Are Paddle Boards Safer than Kayaks?
The paddle board vs kayak debate has raged on over the last decade or so with both sides making their case for why their modality out ranks the other's. Far be it for us not to weigh in as well. Which brings us to the question asked in the title: is a SUP board safer than a kayak? We'll discuss the pros and cons of both and determine a winner.
How does paddle boarding differ from kayaking?
Both recreational sports involve paddling a boat of sorts on the water, so how do they differ from each other?
Does a paddle board or kayak require more skill?
Both kayaks and paddle boards allow paddlers to get out on the water and spend time in nature. Paddling a paddle board requires a bit more skill than is required to paddle a kayak because of the fact that the paddler has to balance more on a paddle board due to the fact that they are standing rather than sitting. It's somewhat akin to the different skills required to ski rather than riding a sled.
Do both paddle boarding and kayaking offer a full body workout?
Both kayaking and paddle boarding offer a great upper body workout and both work the leg muscles and the rest of the lower body to a certain degree. Both kayaking and paddle boarding require the paddler to use their leg muscles as leverage to power their vessels. Although, a stand up paddleboard has a slight advantage in giving more of a full body workout because of the balancing that must be done to stay upright means that paddle boarding works the legs a bit more. With kayak paddling, it is also possible to get away with more "arm paddling" than with a paddle board.
Storage space differences between kayaks and paddle boards
Because stand up paddle boards are a much flatter surface than a kayak, more onboard storage is available on a paddle board. Kayak cockpits take up a lot of potential storage space because your legs need to go somewhere. Most kayaks offer a spot for storing camping gear in waterproof dry bags or fishing gear like tackle and rods. But gear storage will be limited in kayaks compared to stand up paddleboards.
Potential safety issues with paddle boards
So in which instances might a paddle board be more dangerous than a kayak? Because you are standing on a paddle board, your chances of falling off tend to be greater on a SUP board. You could potentially fall on the board or a shallow rock in a fall. That scenario would be unlikely in a kayak.
The other area where a paddle board could be considered more dangerous that a kayak would be during windy conditions. Because you are standing on a standup paddle board, you become a sail during windy conditions whereas your center of gravity is lower in a kayak and less of your body is exposed to the wind so it is easier to paddle through the wind. One caveat here is that because paddle boards are more versatile than a kayak, the SUP paddler can simply sit on the board (some paddle boards even come with a kayak seat) to lower their exposure to breezy weather. Or in extreme wind, they can lie on the paddle board with the paddle blade under their chest and the paddle shaft in front of them and paddle surfer style back in. This scenario almost completely does a way with their wind exposure.
Kayak safety vulnerabilities
Because you sit inside a kayak, you could be in danger if you were to encounter rough water that capsized your kayak and you were stuck inside of it. Obviously this wouldn't be an issue with a sit on top kayak but kayaks with cockpits are more prevalent than the sit on top versions . If you were able to escape the kayak, getting back into recreational kayaks while in the water can be extremely difficult compared to just pulling yourself back up on a stand up paddle board.
Your vantage point is also limited on kayaks compared to paddle boards. Because your vantage point is so much higher on a paddle board, you can see potential dangers like oncoming motor boats, large waves or even dangerous sea life coming your way quite a bit sooner than you can on a kayak.
If used while wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) and not engaging in risky behaviors, both kayaks and stand up paddle boards are quite safe. A paddle board can increase your risk of injury over a kayak if you are paddling in shallow water because the distance you could fall is greater than a kayak and you could potentially fall on a root or tree branch. However, the risk of suffering from hypothermia or drowning is quite a bit higher with a kayak if a freak storm were to come in and capsize your vessel because it is much harder to get back on a kayak then a paddle board. Since we have seen the latter scenario play out more often than the former and with the unique vantage point that a SUP board gives, we are giving the safety advantage to the stand up paddle board.