River SUP Safety

important things to know about

leash safety

Only Quick-Release Leashes Are Safe To Use On Rivers.

A leash can keep you safer on the river IF YOU USE IT PROPERLY

• NEVER use an ankle leash on moving water

• KNOW where your leash and shackle are at all times

• SOME PFDs may not have a safe place to attach your leash - then DON'T USE a leash

• PULL EARLY if you see you could get ensnared

• PULL DIRECTION is crucial for release

Update your releasable leash

with Hala Gear welded shackles

NEVER use a leash attached to your ankle on moving water, including rivers and creeks. An ankle leash can hinder your ability to swim effectively and can be difficult-to-impossible to release, which can be dangerous and even fatal. Decide if a leash is a good fit for your paddling style and safety plan (and practice using your leash) before heading out.

When used properly, leashes and the quick-release components, including the shackle, will release a paddler from their SUP. However, when pulled the wrong direction or otherwise used incorrectly, the shackle may not release. Use Hala Gear's how-to videos to ensure you know how to use your shackle and quick-release correctly.

We encourage paddlers to practice using their quick-release leashes before each outing. Likewise, it is important to always inspect your gear for wear and tear, damage, or deterioration. Frequent inspection ensures your gear is in good condition and reduces the risk of accidents or malfunctions.

To ensure our customers and paddlers have the most up-to-date, reliable gear, we are offering replacement welded shackles. To qualify for a replacement, please fill out this form and share a photo of your outdated or otherwise deteriorated shackle.

    What to wear + bring

    Gear to Bring: Personal Protective Equipment and More

    Before you head out to your destination, there are some items you need to bring along with you. Make sure you have the right safety gear to ensure the best trip. Below is a sampling of items you will want to bring along. Depending on the location and length of your trip, you will want to bring this gear and more to ensure you are comfortable and safe for the duration of your adventure.

    Required Paddle Gear [state-based requirements]

    • A lifejacket or Personal Floatation Device (PFD)

    For most paddles you will want

    • A helmet
    • First aid kit
    • Throw bag
    • Plenty of water to drink
    • Sunscreen
    • Protective Clothing, Footwear Headwear and Eyewear
    • Drybag to keep your gear dry and attached to your craft

    Depending on the length and location you may want to bring

    • Headlamp or flashlight
    • Change of clothes + Towels
    • Rescue knives
    • Flares
    • Back up paddles and oars
    • Navigation information (guidebook, etc.)
    What to Wear?

    Whether you’re new to the adventure of standup paddleboarding or have been out on the water several times, knowing what to wear is an important part of making your adventure fun and safe. Make sure that your clothing is quick-dyring, water-resistant or waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about being in wet clothes all day. 

    There are a variety of options to choose from, from swimming suits + SPF wear to dry suits and neoprene, allowing you condition and temperature flexibility and comfort. Wearing water shoes will help keep your feet comfortable throughout the trip and provide you the grip and functionality you will require to protect your feet.

    As you’re planning what to wear on your whitewater adventure, one of the most important things to keep in mind is that you should stay away from cotton-based clothing. Cotton absorbs water quickly, which will leave you cold, wet, and uncomfortable. On top of that, wet cotton clothing gets heavy quickly.

    Before you go: Weather + Water

    Always know the weather forecast and water conditions before heading out on your SUP adventure. You will want to check the weather report and stay posted on changes; it doesn’t hurt to check the weather radar as well. 

    You will also want to check the water flow levels and understand how they compare to the normal/high/low flows for that stretch of river. Depending on the length and location of your paddle, you may want to look on YouTube and research the features (like named rapids) you plan to encounter at various river levels.

    Weather + Water Resources
    • USGS Water Data: You can search for your river stretch and check flows along that stretch measured by multiple variables. You can easily view the Discharge (measured by CFS: cubic feet / second) and Water Temperature (measured by degrees Farenheight) and Gage Height (measured in feet). You can look at most recent values in addition to looking at historic river data.
    • American Whitewater River Info: This tool allows you to find your stretch of water and look at details on historical flow information and more.

    Know your crew (and what they know)

    River SUP safety

    If you’re going with a group make sure to take the time to assess everyone’s skill levels. This allows you to make sure everyone in your crew can tackle the water you’ve chosen to paddle and gives you an idea of who may need an extra hand once you’re out there. It’s also helpful to know who is most likely to keep their cool if something comes up.

    Ensure everyone on the crew knows safely swimming positions and other techniques that could become crucial in a tight situation.

    Aggressive Swim Position

    • Most important: Keep your feet up
    • Stomach down and head above water
    • Swim aggressively with your arms toward the shore or boat
    • Be sure to avoid obstacles in the water

    Downriver Swimmer Position 

    • Float on your back with your feet downriver, knees slightly bent
    • Keep your head up and above the water. 
    • Don’t stand up in the river. Stay calm, and time your breaths with the waves if necessary.
    • Listen for your team and Look for obstacles
    • In this position, you can see where you’re going, and with your knees bent, you can absorb some of the shock if you hit a rock and work to avoid getting tangled with debris.

    Also, make sure you all are ready to treat the chosen waterway with respect.

    The Anatomy of a river

    Terms + Concepts to Know

    Rocks Make Whitewater: Is the rock friendly or not friendly?
    Friendly rocks are fun

    They create pillows, water flows smoothly over them, paddlers can bump into and off them or paddle over the top of them safely.

