Bring History to Life
Special-use PFDs are restricted to specific water environments and usages, but can be greatly helpful given the conditions. PFD varieties include recreational, commercial, paddle sport, action sports, fishing/hunting, boardsailing vests, deck suits, work vests and hybrids among others. Always check the label and consider the PFD limitations before purchase or use.
Made with streamlined bodies that internally house deflated buoyancy packs, hybrid PFDs are great for continuous wear and produce a high level of flotation when activated, either manually or automatically. Due to the compact design of hybrid PFDs, they may not adequately float wearers unless partially-inflated prior to entering the water. Most models also require active use and care of the inflation chamber in order to ensure reliable operation. This type of flotation must be worn to be considered as a regulation, TC-approved PFD and is not recommended for children and young adults under 16 years of age.
This type of vest is the most basic, yet features high buoyancy to keep wearers afloat, even in open or rough water where rescue is often delayed. The highly visible color, in addition to its face-up design, which will turn most unconscious wearers face-up to prevent drowning, makes it extremely reliable. Although they perform well in hazardous water environments, Life Jacket can be bulky, making extended wear uncomfortable. Approved Department of Transport Canada Life Jackets are offered in child, youth and adult sizes.
As with adult PFDs, child flotation should fit snugly and offer added adjustability to accommodate smaller wearers. Once a type, size and style has been chosen, test your child’s PFD in the water before actual use to gauge correct fit so that he/she stays afloat with chin up and out of the water.
Unsnap buckles and completely loosen all straps, then put the PFD on.
If the PFD has a zipper, first zip it up, then, beginning at the waist, tighten all straps adequately, without unnecessary squeezing or bunching of material. If the PFD has adjustable shoulder straps, tighten them last and tuck in any loose ends to prevent snags.
Once on, have someone firmly pull up on the shoulders of the vest. If it is able to be pulled over your nose or head, the PFD is too loose. If this occurs, tighten the straps again. If the PFD can still be pulled up to your nose after several adjustments, it is too large. Pick a smaller size and start the process again.
If possible, test your PFD in a pool before venturing out to see how it will perform while simulating any repeated movements you intend to do during wear, including paddling, reaching, bending or jumping.
While in the water, if you notice you are struggling to keep your chin above the surface or can’t tilt your body to easily float on your back, choose a PFD with higher buoyancy.
Many stylish colors and patterns are available for purchase, but remember to base your choice not only on appearance, but also by keeping in mind the kind of water environments you plan to frequent. Yellow and orange are highly visible colors that stand out amongst dark water, while neutrals, white and black, do not. Light colors refract more sunlight for cooler wear, while dark colors absorb and retain heat.
Depending on the way you intend to use your PFD, you may require ample storage. Pleated pockets, webbing, lash tabs and hooks may be in order for a long day of fishing, while just a zippered pocket or two will suffice for recreational boating use. In either case, make sure you have enough built-in storage to accommodate items like whistles, foodstuffs, flares, compasses, binoculars, sunglasses and pocket knives.
Reflective tape is another useful feature often seen on upgraded PFDs. Reflective tape, including regulation SOLAS-grade, is helpful during an emergency as it increases a wearer’s visibility, even during dusk and evening hours, when light bounces off the PFD’s reflective piping.
One added element to consider when buying a PFD is if it features mesh integration that is designed to enhance breathability and speed the evaporation of sweat. This is good for wearers who plan to engage in activities that require a high level of physical exertion, as during canoeing and kayaking.
In PFD design, buoyancy is the force, measured in pounds, necessary to keep an individual’s head and chin above the water’s surface. Adults generally need seven to twelve pounds of buoyancy to stay afloat. Many factors, including a wearer’s weight, body fat ratio, lung size, attire and water conditions play a part in how much buoyancy is needed to effectively keep a person above water. As a general rule, the more physically fit someone is, the more buoyancy is required to keep them afloat. To test the buoyancy of a PFD, tilt your head back while wearing it in the water and relax your body. Your chin should be well above the water without water lapping over your face or mouth. If your chin is not above the water level, select another model with more buoyancy. If your stomach is larger than your chest, ride-up may occur, but in any other case, this shouldn’t happen.
