If your PFD fits comfortably, you'll forget you have it on!

If your PFD fits comfortably, you’ll forget you have it on!

The Perfect PFD

So you got some money for Christmas and you want to put it towards your paddling habit. How best to spend it? Of course your best option is to use it on professional paddling instruction from Coastal Kayak’s ACA certified kayak and SUP instructors. The second best option is to invest in a comfortable PFD (personal flotation device, AKA lifejacket) that you will actually wear.

Sad Fact: Drowning is the single biggest cause of death in recreational boating accidents. Over 80% of drowning victims were NOT wearing life jackets when found.

Lame Excuses for NOT Wearing a Lifejacket:

“This water is so shallow. I could walk across this bay.” (But if you are lying unconscious in the water, it only needs to be 6 inches deep to be over your nose!)

“I know how to swim.” (How is your backstroke when you are unconscious?)

“I’m not planning on getting out of my boat.” (Most people don’t. That’s why they’re called ‘accidents’).

“It will give me weird tan lines.” (Tan lines, really?!!)

“It’s uncomfortable.” (It doesn’t have to be. Keep reading…)

Bob and Carly practically live in their PFDs!

Bob and Carly practically live in their PFDs!

The most important things to consider when choosing a PFD is not if it will match your favorite paddling shorts, but how it fits and if it is comfortable. Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping:

*Make sure it says on the PFD that it is United States Coast Guard (USCG) approved.

*You’ll want your PFD to be short so that it won’t ride up when you are sitting in your kayak. But keep in mind, the shorter the jacket, the thicker it gets – the floatation has to go somewhere.

*Look for generously cut neck and armholes and narrow shoulder straps to allow for more freedom of movement.

*Make sure that it has adjustable straps at the waist, shoulder, and sides for a custom fit. Keep in mind that sometimes you’ll be wearing a light shirt or bathing suit and sometimes you’ll have bulkier layers for chillier temperatures.

*Consider where the zipper is located – if it is a diagonal zipper, you’ll probably have to pull the PFD on over your head; front zippers will allow a normal coat-like entry.

*Think of all the gear you’d like to carry (cell phone, sunscreen, whistle, ipod, kitchen sink) and make sure there are enough pockets and attachments to hold it all.

*Most manufacturers are now making women-specific PFDs. Finally!

*Lastly, look for a highly visible color, preferably with reflective trim. Unless you are a Navy Seal, you don’t want to blend in with your surroundings. You want other boaters to be able to see you easily.

Once you’ve found what you think is the perfect PFD, try it on and tighten all the straps. Have someone grab it by the shoulders and pull up. If it slides up more than an inch or two, it isn’t a good fit and would be uncomfortable in the water.

A Note on Inflatables

Inflatable PFDs are extremely comfortable and unobtrusive. But there are a few things to keep in mind if you are considering an inflatable:

*You have to conscious to inflate them.

*The canister must be replaced each time the jacket is inflated.

*The canisters expire.

USCG has special rules for inflatables:

*The wearer must be at least 16 years old.

*They must be armed with a full canister (there is an indicator on the canister that shows green when full).

*It has to be worn at all times (it can’t be stored under a deck line).

*If it is accidentally deployed, it must be worn (they are usually the uncomfortable horse-collar-type PFD).

Happy (and comfortable) Paddling!

Jim's fishing PFD has attachments for all of his gear. The fish tremble in fear when they see him coming!

Jim’s fishing PFD has attachments for all of his gear. The fish tremble in fear when they see him coming!

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