How to Choose the Right Life Jacket (so You Really Wear It)

When I bought my first kayak, I realized that I would also need to buy my own PFD, or personal flotation device. When you rent a boat, the staff usually hand you a life jacket and you try to ignore how uncomfortable it is while you try to have fun on your boat. But now that you can buy your own, you can consider your options.

Why do you need a personal watercraft

The Coast Guard recommends that every pleasure craft has a PFD for every person on board – and yes, that includes rowing boards. Other laws and regulations may apply; for example, in a state park, you must follow park rules. In general, children and non-swimmers should wear a PFD whenever they are on the water; adults who can swim do not need to wear it, but you should still have it on board.

PFDs for adults are not always suitable for children, so plan ahead. Even before I had my own boat, I had several Coast Guard-approved children’s lifejackets. That way, I could take my little son on a family canoe trip without worrying about whether the rental location would have one of this size. Baby PFDs are also great for swimming pools .

PFDs come in different styles

By law, PFDs must have large, clear labels stating what they are and who they are for. Children’s lifejackets will be labeled and appropriately weighted: children’s lifejackets up to 30 pounds, children’s lifejackets 30 to 50 pounds, and youth life jackets 50 to 90 pounds. Moreover, they can start wearing adult models.

This Coast Guard brochure discusses the features of the different types of PFDs. There are kayaking shoes that have plenty of room to wiggle your shoulders. There are hunting PFDs with mesh and camouflage patterns, as well as ones that will keep you warm in cold water. There are PFDs that inflate automatically and others that inflate when you pull on the rope.

Think what kind you need

The minimalist style is appealing if you don’t want to wear an entire life jacket but think it’s silly to have only a PFD on board (which you are – the Coast Guard notes in their brochure that most boat deaths in calm waters are on board the deceased had a life jacket). But you have to be honest with yourself about whether they really make sense to you.

I have one of them , a belt that is manually inflated. In an emergency, I would have to pull the cord and the CO2 cartridge would inflate the yellow bag inside. This bag, when inflated, sat like a bib in front of my chest, and I attached the strap to the bib around my neck. This is a lot to do in an emergency, so this style is only recommended for those people who already know how to swim and don’t expect to be caught off guard (for example, they are confused from a boat). Again, who knows?

I also have a rowing vest and it is definitely the best choice for most situations. If I fell out of the boat and couldn’t get back into it, it would keep me afloat, so I wouldn’t have to spend all my energy stomping in the water, and it might even help me warm up a little.

Baby PFDs have several additional features compared to the adult versions: they have a strap that goes between the legs to prevent the baby from slipping out of the vest, and they have a handle on the top so you can pull the baby out of the water. if needed. Many kids and some adult models include a head pillow to help keep your face face up if you are swimming for a long time or even if you are unconscious.

Water safety is more than just wearing a PFD, but wearing a well-fitting and well-fitting PFD gets you off to a good start. As the Coast Guard points out , the best PFD is the one you’ll wear.


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