The SFBA's mission is protecting and enhancing recreational access to San Francisco Bay

mazanti & Kevin Kan

We have developed a guide to on the water safety that specifically addresses unique situations for windsurfers. ​

Windsurfing Safety

1. LEARN TO WINDSURF WITH A US SAILING CERTIFIED SCHOOL / INSTRUCTOR. Basic Principals about self rescue and precautions to take with equipment, etc., should be learnt - especially before sailing off the beach for the first time.

2BEWARE OF THE COLD - WEAR SUITABLE CLOTHING Activity in water causes rapid loss of body heat which can lead to hypothermia, weakness and dulled mental reactions. in the summer, a wet or dry suit of 3mm or more is the minimum required, in winter it should be 5mm or more. Be aware of heat loss especially if winds are blowing from the north or east. Most heat is lost from the head, hands and feet. In cold weather, neoprene hat, gloves and boots are advisable.

3. PERSONAL BUOYANCY Always use a buoyancy aid and harness. Although a wet suit will provide some buoyancy, it is advisable to wear a buoyancy aid which does not impede your movement. For wave jumping or speed sailing, a crash helmet is advisable.

4. BOARD AND RIG CONDITION Ensure all elements of your board and rig are in good order, paying particular attention to ropes, pulleys, universal joints, rig/board connection, mast, boom and safety leashes. Keep spare line with you and learn how to effect temporary repairs from the US SAILING centers or windsurfing magazines. Look after your equipment and flush metal parts with fresh water at the end of every session.

5. NEVER SAIL ALONE - USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM Make sure that your expected time of return is known by someone ashore (your agent) and that they keep visual contact with you on the water. Windsurf with a buddy. This will ensure that should there be a problem assistance can be summoned. Windsurfing clubs provide a friendly means of sailing safely with others. If possible chose a beach with rescue cover.

6. SEEK ADVICE ON WIND AND TIDE See main page for weather information and tides. Ask locals wind strength further from land. Remember - NEVER sail in an offshore wind. As the sun sets, expect wind to change to an offshore breeze.

7. SEEK OUT SITE AWARENESS Ask locals about obstacles in the water, tides, typical wind direction, daily wind shifts, boat traffic, when the wind typically dies down, etc. Local site awareness can save you trouble later on. Find out where you could possibly come to shore downwind in case something goes wrong with your gear or you are in overpowered conditions.
For your local area, find out the local coast guard telephone number and program it into your cell phone.

​8. TIDES The safest time to windsurf is at the turn of the tide. The speed of the water flow is slowest about an hour before and an hour after high tide. Beginners should avoid sailing 3 or 4 hours after high or low tide when the speed of the water flow may be faster than they can sail. When wind is against tide the sea is choppy. Avoid trying to launch if the shore break is heavy.

9. KEEP TO AND OUT OF Some beaches are 'zoned', watch out for special windsurfing areas. Keep out of narrow navigable channels, shipping and other high traffic areas. Learn the 'rules of the road

10. NEVER LEAVE YOUR BOARD Your board is your main source of buoyancy. If you cannot reach shore by attempting self rescue, make a recognized distress signal of waiving both hands above your head, crossing wrists above your head. The rig will act as a sea anchor, provide some stability and offer good visual opportunities for rescuers. If board and rig become separated, stay with the board.

11. DISTRESS SIGNALS Be prepared for the worst and always carry a recognized smoke signal or red distress flare on your person. Learn how to use them. In flat water conditions a recognized signal is to slowly raise and lower outstretched arms.

12. BE CONSIDERATE TO OTHER WATER USERS Be particularly alert to the presence of swimmers and children in the water. Clear the beach as soon as possible.

13. SELF RESCUE - THE BUTTERFLY TECHNIQUE In calm weather conditions, swivel the rig so that the boom is lying on the back of the board with the mast pointing out behind and the sail out of the water. Then lie on the deck and paddle to safety.
In strong winds, if you are not too far from the shore, ditch the rig and paddle in. In extreme conditions, ditch the rig to maintain board stability. Only ditch the rig if you are within reach of the shore. If self rescue is unsuccessful put the rig back in the water so it acts as a sea anchor and reduces your rate of drift. Attract attention with your whistle, Day-Glo flag or flare. Never abandon your board except to get into a rescue vehicle.

14. EQUIPMENT FAILURE AND OTHER CHALLENGES In high wind conditions, remain calm but don’t waste time. Take action quickly to resolve problems. Never refuse help if you get in a bind!
  • If your fin breaks, use your harness strapped to the back of the board through the back foot strap so you can still steer.
  • If your mast breaks, de-rig on the water. Wrap the broken mast in the rolled up sail. Tie your rig to your board with your downhaul line or spare line.
  • If your boom breaks, if the front end is still attached to the mast, sail back in to the closest shore on the side of the boom that is still good. If the front end is broken, leash it back on with spare line. If all fails, do as if your mast broke.
  • If your universal breaks, use the excess downhaul line to secure the mast base to the mast track/mast plate
  • If you are overpowered, try body dragging (in pre-waterstart mode) to the closest shore. If uphauling, uphaul 3Ž4 of the way with the clew dragging in the water and drift to the closest shoreline.
  • If you are underpowered on a shortboard, try a light wind waterstart by putting your front hand on the mast (low down) and your back hand further forward on the boom – then scoot your way up onto the board. Pump the sail to help pull you up. Always carry an uphaul so if light wind waterstarting does not work, you can uphaul.
  • If you are injured, get on your board and use the distress signal (waive arms up and down above your head – crossing your wrists above your head.

  • Never leave your board - it will keep you afloat
  • Attract attention immediately
  • Attempt self rescue
  • Carry a flare and/or strobe light (available at any marine store) and use it to contact Coastguard
  • Keep warm and paddle to maintain your position
  • Inform Coastguard when you arrive safely on the beach.