How to Choose a PFD?
Choosing the right PFD is important. Not only does it need to fit correctly, but it must have the features that you require. Lifejackets are not suitable for kayaking as they do not work that well when seated in your kayak and they float the user on their back, which makes getting back in / on your kayak more challenging. A PFD (Personal Flotation Device), also know as a buoyancy aid fits when seated, will have larger arm holes and allows the user to swim on both their back or front.
What sort of kayaking do you do? Each type of paddling will require a slightly different PFD.
- A PFD for whitewater usage needs to be sturdy and offer good coverage around the sides of the ribs. PFDs designed for use in more difficult rivers will also feature an integrated webbing harness, which makes the PFD very strong and a useful rescue tool. For those getting into whitewater paddling a more all round PFD is suitable. Check out the Astral Greenjacket and Palm Amp Vest for good rescue vests
- Sea kayak, or touring, PFDs can range from reasonably basic vests, through to fully featured vests with numerous pockets. Think about what you want to carry in your PFD and then ensure that what you buy has enough pocket space. Make sure that pocket zips will allow VHF aerials to poke out and that pockets are roomy enough for extra items like a camera or a flare. The Astral Sea Wolf is a good example of a PFD that works well in a range of situations.
- Fishing and SOT kayaks have high seat backs and these will often interfere with the back panel of a PFD. Luckily PFD manufacturers have realised this and created buoyancy aids with thinner backs or with foam that starts further up your back. Have a think about what you carry on the water and ensure that you have the pocket space available. Astral's V-Eight PFD is a nice entry level buoyancy aid, while the Ronny Fisher provides loads of storage for anglers.
- Multisport kayakers need to have easy access to their food and drink, so multisport PFDs have stretch pockets on the front and hydration pouches on the back. These PFDs are often light weight. But remember that a PFD is a safety device, so a race PFD still needs to have adequate straps on it to get a good fit. Day Two produce the Adventure Racer PFD, which is a lightweight and comfortable PFD designed for multisport racing.
Once you have decided on the style of PFD that will suit you, you need to find if it fits you. Loosen all the adjustment buckles and put the PFD on. Start by tightening the buckles at the bottom of the PFD (there will be either one at the front or one on each side). Next adjust the sides (1 or 2 per side). Now sit in a kayak and tighten the straps that are located on the shoulders. Pretend to paddle (a broom stick is ideal) and ensure that there is no rubbing anywhere. Also check that the length is OK. If it is too long then it will sit on your spraydeck and the PFD may ride up on your body. If this all feels good then stand up and have someone else lift the PFD up using the shoulder straps. The PFD should hardly move - it should stay in position. Then try on all the other options and decide which fits the best and feels the most comfortable.
Once you have found the ideal PFD, please wear it when on the water. A PFD stored on the deck of your kayak is not much help!