Safety Hints for Windsurfing
The purpose of this pamphlet is to provide the beginning windsurfer a checklist
of recommendations for safely participating in the challenging sport of
windsurfing. After only a few hours of instruction, a beginner can learn
the fundamentals of windsurfing and enjoy the calm waters of a small lake
or bay. With proper training and experience, a windsurfer can eventually
graduate to less sheltered waters.
Windsurfing is a physically demanding activity and is not without its
hazards. Those who participate should not lose sight of those demands and
the proper safety preparation necessary for their own safety as well as
the safety of others who share the waterway.
The windsurfer should guard against falls in shallow waters or anywhere
submerged objects may be present. If a fall is unavoidable, try not to
fall head first. Two of the most common types of injuries sustained in
It is recommended that appropriate shoes, wet-suit booties or protective
footwear be worn to avoid cuts from broken glass or other objects that
could be encountered in a fall or while walking the craft in or out of
Head injuries from the falling rig. In a fall, raise your hands to protect
Foot entrapment between the board and the rig. Keep your front foot aft
(towards the stern) of the base of the mast.
Windsurfing is a sport that requires above-average physical conditioning.
Stomach, leg and arm muscles of even the most experienced windsurfers can
tire, especially in high winds. Falls into the water are inevitable, which
means exposure to cold and the strenuous job of raising the mast and sail.
Expect to swim to your craft many times during an outing, especially
during high winds that tend to carry the craft away. Be aware of the amount
of physical exertion required and avoid becoming fatigued.
Recommended Safety Equipment
Currently, neither the United States Coast Guard nor the State of California
requires personal flotation devices (life jackets) to be carried aboard
sailboards. However, local jurisdictions may require that they be carried
aboard or worn. Windsurfers should check with the proper local agency to
determine what minimum safety equipment is necessary. The Department
of Boating and Waterways strongly recommends the wearing of life jackets
aboard all craft.
A weak or marginal swimmer should always wear a life jacket while windsurfing.
Specially designed life jackets that incorporate a harness have been approved
by the Coast Guard for use with sailboards. A wet suit can provide additional
flotation, which helps reduce fatigue during the learning process, and
is highly recommended for cold days or when boating in cold water.
Some older sailboards come equipped with a "mast leash" or safety leash
that connects the mast to the board to keep the board and sail from becoming
separated should the mast step release during a fall. The mast leash will
prevent the board from drifting away from the windsurfer. If the mast and
board do become separated, the board may blow away very quickly. Swim to
the board first, since it provides flotation, and then paddle back to re-connect
There are several safety practices that windsurfers should follow when
on the water.
Practice unrigging and furling (rolling up) the sail while on the water
as a self-rescue technique. If winds become too strong or weak, the windsurfer
can center the furled mast and boom on the board, lie on the board facing
forward. and paddle to safety. In an emergency situation the sail rig can
Never sail alone. Let someone know where you are going and when you will
Be on the alert for other watercraft, especially in congested waters. With
its sail down, the sailboard has a low profile and is very difficult to
If you must launch or return through the surf, keep the board and sail
rig between you and the beach to avoid being struck by the board.
Rules of the Road
The Coast Guard and the State of California consider the sailboard a vessel
for purposes of the rules of the road. This means the windsurfer can be
cited and fined for violations of these rules.
Many problems have occurred as a result of conflicts between sailboards
and larger vessels. In congested bays, freighters and other deep-draft
vessels are often confined to a specific channel because of water-depth
requirements and are unable to alter their course and speed quickly. Very
large vessels require several miles to stop. Large craft can block the
wind, leaving the windsurfer unable to maneuver. A large vessel's propeller
creates suction and its stern wakes can be dangerous if a windsurfer ventures
too close. Stay away from large vessels!
Lake or river windsurfers should avoid congested areas, especially those
areas where water-ski boats or other high-speed powercraft are in operation.
Windsurfers should respect the rights and privileges of all craft, large
and small. Because of conflicts with larger craft and violations of the
rules of the road, special zones prohibiting or restricting sailboards
to specified areas have already been established on some waterways.
For more information on the rules of the road, see "ABCs
of the California Boating Law"
The following rules apply to sailcraft meeting other sailcraft.
Don't insist on your right-of-way if it means a collision. You are obligated
by law to avoid a collision even if you have the right-of-way.
A boat on starboard tack (circled) has right-of-way over a boat on port
A leeward (downwind) boat (circled) has right-of-way over a windward (upwind).
An overtaking boat must keep clear of the boat being overtaken (circled).
Windsurfing can be enjoyed in a variety of conditions, but the windsurfer
should be aware of the dangers that may occur. Learn to match your windsurfing
skills with weather and water conditions. Cautious windsurfers always check
wind and weather forecasts before getting under way. While protected waters
are ideal for beginners, unexpected high winds can make these waters hazardous.
Sailors planning an outing on the ocean or any large body of water should
be aware of wind direction. Because the sailor may be easily carried away
by an offshore wind, sail with the onshore breeze for safety. The advice
of a knowledgeable local windsurfer or sailboard instructor could prove
most helpful in understanding local windsurfing conditions.
Glossary of Terms
|A vertically moving foil-shaped blade that is extended from
the bottom of the board to help prevent the board from slipping sideways.
Letting the sail out (done with the back hand).
To roll and store the sail.
(While sailing downwind) turning the board onto a new tack by bringing
the stern across the wind.
To turn the board toward the wind.
Downwind; the "lee side" of the board is the side away the wind.
When the sail is flapping loosely.
Connects the mast to the board.
On a course where the wind is coming over the left side of the board.
On a course where the wind is coming over the right side of the board.
(While sailing upwind) turning the board onto a new course by bringing
the bow across the wind.
Upwind; toward the wind. Opposite of leeward.
Hypothermia is the life-threatening lowering of the body temperature which
can result from accidental immersion in cold water. Even brief exposure
to cold water can cause numbness and confusion which could result in helplessness
A victim of hypothermia may appear to be drunk, or confused. Get the
victim out of the water and into dry, warm clothes or blankets. Give warm
drinks, but do NOT give alcohol. Seek medical help except in mild cases,
as improper rewarming can cause complications. For these reasons, wearing
a wet suit and life jacket while windsurfing is strongly recommended.
The Windsurfing Safety Code
Consider local weather and tidal forecasts.
Always advise someone of where you plan to sail and when you expect to
Wear clothing that suits the conditions.
Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket with a whistle attached.
In hot, sunny, humid conditions, drink plenty of water.
Check your equipment for signs of damage or fatigue.
Sail with a buddy.
When the winds are offshore, sail no more.
Cold can kill. The first time you shiver, return to shore and warm up.
Always stay with your board--never try to swim ashore.
of the different parts of a sailboard.
Double check your safety leash.
Be wary of dark clouds on the horizon--storms strike fast
If in doubt, don't go out.
A smart sailor will always try to take the safest course of action before
rescue is the only way out.