Why a PFD?

How many of you have seen in the news recently about the number of drowning in and around Eastern North Carolina?  I know of two and both of them were attributed to the kayakers not wearing a PFD.  Yes the weather has been cold recently and there is the tendency to not want to wear one due to the bulky clothing needed to stay warm on the water.  But this is no different than not wanting to wear one during the summer due to the heat.  We tend to think that, hey I can swim and I will be fine if I fall out of the kayak.  So we tend to think we will be alright without it.  I have heard some say that it is right here with me and I can get to it quickly.

Yet it is my experience that most of the time when people go over, it is at the most inopportune moment and it is somewhat unexpected.  It is those unexpected moments that tend to count the most and are most critical in my mind.  Even experienced paddlers are not fast enough to get to their PFD fast enough when they need it.  I know this from firsthand experience!  I will not share the story behind this knowledge, but believe me I am glad that I had my PFD on.

Anyway, here some things to consider when selecting a PFD to purchase:

  • For adults, your chest size—not your weight—will determine what size is right. (For children, their weight will determine the size.) Sizes vary by PFD brand and model, so check the manufacture product page or your local retailer to find the right size for you.
  • A PFD should be snug and fit like a glove, yet allow you to move freely and not chafe while paddling and playing. To get the best feel and fit, wear your paddling clothes while paddling when trying on a PFD.
  • Women should consider women-specific PFDs versus unisex styles. Women’s PFDs may offer a better fit, contoured cups for larger bust lines and styles made for longer torsos.
  • Each PFD will have a different design and foam placement to fit the contours of the body. Foam placement has more to do with comfort than safety. The more straps a PFD has, the more adjustments can be made to customize its fit.

 Fitting of your PFD once you’ve selected a size is just as important.  Here are some steps for you to follow:

  • Loosen all the straps, put the PFD on and zip it up.
  • Start at the waist and tighten all the straps. If it has shoulder straps, tighten them last. It should feel snug but not uncomfortable.
  • Next, have someone pull up on the PFD shoulders. If it moves up past your nose or head, try tightening the straps. If it still moves up, the PFD is too large.
  • Check your movements to make sure it is comfortable and will not chafe you while paddling. Do this in your own kayak or canoe at home, or in a floor model if you’re at an REI store. This will stimulate how it actually feels while sitting.
  • If possible, test your PFD in a pool or shallow water to see how it works. It should not ride up or slip over your chin while floating.

PFD’s for kids are very important so here are a few important remembers when purchasing a PFD.  Remember it is extremely important to keep a child’s head above water, so do not get a too-big PFD thinking he or she will grow into it.  Yes, it is a pain, but safety comes first.

Sizing for a kid depends on his or her weight:

  • Infant PFDs: 8 to 30 pounds
  • Child PFDs: 30 to 50 pounds
  • Youth PFDs: 50 to 90 pounds

For infants and small children, a PFD should have a:

  • Padded head support:  helps keep the child’s head above water.
  • Grab handle: assists retrieving the child out of the water.
  • Crotch strap: helps keep the PFD from riding up.

Youth-sized PFDs look like and have the same features as adult PFDs. The more straps a PFD has, the more adjustments can be made for sizing.

If you have any questions about PFD’s and how they fit, you can find many “How To” videos on YouTube about this subject.