Newport Beach Harbor Commission aims to revisit paddleboarding safety measures

City Council had voted against further SUP regulations, but the advisory board urges city leaders to reconsider the issue again.

NEWPORT BEACH—Love it or hate it, standup paddleboarding, abbreviated as SUP, has taken off as the trendy new outdoor sport. Unfortunately, because it is such a fun on-water sport combining elements of kayaking and surfing, folks sometimes forget it can be a danger to the paddleboard user and to others sharing the ocean arena. Newport Beach’s Harbor Commission, however, has been actively seeking to implement safety measures for paddleboarding.

Commissioners, at the last Harbor Commission of the year, which took place on Dec. 12, 2018, voted to take their findings from a previously formed ad hoc committee on paddleboarding to Newport Beach’s City Council. In 2016, the ad hoc committee on paddleboarding was formed after a paddleboarder died in a highly unusual accident in Huntington Harbour. The paddleboarder, it was discovered, could not swim.

The commission voted to forward recommendations to the City Council in efforts to make SUP safer. According to a staff report, the recommendations are as follows:

  • Direct the Harbormaster to coordinate with code enforcement to ensure all rental companies have a valid Marine Activity Permit (MAP)
  • Require all rental SUP boards are fitted with leashes, and rental companies encourage their customers to use them
  • Work to revise MAPs requiring SUP companies to: a) distribute the safety brochure and require customers to acknowledge that they have read and understand it; b) require customers to acknowledge in writing that they can swim and require the customer to wear a personal flotation device if they cannot.

Carol Jacobs, Newport Beach’s assistant city manager, told The Log in an email she hopes the City Council will review the recommendations at either the upcoming Jan. 22 or Feb. 12 meetings.

Last May, Commissioner William Kenney presented the ad hoc committee’s findings of which he was a member. One of the more shocking realizations was that only seven of 20 paddleboard rental businesses operating with a permanent address held a MAP. Though council member Diane Dixon and former Council member Scott Peotter had supported increased regulations on SUP, the city council voted against measures that might get ahead of Coast Guard approval but gave further direction to revisit the topic later.

The staff report states: “The ad hoc committee presented their findings to the Harbor Commission in October of 2017 and revised a draft brochure. The recommendations were forward[ed] to City Council on May 8, 2018 and additional direction was provided to the Harbor Commissioner. The subcommittee held a stakeholder meeting on October 29, 2018 and presented them with the concerns of the Harbor Commission and the City Council and asked for their input.”

Though SUP may look like a relaxing and easy sport, it certainly requires skill. Natural elements can also interfere including wave swells, tide conditions and wind. It is important to note that beginner or inexperienced paddlers are responsible for watching for traffic on the water – larger vessels will not easily be able to maneuver out of the way, so it is crucial to be alert while navigating on a paddleboard and follow safety procedures.

If these recommendations should be passed by the City Council, they will not have a fiscal or environmental effect on the harbor.

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