This past week, there were two reported incidents of missing paddle boarders. The first incident occurred in Pensacola Beach Florida, where the body of a missing paddle boarder was found near the Bob Sikes Bridge early Tuesday morning. The victim, a male 26-year-old from Texas, was reported missing on Sunday, when a tourist found his paddle board and life jacket floating in Little Sabine. It is unknown at this time whether he was wearing a life jacket.
The second incident involved another male in his 20s who went missing Sunday night at Hobie Beach, which is off the Rickenbacker Causeway. His body was found a couple of hours later. Bystanders had saw him fall off his board and went to help him, while others called 911. By the time they reached the area, the victim was already submerged under water. He was reported to not have been wearing a life jacket. According to the employees at the rental company the male had rented the paddle board from, the company in fact has a life jacket requirement. It is unknown why the victim was not in compliance with the requirement at this time. An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the death and whether the victim knew how to swim.
These tragedies again highlight the dangers of operating any sort of personal vessel on the water. There has been a growing rise in paddle boarding, which means there has been a growing rise in the accidents and fatalities resulting from paddle boarding. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the U.S Coast Guard has determined a paddle board to be a vessel in most situations. This means that paddle boards are required have safety equipment similar to other human-powered vessels such as kayaks and canoes. Although in Florida it is not required to wear a life jacket, each paddle board must have a lifejacket for each person and some type of sound-producing device, like a whistle or horn, that can be heard in case of danger.
Most of the accidents involving paddle boards have resulted from drownings. In these situations. the paddle boarder is typically not wearing a life jacket and gets separated from the board. In these situations, the paddle board usually does not have a leash and the paddle boarder is not wearing a sound-producing device.
As these two tragic incidents show, paddle boarding is a sport that should not be taken lightly. Just because the water may look calm does not mean there will not be one strong current that comes out of nowhere, knocking you off of your board. There are many factors that are involved in paddle boarding safely. Wearing a life jacket is key. Even if the paddle board has a personal flotation device attached, if the person slips and hits their head, they have no way of then putting on the life jacket. It is also important to paddle in groups and be aware of the current that day.
It is also the responsibility of rental companies to make sure their customers are qualified to go out onto the water and understand all the risks involved. The incident in Pensacola has in fact prompted rental businesses to take more precautions with their customers. One owner said he is going to start supplying leashes with each paddle board rented. Although these companies usually have you sign a waiver of “assumption of risk” form, they are not always a catch-all. Under Florida law, releases that relieve the party of their own negligence and recklessness are generally not allowed. This means that you should never assume that just because you signed a waiver, there is no recourse available.