SUP Flip Rescue in 30 Seconds

The Flip Rescue is a very effective and easy to learn SUP rescue. The method came from rafting and sailing, where flipping happens often.
It’s for pulling anyone out of the water who can’t get on their board themselves due to the following reasons. Read on to learn the SUP flip rescue in 30 Seconds.

Reasons Why Paddle Boarders Can’t Climb on their Boards

  • Fatigue
  • Low upper body strength
  • Loose fitting vest PFD catching on rail
  • Large people whose chest gets in the way
  • Hypothermia (too fatigued or numb hands/fingers)
  • 6″ to 8″ thick inflatables which can for anyone be difficult to climb on
  • Being unconscious
  • Or to help swimmers, snorkelers or capsized kayakers who need to get out of the water.

How Often are Paddlers Unable to Get On?

I perform the flip rescue 1-2 times a year mainly for my students with low upper body strength whose boards have thick rails. A local high volume rental operation each summer has had several renters who can’t get on their board for a variety of reasons.

In 2019, Washington State had 4 SUP fatalities in July. Not knowing each situation, but all were males with out life jackets who drowned. Most likely at least one couldn’t get on their board to be used as additional floatation.

The Technique

No rescue is ever the same or ideal. In the new revised technique below, I cross from my board to theirs to speed up the flip-over time. If you’re rescuing a swimmer or snorkeler or paddler who lost their board (no leash?) then you’ll have to get in the water to flip their board, get on it, then flip then on.  Or possibly you don’t have a board, you’ll flip them onto their own board.

In the NRS video here, the lifeguard throws his paddle away then rescues the person. That’s fine providing you don’t need the paddle, thus I don’t recommend that option.  The 2 person prone technique works if the one or both people are not big people and the rescue board is thick (over 4.5″ thick) – otherwise you’ll sink their board. I’m 6-5 230 lbs so this option most likely won”t work for me.    If a smaller person is on top, they may not be able to reach the water, this paddle back.

My Improved and Revised Technique:

  • Approach the victim’s board from the opposite side that they’re facing.
  • While doing so, ask the victim how they’re doing – Are they cold? How long in the water? Any injuries? Keep talking to them throughout this process.
  • From your board, flip the end of their board upside down (ends are easier to flip)
  • Climb on their upside down board using your paddle over each to brace
  • Pull the victim in towards their upside down board (facing you).
  • Place both your paddles between the victim and their board rail. This corrals them from floating away. Once there, neither you or the victim needs to hold the paddles. Once they flip on the board, the paddles get pinned under their chest on the board.

At this point determine the following:

  • If the person is smaller than you, grab their vest lifejacket strap (it not loose), or under their shoulder (arm pit) and fall back into the water behind you. Make sure your board isn’t directly behind you (kick yours out then fall).
  • If the person is bigger than you, ask them to cross their arms, grab their hands (not wrists) then stand up on the board. Step to the opposite rail (or heels over opposite rail), clear your board, then fall back. If you don’t stand, you’ll fail and have to try again. If they’re cold, you need to get them out of the water asap – get it right the first time.
  • Once on the victim is on the board, move towards the tail and reach over and pull their legs toward you onto the board. Pulling is easier than pushing from the opposite side.
  • Then tow/push to shore.

Watch and Learn:


Approach victim. Talk to them access situation.
Flip their board over at the nose or tail


Climb on their board, use paddle to brace boards


Pull in victim. Place paddles between him and his rail


Grab PFD straps, under arm or cross arms


Clear your board, then fall back


Victim on board


From same side, pull victim legs on board
For big people – Stand on board & cross arms, hold hand for falling back

Photos by John Patzer

How to Get to Shore:

  • Use your leash to tow their board to shore. They can hold your leash, strap it around their paddle shaft or attach it to deck outfitting (bungie etc)
  • Tow Systems – My instructors carry a tow rope at all times from NRS and NorthWater. Other great systems available from Kokatat, Salamander, etc. Throw or tow rope works, various lengths.  Or make your own if you’re crafty. My instructors like the NRS Tow Rope Bag and the NorthWater Micro Tow Line.
  • Push their board to shore with yours, nose to tail.  If really close to shore you can push their middle rail to shore with your board nose. This is actually very effective and fast.
  • Have victim lay flat (prone) with their board overlapping your tail. Have them wrap their arms around both boards to lock them. Then paddle both boards to shore.
  • If you don’t have a board, swim their board to shore pushing from their tail.
  • Prone (paddling on chest like a surfer) as shown in the video providing you can reach the water and aren’t sinking the board.

Practice Practice!

I teach and practice the flip rescue often in my PSUPA Flat Water 1 Instructor Training courses and my regular SUP classes. Practice it to where you can do the SUP Flip Rescue in 30 Seconds in any conditions.

Tip: Try it with different body types (especially larger people) and board types, both hard and inflatable boards.

4 Other Ways of Getting a Person on a Board –

  • With a non inflatable, sit on their board and sink one rail so water comes up, then pull person on over sunken part (like a dry dock), then flatten once they are on.  Not as easy as it sounds but practice it. Inflatables have too much floatation for this.
  • Stirrup technique
  • 2 Board Paddle Support technique. Place boards parallel to each other with space in between. Place both paddles about 6′ apart bridging both boards. Victim holds bridged paddle while lifting legs one at a time onto the board.
  • Inflatable Rescue with Paddle Handle in Board Handle. Place one leg on flat blade in water while climbing up on board. Similar to a kayak paddle float rescue.

Related Posts

How to Fall Safety off a SUP

Big People Tips for Getting on a SUP

Tips for Inflating a C02 Waist Belt

How to Fall off your SUP Safely

Tow Systems for SUPs


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.
Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you

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