Safety in the water

A guide to watersports safety in West Sussex

With its rivers, canals, lakes, long shoreline and legion of watersports experts, West Sussex is a great place to get out on the water. But before you hop into that kayak, step onto that paddleboard or launch that kite, make sure you’ve done everything you can to keep yourself safe on the water.

5 safety tips for watersports in West Sussex

1. Know your limits and seek local expertise

Plan your activity according to your abilities and experience – and never go out in conditions you might not be able to handle.

One of the most important steps you can take to ensure your safety on the water is to book a taster session, lesson or course with someone who really knows their stuff – and West Sussex’s waters.

“We always advise seeking training and guidance for the activity you’re going to undertake,” says Nick Fecher, the RNLI’s Water Safety Delivery Support for southeast England. “I can’t stress that enough.”

If you’re just starting out, take a lesson to get to grips with the basic skills. If you’ve been practising for a while, enlist someone who can help you take it up a notch. You could improve your capsize techniques, brush up on your navigation and river skills or learn to ride toeside.

Fortunately, West Sussex has more than its fair share of pros for you to learn from, including co-founder of the British Stand Up Paddle Association (BSUPA) Simon Basset, Olympic GB windsurfer and founder of The Kite, Surf & SUP Co Christine Johnson, and 2016 Big Air Vice World Champion and four-times British kitesurfing champion Lewis Crathern.

Fluid Adventures caters for every level of paddler, with courses in the basic skills of canoeing/kayaking, sea kayaking, white water and kayak surfing, plus the British Canoeing Foundation Safety and Rescue Training course.

Guided paddleboard trips can be a safer way to explore West Sussex’s rivers. Check out those offered by Glo Wellbeing and The Kayak Coach. If you’re just getting into paddling, start with some of West Sussex’s more gentle paddle spots such as Chichester Canal. TJ Boardhire teaches and hires out boards at Hunston along the canal.

Kitesurfers really need to know their stuff before they go it alone. “Practised safely, kitesurfing is fine,” says Christine Johnson of The Kite, Surf & SUP Co, “but if you get it wrong it can be catastrophic.” The Kite, Surf & SUP Co runs everything from taster sessions to advanced lessons in Worthing, and their Zero to Hero progression course will take you from complete beginner to safe solo kitesurfer.

2XS, run by Simon Basset, has jet-ski safety cover for windsurfing and kitesurfing, off beautiful West Wittering beach, making it a great option for beginners.

2. Wear a buoyancy aid and maintain your kit

Even strong swimmers should wear a buoyancy aid (BA). Hands down, it’s the most important pieces of kit to get right.

Make sure you’re wearing the right sort of BA for your watersport and body type. The RNLI has an excellent guide to choosing the right BA for your activity.

If you’re paddleboarding, your board acts as buoyancy but consider wearing a BA or personal floatation device that won’t affect your mobility, too. Always wear a leash and make sure it’s the right type – Go Paddle has a helpful guide to SUP leashes. And if you get into difficulties, never ditch your craft – it will help keep you afloat and make you easier to find. BAs for children are non-negotiable.

Before you hit the water, look over your equipment for signs of wear and tear. You could add reflective strips to your craft just in case you find yourself lost in the dark. Pack a mini repair kit, just in case. Don’t forget the duct tape!

3. Check the weather

It’s vital to be alert to the weather conditions – not just the forecast but what it was like a day or so ago and what it could be like later.

Wind direction can help or hinder paddlers. Stand-up paddlers are especially vulnerable to the whims of the wind as they tend to act as a sail, so paddling against the breeze can take a lot longer than paddling with it – plan your journey accordingly. Wind can make launch and landing trickier, and rough up the sea and exposed areas of inland water.

A decent wind is essential for windsports but, whatever your watersport, be wary of offshore winds – they pose a real danger to even the most experienced kiters and windsurfers. Offshore winds get stronger and sea conditions deteriorate the further from shore you go. Paddleboarders should avoid them like the plague.

Avoid going out in storms, but have a plan for getting off the water and under shelter (not trees) quickly if you do get caught out.

4. Always carry a way to call for help

Always carry a means of calling for help – if possible, a DSC-equipped radio, a personal locator beacon or a tracker. At the very least, have your mobile phone in easy reach in a waterproof pouch.

Remember, there’s safety in numbers so buddy up on the water whenever you can. If you do go alone, let someone know where you’re going and for how long – and don’t forget to let them know when you get back safely.

You could also download the RYA SafeTrx app, which can track your route and alert emergency contacts if you don’t return home on time.

5. Be aware of your surroundings and other water users

Different bodies of water, such as sea and rivers, have their own challenges and safety considerations – and they’re highly changeable.

Wherever you are, pay attention to the conditions (check weather, wind, tide and water levels), plan your route, launch and landing points carefully and be aware of the locations of any potential hazards such as weirs, rips and shallower water.

If you’re at sea, educate yourself on rips, currents and waves and check tide times. Use a life-guarded beach if you can – there are several in West Sussex, including West Wittering, Bognor and Littlehampton. If you’re surfing, familiarise yourself on surf etiquette. Avoid kitesurfing, windsurfing or paddleboarding in an offshore breeze.

River levels can rise quickly in heavy rain. Check levels before you go, and be aware that they could change while you’re on the water too. A river is a completely different beast after days of drought or rain. Obstacles become exposed and getting on and off the water can be harder in low levels, while high levels mean faster water, trickier rapids and the possibility of fallen trees or other obstructions – especially when water levels have fallen again after rising.

One last thing

You’ll find watersports courses, training centres and recognised schools throughout West Sussex. Check the official organisation for accredited operators, including:

Many also publish sport-specific safety information and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has compiled useful advice specific to many of the watersports you might do along the coast, from angling and open-water swimming to scuba diving, kitesurfing and sailing.

SUP training with children on the beach
Two men kitesurfing
Paddle board instructor and student in the water

For more safety information:

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