Do You Need to Know How to Swim to Paddle Board?

It is possible to paddleboard without being able to swim. However, it is better if you can swim given how likely it is that you will fall off your board at some point, especially if you are a beginner. In this article, we will explore all the paddle boarding issues for non-swimmers and weak swimmers, and provide advice for staying safe and, most importantly, to make sure you enjoy your time paddleboarding.

Do you need to know how to swim to paddleboard? You do not need to know how to swim to paddleboard. However, it is advised to wear a life jacket and practice in still, calm waters between 20” and 30” deep. A lagoon would be the best and safest location to do so.

Now you know as a non-swimmer that learning to paddleboard is still an option for you, there are some things you need to be aware of before ‘splashing out’ on a new paddleboard. Like, depth of water needed, Safety equipment, best location, and what to look for when choosing your first paddleboard, etc. So, if you’re ready to learn all you need to know about this fun and exciting sport, then please continue reading…

You may also find another one of my articles on ‘Do You Need Lessons to Paddleboard?

How much Water Can a Non-Swimmer be in, to Learn to Paddle Board?

 As a novice you are going to fall into the water, it is a natural part of learning to stand up Paddleboard so if you are concerned about learning in deep water, let’s take look at the pros and cons of learning to paddleboard in various depths of water.

10” Deep Water is not good for the paddleboard and paddleboard fin

This is way too shallow; you may feel safe being only above ankle-deep in water, but remember, the fin of your paddleboard is between 6” & 8” tall and so will quickly get damaged as soon as any weight is placed on the board. Also, this can be the easiest way to chip your plastic, epoxy or carbon paddleboard, or puncture your Inflatable stand up paddleboard.

20” Deep Water is still not the best for the paddleboard but you may feel safe.

OK, now you are knee-deep in Water, your paddleboard is happier and safer from damage. You have to land pretty hard on the paddleboard to put it under the water enough to damage the fine or the board itself. But it is still possible at only 20” of water.

The greater danger with this depth is how you land when you fall. You could twist your ankle when trying to land upright, or hit your body or head on the bottom of the water when landing on your side. There is just not enough water to break your fall. (see how the water is starting to become your friend)

30” Deep Water is a safe depth for the paddleboard but, you could still hit the bottom.

Your Stand-up paddleboard is loving you right now, there is no chance of accidentally hitting the bottom with it now. But when you try and land upright you will find yourself having to reach down to touch the ground beneath. When you land on your side, you may still reach the floor, but as long as you have a life jacket on, you will be fine and back on your feet, and your paddleboard in no time. (see how the water is starting to become your friend)

40” of Water makes for a happy Paddleboard, but elements of swimming could come into play.

Now the water will be roughly above your torso height now, your Paddle Board is very happy floating without a care in the world. But this is where elements of swimming could start to make a play. Attempting to fall upright is not possible anymore the water is too deep to reach off the board. If you attempt this, you can only remain upright by purposely falling/jumping in the water remaining upright, and waiting to feel the ground and stand up as soon a possible.

If you fall on your side (by far the safest way to fall in the water) again you will still not hit the ground and in both cases will need to paddle your hands a little to get your body upright before you stand up. This ‘paddling the hands’ I just mentioned, is an element of swimming. (Maybe you are a better swimmer than you thought.)  

50” of water The Best and Worst of both Water Worlds

Chest height now, you will need to jump up to get back on your very paddleboard. With only a little chance of hitting the ground when you fall in the water now, you will definitely need to paddle with your hands to get yourself upright. But stay calm, as you can still stand up in the water.

60” of water

You will have to dive off the paddleboard to feel the ground now, and as long as you remember to stay calm, all you have to do is upright yourself and stand up and the odds are you will still have your head above the water. But if you don’t paddle and are wearing a life jacket, the life jacket will bring you to the surface very quickly where you can take hold of your paddleboard and get your breath back.

70” and deeper is where things that swim or float belong.

Swimming skills would be advisable in any waters over 50”, but definitely in waters deeper than 70” deep. To keep your head above water you may need to ‘tread water’, (treading water is a technique of kicking your feet and pushing downwards with your hands to elevate your body so to keep your body in an upright motion and your head above water)

The Best Location for a Non-swimmer to learn to Stand Up Paddle Board

The best and safest solution would be to learn to stand up paddleboard in shallow still waters, between the depth of 20” and ideally no more than 30” of water. This could be a controlled environment like a natural or man-made lagoon.

