Downwind safety

General DW safety thread.

Edit: this article covers the full range of options, I would imagine for most beginners an Apple Watch with cellular is sufficient and probably where I’ll start, but for big adventures like the 100km stuff the Aus guys are doing it would seem sensible to have either PLB or VHF (instead of just handhelds) and know how to use them but I guess licensing will prevent the VHF


I found some pretty relevant information regarding safety by looking at the surf ski accident accounts. eg:

Surf ski crew generally advocate for a PLB personal locator beacon (EPIRB) for more extreme offshore and a cellphone as a default. Having spent a lot of time offshore I really prefer a VHF but as per the article it’s maybe less ideal when exposed like a ski / board. I think James Casey uses an Epirb in is his longer runs from what I can see.

Anyway - possibly food for thought if you’re considering downwind, I know of many instances of surf skis drowning due to losing ability to remount, wind direction swings or general unpredictable nature of being beyond a mile offshore. Hypothermia also a significant risk for those unlucky enough to be far from the tropics. Surf ski has the problem of remounting where foiling you can always get onto the board.

I imagine cold or exhaustion and offshore winds the most likely risk, as in most situations you could always drift in? Or leash snapping you’d be effed. It does seem like the surf ski favours 30kn which mostly excessive for foil


Another useful tool is “what3words” app. It brakes down the earth into 3m triangular grid and gives you 3 words to pinpoint your location.
Very useful and accurate.


Just did a VHF course for this reason. I reckon a DSC handheld is the way to go. If the shit really hits the fan you can send a DSC distress with your gps position with one button. Also want to be able to radio our local coast watch to let them know what I’m doing before and after I go to avoid any unnecessary call outs from well meaning people on the beach.


New iPhone 14 has emergency SOS via Satellite. Over time I’ll probably end up doing the VHF but think phone sufficient for what I have planned. I’m just super wary of relying on cellular, even in the UK with great coverage it can be patchy.

Anything with real risk and I don’t think you could beat EPIRB to call for help and VHF to coordinate last mile of rescue.

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I put together some of the learnings here into a blog post, if anyone has anything in addition to what I’ve covered please let me know, or if you’d like to share or write something about safety that would be cool too

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this is a great resource mate thankyou for putting it together. ive been doing a bit of pondering on this over last few months after a few hairy situations for myself and friends over last few years. these are my own rules and i am erring on the side of caution, some may even say too conservative. i am happy to wear this criticism and wont be critical of anyone who is a bit looser than this.

firstly cellular watch: be careful relying on only watches and using the findmy app. generally updates alot less frequently if at all on a watch vs a phone and sometimes it just reverts back to the phone which is then useless if its in the car at the takeoff spot. also screen is hit and miss out in the ocean, so is siri with 30 knots of wind blowing into the microphone. i may have set these up wrong, not sure. I am going to be taking both my watch and phone as i have already been doing. has anyone used the rya app? any feedback?

Offshore winds: a bastard of a thing for downwinders. i think its helpful to surround yourself with some of the local windsport guys. for those of us coming to sup downwind without sup or wind experience, we also lack the weather/wind forecasting knowledge that the wind guys have built up over time. I am going to have a rule for myself that if there are any storms on the rain radar, i will be avoiding a run or doing runs where i cant be blown out to sea if wind swings. paddling in for kms into strong offshore winds is harder than you think it will be (personal experience). frontal winds are exponentially less reliable than thermal winds (trade winds), be extra vigilant out of seabreeze season. lots of other local factors to take into account which the old timers can fill you in on.

gear failure: i carry a tool but havent ran into a situation where i need to use it as of yet.

risk matrix: the consequence of the run needs to be taken into account. its easy to get weather maps which show you the ‘forecasted’ wind direction. i think the consequence needs to be that you will be blown into shore earlier than your destination if you cant get up and are blown in a straight line rather than needing to cut into shore and possibly overshoot the destination. *if you will eventually be blown into land anyway then this point is moot but if you are cutting it fine and risk overshooting a headland etc and being blown out to sea, then this does not qualify as acceptable risk and consequence.

i am going to buy a PLB before summer as i plan to DW with it from now on, on anything more than a shorerunner or prone downwinder.

if i think of any more i will post them on here.

hope this helps and i hope the mistakes we are making as some of the earlier adopters of DW can help newcomers keep out of trouble in years to come.


