The Newport Beach Harbor Commission wants companies that rent stand-up paddleboards to fit their boards with leashes as a safety measure.
The commission opted to focus on those companies — using city-issued marine activities permits as a vehicle — when it decided last year to look at paddleboard safety, commission Chairman Bill Kenney told the City Council this week.
A leash tethers a user to the board by attaching to the person's ankle or calf. It is designed to keep the board from floating away if the user falls into the water and needs the board for flotation.
Kenney said the city harbormaster should ensure that the rental businesses have valid marine activities permits and that as a condition of the permit, customers must state in writing that they can swim. If they can't, they would have to wear a life vest. Outfitters also would have to distribute a safety brochure and have customers acknowledge that they read and understand it.
Of the 20 companies the commission contacted during a recent study, only seven had the permits.
A paddleboard-related drowning last summer at Huntington Harbour in Huntington Beach heightened commissioners' concerns — the victim reportedly was on a rented board without a life vest and did not know how to swim.
Kenney said that although the commission thinks boards should be equipped with leashes, their use would be optional. That is in line with current codes requiring all vessels, including human-powered ones, to have life vests and devices such as whistles onboard.
"We believe that these recommendations … will significantly limit the potential for a tragedy like the one that took place in Huntington Harbour," Kenney said.
The council did not commit to any changes and said it will revisit the item.
Local paddleboard outfitter Kelly Carlson said she supports leashes and emphasizing safety in general.
Carlson and her husband, Skye, own Balboa Water Sports, where they rent stand-up paddleboards and personal watercraft. When they started offering paddleboards in 2012, her husband, an experienced waterman, said all boards need a leash. She said it helps keep children and weak swimmers safe.
"This is our livelihood," she said. "If we have someone die, we have someone get really hurt, there goes our livelihood."