One of the most important things paddlers of canoes and kayaks can do is wear their PFDs. PFD stands for personal flotation device. It is a life jacket. While it may be “cool” to not wear a PFD, it can also be deadly. Here are five tips on wearing a PFD while kayaking or canoeing to ensure you are making the most of your PFD usage.
Tip 1: Wear the Correct Type of PFDThe U.S. Coastguard has classified the different types of flotation devices based on their usage and design. There are 5 categories of PFDs that range from Type I to Type V. Paddlers typically use Type III PFDs. They are less restrictive and therefore designed for maximum paddling motion. Type II PFDs are the old style orange life jackets. These may be used for incidental paddling in very well protected areas. No serious paddler would use a Type II PFD.
Learn More About the USCG PFD Specifications
Tip 2: Wear the Correct Size PFDEvery PFD will have the size either on a label in the PFD or imprinted on the inside of the device. They will generally have a S,M,L,XL designation on them. This is less important than the number that accompanies them. PFDs are usually fitted by chest size and in smaller individuals like kids by their weight. Wearing an incorrectly sized PFD will not only be uncomfortable it will also be very dangerous. Too big, and the PFD will ride up on the wearer making it difficult to stay above water. Too small, and the PFD won’t have enough flotation to keep the individual above the water.
Tip 3: Ensure Proper Wearing of the PFDType III padding PFDs are made for maximum comfort and fit. This means they generally have multiple adjustment points. Some of these will include zippers, buckles, and pull straps to secure the PFD to the body. Place the PFD on with all of these open and loose. Then, buckle and zipper all attachments. Next, pull the straps that the secure the jacket around the body. Lastly, pull the straps that are over the shoulder.
Tip 4: Wear Your PFD Every TimeThis sounds like common sense, I know. But most fatalities regarding canoes and kayaks are the result of not wearing a PFD. The American Canoe Association reports that possibly 70 % of paddling fatalities might have been avoided had the paddler been wearing their PFD. Even in protected water situations, a paddle to the head can knock a fellow paddler unconscious and into the water.
Tip 5: Replace Your PFD If Damaged or WornPFDs wear, fade, and tear. Buckles and zippers can rust or get brittle. On rare occasions the inner flotation can become degraded and not serve as flotation any longer. Like any other piece of gear, PFDs will need replacing. Don’t take a chance with your life. If your PFD is showing signs of wear or has faulty parts just replace it. When you do, be sure to throw yours out so you don’t get tempted to loan or give it to anyone.
Learn How to Store Your Gear
The advances in technology when it comes to materials, fit, and design have made wearing PFDs a very convenient endeavor for paddlers. Don’t think you’re too cool to wear one. Do the safe thing and wear you PFD, even when you don’t want to.