    Unfriendly Rocks

    Create dangerous situations. Be aware of the following

    • Undercut Rocks: Create a siv that can entrap or pin boats or humans. 
    • Thin or sharp rocks: Paddlers or boats can get stuck on these rocks. They don’t create pillows, water rushes quickly by them.

    Holes: Where the water rushes over a rock and creates a trough that the downstream water fills and that can create a foam pile.

    Foampile: Upstream rushing water in a hole. The white and lighter color part.

    Boil Line: The point where the water starts going downstream again and above which the water rushes upstream.

    Corners: Where the foam pile disappears on the outside of the hole.

    Hole Shapes

    What the Foam Pile looks like in the river and how it takes up space.

    Straight Hole: Foam pile runs straight across the river

    Smiley Hole: The corners of foam pile are further downstream than middle.

    Pocket or Frowney Hole: The corners of Foampile are further upstream than middle.

    Diagonal Hole: Yup, the foam pile runs diagonally across the water.


    What you play on when in whitewater, you bounce up and down, you can surf them. Waves can be so much fun on the river.

    Peak: Top of wave

    Trough: Bottom of wave

    Shoulder: To right and left of the wave where wave begins to disappear into the current of the river.


    Slow water and slack water in a river created by an obstacle in the river or shoreline.

    Top of an eddy: Very most upstream side, usually up against a rock or shoreline.

    Bottom of eddy: Most downstream part where the eddy turns back into the current

    Eddy Pocket: The most stationary or upstream-moving part of the eddy.

    Eddy Lines: Separate the current going downriver from the upstream running slack water.

    Crisp or Clear Eddy Lines: Sharp line between current and eddy

    Boily, Wide or Mushy Eddy Lines: Not as distinct line, current fades into eddy

    Picking your Paddle Line

    When paddling whitewater, you will generally be moving from one eddy to the next eddy. From eddy to eddy, you will assess for your paddleable line taking the following items into consideration.

    • Know what paddling techniques you’re good at to pick your line either paddling the easiest way through or using your skills to move through the line.
    • The fastest current usually is denoted by waves or a V.
    • The V shows the fastest current and oftentimes goes between the rocks. Water in a V is deep and moving so it’s a good choice for line selection.
    • Look for obstacles such as holes and rocks, etc. along your chosen line to determine how you want to handle them.
    • Number 1 Priority is to leave as much margin for error in your line as possible so if something goes not according to plan you have time to read what’s coming and calibrate your line.

    Consider the Following Obstacles

    Tunnel Vision: When a paddler looks right at the front of their boat rather than to the next eddy or obstacles along their line. Always focus on the target or where you want to go rather than right in front of your boat.

    Fun with rocks: You can paddle around them, Catch the eddy behind them and if there’s enough water, paddle over them. Rocks sticking up above the waterline in the middle of the river is a pretty good indication that there’s an eddy on the backside of it.

    Be aware of Current Differential: There can be a strong or smooth difference in speed between the current flow and the strength of the eddy and it’s important to know what those differences will mean for you. 

    River Rapid Class-ification: Choose your adventure

    Knowing the skill level and experience of those adventuring with you allows you to choose the right river stretches [with paddleable features] for your group. There are six different whitewater rapid class levels to choose from, with different characteristics in each class. 

    General Classification Notes
    • Class 1: Class 1 offers moving water with small waves and a few riffles. There are few to no obstructions, making this the easiest option for those who are new to whitewater rafting adventures.
    • Class 2: Obvious, clear channels, small waves, and easy rapids signify class 2. These rapids are still fairly easy, but generally require a bit more maneuvering than class 1. 
    • Class 3: In class 3, you’ll find narrow passages that may require significant maneuvering, as well as rapids with higher, sometimes irregular waves. Class 3 is a good option for intermediate adventurers. 
    • Class 4: Very narrow or constricted passages and long, difficult rapids are some of the markers of a class 4 course. You may have to deal with cross-currents and powerful waves, as well as aggressive water. Class 4 may also require some scouting and the course isn’t always very clear. 
    • Class 5: If you are an experienced whitewater rafter, class 5 is still a difficult, and sometimes dangerous, choice. You’ll find violent rapids with high torrents, as well as obstacles that are extremely hard to maneuver. Class 5 should be left to experts, as even when you know what you’re doing, it can be a dangerous ride. 
    • Class 6: It is extremely dangerous to try to beat a class 6. In fact, these rapids are generally not commercially raftable, and should only be taken on by teams of experts. Even then, they are life-threatening and nearly impossible to navigate. Class 6 includes the fastest moving water, extremely turbulent waves, cross-currents that are nearly impossible to move through, and more. There is a very real and present risk of life with class 6 rapids.

    Keep in mind that the classification of the water you plan to navigate is not set as a challenge, but instead as a safety precaution. You can find a guidebook for the section of river you plan to paddle to get an idea of what rapids, campsites, hikes, and geographic and historic features you will encounter on your adventure. It’s important to fully know and acknowledge your skill level and the kind of adventure you want to have and match it to the right classification and stretch of water you will paddle. 

    More IMPORTANT river SUP concepts

    "Rigged to flip"

    Ensure you and your follow adventurers are able to securely attached all the gear they brough to their craft, just in case your boat tips or flips.

    Use Leave No Trace Principles

    Leave a place better than you left it. Do not leave trash. Consider microtrash and loose trash on your craft. Be sure your trash is secured during your adventure so you don’t accidentally lose it.