A lagoon will hold many benefits to learning over any other body of water. Like, it’s more still that a river or sea. It’s shallow enough, yet deep enough to stand-up paddleboard. Finally, a lagoon will be best, as there may be lifeguards overlooking the lagoon and the odds are they will offer Paddleboarding classes. If you book onto an official course you will be in very safe hands with your instructor.

Another alternative to stand up paddle boards are a hybrid kayak-paddle board combination. If you are interested in learning more about those, read my post on the 8 best hybrids.

What is the Safest method to learn to Paddle Board if you Can Not Swim?

  1. Wear a life jacket, so you will float to the top of the water every time you fall in.
  2. Go to a Lagoon, where it is a controlled and safe environment.
  3. Get lessons from a qualified instructor.

I think the safest way for a non-swimmer to learn to Paddleboard would be to use a lagoon where the water is still and only thigh-high. So, in the case that you fall off the paddleboard into the water. You don’t need to swim at all. Also, you can easily get back on the paddleboard to give it another go. Do wear a Life Jacket at all times while out on the water with no exceptions.

Do I Have to Wear a Life Jacket while Paddle Boarding, if I cannot Swim?

Yes, Stand-up paddleboarders are required to wear a life jacket when hiring a board or taking SUP lessons in most countries. But it is not the law to do so. Even so, it does make great sense to wear one, especially if you cannot swim. If you are not offered a life jacket when given your paddleboard. It would be advised to request one before going out on to the water.

There are a lot of water activities like snorkeling, scuba and paddle boarding that you can do without being a good swimmer. Even experienced snorkelers will often use life jackets or other flotation devices as we’ve discussed for backup safety.

What Do You Need to Wear to Learn to Paddle Boarding?

When paddleboarding, it is important to dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature

  • Swim suit, wet suit and a Life jacket for cold waters
  • Swim suit and a life jacket for mild waters
  • Swim suit, life jacket and sun cream in warm waters and sunny days
  • Water shoes or sandals if desired

What is the Best Stand-Up Paddle Board for Beginners?

The best paddle boards for beginners should be sized between 9’ and 11’ long dependent on weight, and more importantly between 30” and 34” wide. This width is what gives you stability. Inflatable boards are generally more stable as they sit directly on top of the water.

At the same time, you do not want to spend too much on your first board, as the odds are, it won’t be long before you have mastered the art of standing up on a paddle board and want to purchase a narrower and therefore faster paddle board.

I have written a Complete beginner’s Introduction on How to Paddle board, check it out. If you’d like to start with an inexpensive board to help decide whether you enjoy the activity, this post discusses inexpensive boards with a few examples. Costco paddle boards are another inexpensive option.

Final thoughts

Stand up paddle boarding is an awesome sport and can be learnt by people who cannot yet swim. But be safe and do wear a life jacket at all times when near, on or in the water, and start off in shallow water, but not so shallow that you damage your paddle board fin (20” or less). You may want to consider taking lessons at first.

Also, not too deep either, that you cannot touch the ground or hop back onto your paddle board. It is at the end of the day up to each and every individual one of you, to decide your capabilities. But be realistic and smart.

There are many activities that don’t require you to be a good swimmer to still enjoy. You can scuba dive and snorkel without being able to swim, just like paddle boarding. Now, off you go to partake in this exhilarating recreational activity. Just remember – be smart, be safe! Good luck and have fun!


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Carlo Raffa

Carlo Raffa is a blogger, stand-up paddleboard enthusiast, water lover and local to Brighton city in the South of England. Paddle boarding is my escape and this is only the starting point. Being a larger guy at 260lbs I am finding it very good exercise as well, especially for building core muscles. This is something that believe it or not cycling 16 miles a day at 6 miles per hour doesn't seem to be doing. Paddle Boarding allows me to just grab my board and walk right through the busy bar filled beachfront between the two piers in Brighton and head straight out of shore. It's not long before the shouting and cheering of our buzzing beach fade into just the lapping waves and the people to just small dots of the Brighton shoreline.

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