Are Stand Up Paddleboards Safe on the Mississippi River?
Yes, they are. Still misunderstood and feared by many people, Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs) are in ways actually safer than canoes or kayaks. They might look dangerous because you're riding so close to the water. Tow pilots express alarm at seeing a person "standing on water," but this is just the nature of the SUP. Your feet get wet. But unless you are intent on falling over the rest of you will stay dry. They are stable and weather-proof. Their low profile makes them less prone to the effects of the wind than other craft like canoes or kayaks. Their viability has been proven in recent years by long distance adventurers like Dave Cornthwaite, who are paddling the length of the Mississippi on paddleboards. The Mighty Quapaws of Clarksdale, Mississippi, have been using SUPs as the preferred means of conveying trash back to land during river cleanups. They are easy to load and unload, even of big bulky items like discarded gas tanks, freezers, and 55 gallon barrels. If SUP is your method of travel seek out websites and blogs describing their journeys. Dave Cornthwaite broke the long-distance record for a SUP in 2010 when he reached the Gulf of Mexico from Lake Itasca. He is writing a book about this expedition. [Writer's Note: I have added Dave a reviewer for this topic page -- thanks Dave for looking over and proofing. I will add your website as a resource.]
Self Rescue on the Stand Up Paddleboard is simple and straightforward. If you fall off simply grab the board with both hands and pull your chest over the board, and then swing your legs around and get back up. This easy maneuver makes the SUP safer than the canoe or kayak which both require more skill and dexterity to get back on board. Almost any person of any size can perform this maneuver.
What if your board flips? This gets more complicated. In the water you will have to flip your board back around. If your board is a shorty this is not too hard. Kicking your feet under you grab one side of the board mid-ships and pull up one side while you push down the other. If you don't have a lot of gear attached it should flip easily.
What if you can't turn the board upright? If you are paddling an extra wide board, such as a Yolo Yak, it might prove to be too difficult to flip alone. If you are with others, of course seek assistance. If you are alone remember you can get back on an upside down board and even paddle it for short distances. If you're not in immediate danger of nearby towboats simply ride the water and paddle towards the closest shore. You will be able to re-flip the board from the shore, especially from a shallow sandbar.
What if you have gear tied down? If your board has been rolled over with gear attached and you can't return it upright you might cut loose your gear (keeping it loosely attached with rope or straps) and then re-flip it.
What could cause you to fall off your board? If you are standing up you can lose your balance in waves or wind. Don't paddle through rough conditions in the dark, in storms, or if you are getting tired, and most certainly never under the influence of alcohol.
What could cause your board to roll over? Stand Up Paddleboards are almost impossible to roll over in calm conditions. In extreme situations it might get rolled, such as one, if you broadside a large crashing towboat wave, or two if you are side-swept into a buoy, a snag or other stationary object in fast water.