Water safety tips for SUP with Blackfish Team Rider Emily Evans

With stand-up paddleboarding becoming the UK’s fastest growing watersport in recent years, the conversation about water safety is paramount. TotalSUP caught up with Emily Evans, Blackfish Paddles Team Rider, SUP athlete, all-round waterwoman and Coach, to add her perspective to the discussion.

Main photo credit: Jade Rogers Photography

Hi Emily, let’s dig right in: What’s in your SUP kit?

This is a great question and it is one that depends a lot on what I am going on the water for. There would be differences depending if I am getting out on the water alone or with a group, or if I’m doing a small coastal paddle or working from a centre on a sheltered lake. I think SUP kit could also extend not only to items to take out on the water, but also to apps and resources that can give information for paddling conditions and other essential information. I like to use ‘Windy’ as a good weather app resource, ‘XC Weather’ is also a good one. When I get to my paddling location I will read the conditions of the location and use common sense to gauge whether it’s good to go out or not. If I’m paddling with others as peers we’ll consult together on the conditions.

Emily Evans at the ICF SUP World Championships in Gdynia, Poland / Photo by: Georgia Schofield / Planet Canoe

As a start I would make sure that I dress appropriately for the conditions and the time of year. I know that I, personally get cold easily, so I’ll always prepare for this.

Regardless of where I go, as a minimum I tend to take with me a little dry bag with my phone in and an extra layer of clothing just in case. A spare hat and a wind proof can be a lifesaver if you’re out and feeling the cold.

If I am heading out on the water for a long paddle then along with the essential safety items which are, my leash and PFD (waist or jacket style) I will take a little more. I will make sure that my phone comes with me, I will have some water, perhaps a little snack, and more than just an extra layer, I might have a spare jacket, neoprene top and a hat and gloves, things that could really boost me up if I fell in and started to get cold.

If I am on the water with a group then my kit will be different still. I will have a rescue line of some kind, that might be a throw bag or a tape sling, this could help someone get back on their board or to help with towing. I will have a larger dry bag with me, this will have some spare warm clothing, not only for me but a large jacket for one of my participants if needed, I also have a small fold up survival bag. I carry a small first aid kit, some snacks, water and my phone. These are the items that can help in the sheltered water environments that I can operate in, as I stay within the remit of my qualifications. I know that I am never far from help in the places I paddle with others.

When I am working with a group in a sheltered location on the sea, part of my brief will always be the closest points to help for example nearest hospital and defibrillator so that in any situation where it might be needed then other members of the group will be fully informed.

You’ve been advocating for water safety and safe learning environment through your coaching venture SUPTEC. Could you tell us more about this focus?

I think social media and online forums are great tools for learning. It is one of the greatest things about instant culture that we can have great access to instant information. However it must be credible information from trustworthy sources.

If I choose to post something on social media, I take time time to make sure that I am not going to post misinformation. I always take into consideration all safety measures before I paddle in a location, it is something that comes naturally to me after spending many years on the water where I have often had to think about others not just myself.

It should be a no brainer to miss a days paddling because the conditions aren’t right, rather than risking your life just to get a few minutes on the water. If in doubt, don’t go out. I have been disappointed myself for not getting out a couple of times in the past, but I haven’t been comfortable to head out in the conditions I’ve seen, so simply looked out for myself.

If you find you arrive at your paddling destination and you have forgotten a vital piece of kit then don’t go out. Taking a few minutes to evaluate the situation you are in is the most important thing you can do before you paddle, even during your paddle it’s important to be dynamic, if the conditions change or your situation changes then you may have to get off the water, there is absolutely no shame in cutting a paddle short or changing your plans because the weather has changed. I have been in that situation a few times, I have been out at sea, realised that the tide is running much quicker than expected and I had to turn around and go back. You always owe it to yourself to look after yourself and make the right choice.

In terms of this from a coaching/instructing point of view then you must think about how the conditions of your coaching location will affect your participants. Just because you as a coach can paddle in strong winds doesn’t mean that your participants can.

For people who are thinking of becoming a SUP instructor, have a shop around courses and ask advice from people who have gone through courses already. It’s important to find the correct course for the environment that you will be working in so that you learn the relevant information in order to keep your future participants safe. Have a read of the syllabus of each of the courses you find and work out which is the best for you. Another top tip is to keep improving your personal skills, the more you practice the better placed you are to help others. This also means reading materials on technique, skill sharing with other instructors and undertaking CPD on a regular basis.

So in answer to your question, the things that I try to put out on my social media are useful, to the point, constructive and credible pieces of information.

In terms of gear, what are the non-negotiables in our sport?

I’m going to go out on a limb and start with knowledge not gear, but knowledge is definitely an essential, it is so important to learn the right tools for staying safe. luckily there are so many resources on correct information for getting on the water, that you can find it all online. If you want to know more about staying safe on the water then Water Skills Academy have a whole host of videos on various SUP topics. Water Skills Academy also do a course called I SUP Smart which is a great way to improve your safety knowledge.

British Canoeing also have a great range of resources from their rescue videos and general SUP safety awareness tools. Learning to rescue your fellow paddlers is a really useful for any environment.

SUP Water Safety: What’s in your kit?

So in terms of actual gear, correct clothing can be a game changer. If you are dressed appropriately for the weather then you are starting in the right direction. Investing in good wind proof clothing or a good wetsuit can save you if you get caught out by the unpredictable British weather.

Kit that is appropriate for YOU and fits you. The right sized kit will mean that you have a more comfortable and safer experience. Buying a board from a reputable store or dealer is a good idea too, it means that you are going to have something that is good quality and will give you a better paddling experience.

PFD (Personal Flotation Device) – If you’re new to being on the water then I’d say always go out in one. Also if you are paddling with your children, make sure that they are always wearing a good well fitting life jacket, this will keep their head above the water should they fall in.

Leash (environment dependant) – You can get great information about what kind of leash you need for the kind of water you are on here from British Canoeing, leash safety information. Safety information is developing and advancing all the time, so it is good to keep up to date with the latest information, perhaps consider signing up to an email newsletter from Water Skills Academy or British Canoeing to keep you informed.

What’s your advice to SUP enthusiasts starting their watersport adventure?

Take some time before you purchase kit, do some homework on the equipment that you will need and the brands you are buying so you know you are buying something that will last and be safe. Read information from credible sources online and ask advice if you are unsure of something. Look after yourself and take SUP lessons to get you started.

What’s your advice to experienced paddlers?

Continue to always set a good example to other paddlers because people look up to you. Don’t ever be tempted to cut corners, it’s not worth it. If you give advice to people, point them in the right direction in a gentle manner, remember, we want to encourage people to take part in our sport safely, not put them off.

Thank you Emily, this is super useful! Looking forward to catching up with you on the water.

To find out more about Blackfish Paddles and their progressive, refined, handcrafted designs, visit

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Follow Emily Evans on Instagram and Facebook, and check out her coaching programmes at 

*Images courtesy of Emily Evans

About the Author

Anna Nadolna

Anna is the Founder of SUPer Whale, a Cambridge(UK!)-based emerging watersports brand and a stand-up paddleboarding community. She is a certified SUP Flat Water Instructor accredited by International Surfing Association (ISA). Anna is also a digital marketing, storytelling aficionado and a growth hacking enthusiast.

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