Garmin Inreach is nice you can text over satellite from your watch

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@wollongong_foil_club thanks for the feedback, and interesting to hear you’ve given it some thought on the back of some incidents. Great points, especially the overshooting a headland. Josh Ku describes how disorienting navigation can be in unfamiliar areas.

cellular apple/watch: i have had the same experience, really difficult to send texts with the watch, siri doesn’t work at all in strong wind. The South Africans also use the RYA app extensively and they say it is pretty good. I think probably better than using Find My on iphone, as that usually stops updating when I need it.

offshore wind conditions: Listening to the Casey catchup describing ideal conditions 25-35kn made me think that there is a very real risk of people getting themselves deep into trouble. Agree with you about this being sketchy, I think the primary risk is a big windshift, or getting headed by a localised wind direction quirk, and ending up in 35kn gusts straight offshore. The bit of time on boats offshore I’ve spent means I definitely do not want to be in that situation. Properly fucked if you don’t manage to make headway against the offshore.

This clip of Cape Town (which is a super popular downwind spot, the takeoff for a good downwind is in the background) has a quirk where the wind goes from 2kn to about 45kn in the space of about 200 metres, and catches a lot of surfskis out who launch and then get blasted out to sea and disappear

Related to that, once crewing offshore we threw a big orange smoke flare off the boat, and then turned around to collect it. It was amazing how quickly we were struggling to spot it among only 15kn of chop and spray. Made me realise that even if a boat knows your exact location, spotting you and getting you onto the boat is risky and uncertain, add another 20kn of wind (wind power increases exponentially with speed), getting dark, smaller rescue boat and your odds are thin. Since then I’ve been a fan of reflective tap on everything.

Ultimately the issue is exposure and cold. Most of the downwind surfski deaths are attributed to people not able to remount their boat and then getting too cold to stay head above water. Thankfully a foil board is buoyant and stable enough that at the very least you can lie on it regardless of how tired you are, but the cold will still be an issue. I think a lot of the boardshorts crew in Aus and Hawaiian crew are in conditions where you’d probably survive an overnight at sea if it came down to it, long enough to be found and rescued, but anywhere where a wetsuit is required, you probably won’t.

This website has a great list of survival tips, PFD top of their list for cold, (which they define define as 70F/21C which to me is bloody tropical) Seems like there is a lot of uncertainty around what is likely in terms of survival times, but they estimate 4-5hrs from rescue call to recovery

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Anyone have any feedback on a PFD for prone paddling?

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I’ve been looking into this.
It’s very reasonable to get $$$, but you gotta subscribe to a monthly service and there’s were the money is.

It’s only a one-way satellite communicator, but I think it’ll do the job.

I usually have cellphone coverage, and always go with a cellphone, but you never know if the wind takes you out further than what the cellphone coverage can go… Or a blind spot between towns.

Considering this one.
If anyone have comments on it, please share it!


just remember VHF is line of sight so not so good when you are at water level with no whip aeriel. Better for boats. Cellphones probably better for us

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I’ve been told a lot of the kayak people getting hypothermia are wearing clothing not wetsuits.

PIP summary is good, hope you don’t mind I used it on the page

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You’re welcome to use it Matt.
Don’t forget the rescue mirror. There’s a clear 3 step procedure-
PLB or phone to trigger rescue, mirror establishes eye contact within 10km, then the whistle for within a mile.
Mirror and whistle are cheap, tiny, very lightweight and can be attached to your PFD.

I also like to carry enough fluid for longer than my planned run time, plus a couple of gel shots and a bar. When the squally winter wind drops it’s easy to spend an extra hour on a run and need more energy.
Happy downwinding :eagle:


Would like to add strobe light to the list, have one of these on the shoulder of my Vaikobi pfd.

Cellphone vs VHF is more about where rescue is best sourced than transmission distance. A handheld VHF at the water surface will easily go 5nm to another handheld low to the water and 10 to 20nm to a high antenna on a yacht, cargo ship, or coastal Coast Guard installation. Having had first hand experience of being in the water with a cellphone, with lots of boats nearby, I really would rather have a had a VHF then. That said, I carry a cellphone (waterproof and in a aquapac) as well as a PLB because most of the year there is little other boat traffic and a helicopter is my best source of rescue.


Amongst other things…

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start at 32 minutes in, talks about downwind run going bad


I have struggled to find an impact vest with good pockets for epirb, gels, phone, whistle, mirror, etc… and have had to modify vests in the past. I recently saw the Manera Vagabond impact vest that includes a pocket as well as a strobe and some places to clip things, and comes in a bright color. I’m waiting on mine (should have it later this month), but it seems to be really thought out for downwind and offshore winging.

This is different from their downwind deflate vest, which doesn’t appear to have any padding.

How do these compare to the Vaikobi / Mocke pfds? They’ve been designed specifically for downwind, but the impact vest style takes a pretty radically different approach. Maybe the manera is not certified in any way?

Impact vest definitely won’t have certification and floatation will be much less. Better protection and likely better mobility though.

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