also have the victim hold the tow line or wrap it in a loop around the T-grip of the paddle.  You then paddle away prone, kneeling or standing with the other line around your waist.  Read more about towing here: 

Communication on the Water:  If you do a lot of offshore paddling or are an instructor, consider carrying a VHF radio, waterproofed smart phone (have reception?), a signal mirror, and rocket flares.  Sound extreme?  I know that sounds like a lot in a sport where minimalism is cool.  I’ve been involved in several rescues where the VHF radio and flares saved the day.  All can be packed into a small fanny pack or carried in a small bag on your board.  Also learn hand signals to communicate with others on the water or land if the wind, waves, or distance is to great for talking.

Rescues of other Water Craft: We live in a world of SUPs thus most certifications and programs only teach SUP rescues.  In reality in a public boating or waterway, you may actually come across people who need to be rescued in canoes, kayaks, inflatable rafts, or even fatigued swimmers.  My rescues in addition to SUPs have been sea kayaks, kite surfers, and a flipped boater.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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