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What PFDs Can and Can't Do

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This information on PFDs refers to the USCG Type III recreational style used by the vast majority of paddlers.  The acronym "PFD" (Personal Floatation Device) means lifejacket.

Failure To Adjust

It's not enough to simply buy a PFD and wear it.  Unless it's properly sized and adjusted, the PFD can rise up around your ears or slip off entirely.  PFDs for young children should have "crotch straps" to prevent this from happening.

Poorly Adjusted PFDs

Shutterstock - Poor Fit_

Recreational PFDs (USCG Type III)

  • Are not designed to float you in a face-up position if you become incapacitated or unconscious.

  • Are not designed for rough water or situations where rescue may be slow in coming.

Misleading Messages about PFDs and Cold Water Safety

  • The best way to stay safe on the water, any water, is to simply wear your life jacket.

  • The difference between becoming a statistic and a survivor – is wearing a life jacket.

  • With a life jacket, you can survive for over an hour before hypothermia sets in. That’s right. 50 precious minutes or more of extra time to have help arrive.

  • You could survive an hour, or more, in ice water, if you have a lifejacket on and can protect your airway.

      Source - Cold Water Boot Camp Video

PFDs Can Do This


  • Greatly reduce the chance that you will immediately drown due to cold shock and swimming failure.

  • Enable you to rest and float in calm water without swimming movements.

  • Keep you floating on the surface if you become exhausted or incapacitated by cold.

  • Provide some insulation if they are worn snugly enough to prevent water from circulating between the PFD and your body.

  • Greatly aid in body recovery by preventing a cold water drowning victim from sinking.

PFDs Can't Do This

  • Keep you safe in cold water.

  • Reduce the life-threatening danger of an unprotected cold water immersion.

  • Prevent cold shock, physical incapacitation, or hypothermia.

  • Prevent you from inhaling water and drowning, particularly in rough water.

A Very Sobering BoatUS Report

BoatUS Foundation Findings #30 tested Inflatable PFDs and compared them to USCG Type IIIs.


"The type III inherently buoyant vest-style life jacket proved the real eye-opener for our test crew who had to work hard treading water to keep their faces clear of the waves when using this device. When another test was conducted simulating an unconscious victim, those wearing the Type III inherently buoyant devices repeatedly sank well beneath the surface as the waves rolled over them."

They also noted that the “nose-to-water” distance for inherently buoyant Type IIIs was 3 inches as opposed to five inches for inflatables. The Inflatable type III is required to have 7 pounds of additional floatation. (15.5 lbs vs 22.5 lbs)

Water to Mouth Distance.jpg

Failure To Inflate

Obviously, you have to wear your PFD in order for it to work instantly when you need it.  Likewise, you have to inflate a manually activated PFD.  Failure to inflate is a well-documented hazard.  Read Dr. Ken Mirman's Story

"It's Too Uncomfortable"

History Lesson

Evolution of The Lifejacket From Ancient To Modern Times

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When someone complains about how uncomfortable their lifejacket feels or says they don't think it's fashionable to be seen wearing one, I think it's time to turn back the clock and remind them just how fortunate they are to have Modern PFDs available at reasonable prices that they can have delivered to their doorsteps without even getting up off the couch.

Fact is, modern PFDs are comfortable, and you get used to wearing one just like the seat belt in your car.  They're also amazingly cool when compared to the Ancient Designs that mariners had to put up with way "back in the day".  


"Thar She Blows, Me Hearties!"


Stylish Recycled Bicycle Inner Tubes

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