Downwind Safety

This is an evolving part of the sport, but here are some basics. Be safe. If you have not spent any time offshore then be warned the sea gets exponentially less safe the further you get from the beach!

Also - practice in less serious context. (eg I discovered not to rely on Siri)

Three Key Components of Safety

  1. Safety Gear - surviving getting into trouble

  2. Planning and Weather - avoiding trouble

  3. Safety Skills - how to get rescued

Safety Gear


  1. Wetsuit to spend many hours (both in the water and not)

  2. Phone, waterproof case (iPhone 14 has emergency SOS via Satellite)

  3. Leash

  4. Tool

  5. Buoyancy aid and whistle

Basic additions

  1. SafeTrx (UK/SA) or similar local tracking app1

  2. Nutrition (water, energy gels, energy bar)

  3. Lumo reflective tape for paddle and board

  4. Smart watch (to save battery on the phone when tracking runs)

  5. Helmet

Getting serious

  1. Personal locator beacon (Garmin InReach or EPIRB) 2

  2. VHF in a waterproof pouch (with DSC even better)3

  3. Strobe light, flares or some night signalling device

  4. Signalling mirror

Cold is what ends up killing you

In most places around the world, the thing that will actually kill you is hypothermia4. Nonetheless, if you’re wearing a wetsuit, this is likely to be worthing paying attention to.

So an easy lesson to learn from kayakers over 100s of years - (1) Wear Your PFD, (2) Dress For The Water Temperature, (3) Test your gear

A note on leashes

Downwind foiling has one big safety advantage over other offshore activities like offshore kayaking. If you fall out of the kayak and cannot get back in, then you are stuck drifting, which is how most people get hypothermia and then die.

A downwind foil board (a big one5) gives you an ability to easily paddle at ~5km/h for a few hours without too much suffering, and with the wind you can reliably cover pretty large distances, so you have a good chance of self rescue.

However, if you lose your board, you suddenly are in a very dangerous position. Swimming at 1 or 2km/h for more than an hour is unlikely for most, and 2km is pretty close to shore for most downwind runs.

Try shooting your board away from you to simulate a fall, and then swim after it. The foil gives it lift and tilts catching the wind and drifting away very fast.

A leash is the simplest and most important safety device6

Planning and Weather

For more details, see Plan For The Worst That Can Happen


  1. Personal Intention Plan (PIP) - tell someone:

    1. start and exit points, and time

    2. vehicles you were using and where they will be left

    3. possible early exits from your run

  2. Inform the coastguard, lifeguards or rescue service7

  3. Have a plan, a fallback, and early exits in mind

  4. Navigation, waypoints, how you intend to find your way without a map or phone from the sea


  1. Wind and weather forecasts for the duration of the day

  2. Wind shifts and implications (weather settles after a frontal system passes, and very unpredictable before)

  3. Water temperatures

  4. Your fitness level, energy level

  5. Difficult points with wave rebounds, chop, currents, tides

  6. Correct foil, correctly positioned for the worst of the run


It is very dangerous to assume safety in numbers. 

Keeping track of, let alone assisting another foiler in offshore conditions can be extremely challenging.

Be very careful about who you crew with and their ability. Expect to lose visibility with your group, and to lose contact via cellphone, so agree on a plan.



  1. Knowing when to bail, especially when to call it because someone has joined who is a risk of causing an emergency

  2. Circle back to check on each other and communication practice

  3. What will you do if your paddle snaps? Zip ties to fix? Can you prone paddle up? Adjusting foils, removing foils, paddling without foils?

Rescue scenarios

Have you thought about being rescued?

  1. Rescue call - VHF/PLB/phone to trigger rescue operation, or a signal mirror to signal distress, useful for up to 10km

  2. Being Found - harder than you’d think! You pretty much disappear in 20 knots of wind, making search and rescue much less reliable than you might like to think!

    1. Lumo colour make all the difference in being seen. Reflective tape on your board and paddle is a very good idea (controversially, may increase the chances of false alarms)

    2. Whistle, reflective tape, flares for within a mile


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My system is using SafeTRX on the iPhone, and then Waterspeed on the Apple Watch to track the run (try not to have too much on the phone as that is safety). The newer iPhones (14+) have 20 mile satellite emergency calling which I think is a good feature (sadly turns off when you go beyond 20..!). Apple Watch works OK to take calls (surprisingly good mic and speaker even in the wind) and with shortcuts can be easy to use to send messages, but touch screen and Siri not great as an emergency tool.


InReach has 2 big advantages. 1) friends and family can track you live via Garmin Web page no matter where you are and you can message between you whether you have cell reception or not. 2) If you activate the emergency signal the dedicated rescue centre sends you a message so know its been received and what the response will be, you can send them additional information etc. With an epirb there is no comms, you don't know when rescue is coming or even if the signal has gone out


I don't believe VHF requires a licence for emergency use. You do need a license if chatting. As you will likely have boats already in the water somewhere nearby the VHF is the best bet for a fast rescue but everyone should always have their phone. On the topic of VHF radios. DSC explained: a button you press that sends a distress signal to the coastguard and all nearby vessels with your GPS coordinates. Great to pinpoint your location on choppy/rough seas and especially if you've lost your board. (you’re probably fucked if you lose your board)


Source, though it is somewhat debated (for the worse)


E-Foils downwind setups naturally run on small boards, and rely on a lot of electronics. I would consider this very carefully when planning a consequential downwind run.


Somehow it has become fashionable not to wear a leash on instagram videos. Incredibly stupid. Wear a leash. Here is an excellent DW specific leash that won’t slap the board and has a variety of options.


Getting to know the local rescue services is a really good idea. Finding out how to keep them informed about what you do, what it looks like, what you’ll do to let people know all reduce the chances of unnecessary call outs. I phone the lifeguards, who then will tell the coastguard that all is good when they get a call in. In winter I call the coastguard directly.

Downwind foiling looks like a disaster from the shore when someone is struggling to get on foil. Informing the decision makers that if you keep standing up then you’re fine is probably the crucial bit of public information.