Replaceable CO2 gas cylinders allow inflatable PFDs to quickly inflate, either manually by tugging on the attached pull-tab cord (piercing the CO2 cartridge inside), or automatically, when the water-sensitive bobbin dissolves due to submersion and triggers the puncturing of the cylinder. Inflatable PFDs can also be filled by blowing air into the attached oral inhalation tube, expanding the empty cavities inside. Once inflated, these PFDs offer up to twice the amount of buoyancy compared to traditional PFDs, turning some wearers face-up while also bringing the head and mouth up above the water even higher, helping to reduce water ingestion. One should always wear an inflatable PFD over, not under, clothing as doing so may affect the PFD’s capability to inflate, and, consequently, prevent it from functioning as intended. Manual units are best for those who believe there is a realistic chance they may end up in the water, but are confident they will be able to pull the trigger cord when needed. Kayakers, paddlers and fishermen may opt for manual models. On the other hand, if you don’t intend to go into the water, and want the added peace of mind that your inflatable will deploy even if you aren’t able to jerk the cord, an automatic model might be a better way to go.
Sometimes, buyers are hesitant to purchase inflatable PFDs, fearing that the automatic inflation will malfunction due to rain or humidity. With regular care however, accidental inflation is rare and preventable. As with traditional PFDs, inflatables should be stored in dry, well-ventilated areas away from excess moisture and direct sunlight. This will keep the water-sensing element in good shape. Once a cartridge is spent, an inflatable PFD must be rearmed by replacing the CO2 cartridge before its next use, otherwise the PFD will not be able to inflate except via the inhalation tube. Annual replacement of the bobbin, regardless of use, is recommended to help ensure safe, reliable operation. In addition to annual bobbin replacement, users should breath-inflate the internal cavity, again through the inhalation tube, and let the PFD sit overnight to check for leakage. Before use, always check to see if: 1) the PFD is properly armed (refer to your owner’s manual for more details); 2) it is free of rips, tears or holes; and, 3) the fabric, straps and hardware are secure and in good condition.
- Examine your PFD before use to check for rips and fraying, while looking to see if hardware, seams and straps are in suitable condition. Tug at the straps and close and release the buckles to ensure they are also in good shape.
- Look for signs of mildew, waterlogging (the absorption of water), shrinkage or severe fading. If detected, replace your PFD.
- Write your name somewhere on the PFD so it is easily identifiable and will not get mistaken for someone else’s.
- Rinse with fresh water after wearing to remove salt deposits and other impurities.
- Hang dry before storing in a cool, ventilated spot away from direct sunlight
- Protect the safety of others by cutting-up old vests before throwing them out so that should someone find them, the PFDs will be unusable.
- If you own an inflatable PFD, replace spent air cartridges once they have been used.
- Don’t wear it with heavy or sharp items in the pockets, which may puncture or challenge the buoyancy so you don’t float as well.
- Don’t tailor your PFD. By doing so, you void the USCG approval and alter the buoyancy, changing the effectiveness of the flotation. If your PFD doesn’t fit, get one that does. A PFD that is cut or altered may not help save your life.
- Don’t apply heavy weight to your PFD by kneeling or standing on it or by using it as a boat fender. Pressure like this will crush the foam within, resulting in loss of buoyancy.
- Don’t leave your PFD onboard a boat not in use for an extended period of time. This exposes it to sunlight and dry conditions that may weaken it.
- Don’t clean a PFD with harsh detergents or attempt to dry clean.
- Don’t dry your PFD in the dryer, on a heater or within contact of any other direct heat source as this can damage the foam inside.
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