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Mocke PFD


Some paddlers use inflatable pfds for a bit of reassurance but minimal interference with their stroke. And some warm water cultures (Hawaii for example) may largely ignore the use of PFDs, but the statistics on drownings in cold water climates should make the advisability of wearing a PFD on cold water in most circumstances clear (there is a case to be made for exceptions such as racing in otherwise benign conditions with organized safety support).

Considerations for Choosing a Paddling PFD

  • Portability
    • If you want to travel with your PFD is the space it will take in luggage critical? Then you may want to consider inflatables for trips, at least they are better than no PFD. Always check with your airline before you travel about whether they allow inflatables with cartridges - many do allow them in checked luggage with the cartridges securely installed on the PFD.
  • Usability/Reliability
    • Inflatable vs Non-inflatable All Inflatable PFDs have to be inflated to work. Do you want to deal with that in a situation when you really need your PFD? You have to remember that waistline PFDs have to be rotated to the front and many of them need to be put over your neck before inflation, otherwise you may not be able to get one over your neck. There are inflatables worn on the chest that only require inflation and no repositioning. Inflation cartridges do not last forever unused. Will you remember to replace your inflation cartridges on a regular basis? Some inflatables have indicator pins that break off to show when a cartridge has been used and needs replacement. There are also some “hybrid” PFDs which have some built in permanent floatation along with bladders that can be inflated with CO2 or air for additional buoyancy.
  • Floatation
    • Does the PFD provide adequate floatation to make you feel secure and adequately supported in the kind of waters you will be paddling in?
  • Warmth
    • Will the amount and location of insulation in a PFD be a plus or a minus in terms of added warmth retention in the conditions you are paddling in?
  • Fit/Adjustability/Accommodation for Paddling
    • If a PFD fits poorly and tends to ride up it may not keep you above the water surface as much as you would like. Can it be adjusted to fit snuggly while not interfering with your comfort or breathing?
    • Is there any interference with rotation or shoulder and arm movement? Will there be any part inclined to rub any moving body part, leading to raw spots or blisters? (particularly important if you like paddling shirtless/sleeveless).
    • Is there any interference with surfski remounts? When the pockets are empty? When you have what you like to carry in your pockets?
  • Visibility
    • Any thing you can wear that lends itself to visibility for other watercraft to avoid collisions or to make being located by rescuers easier is a plus. If you want a potential rescuer to have a chance of spotting you, you would be well advised to choose bright orange or neon green/yellow colors. They have proven visibility at greater distances than other colors. In rough conditions it is hard to spot anyone, particularly separated from their boat, but the odds of being spotted are better with bright colors. (Airborne rescuers have reported little benefit from bright clothing though boat color makes a big difference, but on-the-water rescue personnel report nearer to swimmer visibility advantages from the standard oranges and green/yellows.)
    • If you plan on paddling in the dark is there reflective material on the PFD? {Or can you easily add your own?)
  • Padding
    • Are you going to be using your PFD while learning to foil? You might want one that has more padding to better protect you during falls. Or even consider an impact vest?
  • Pockets/Storage/Attachments
    • What do you want to be able to carry on your person? Water bag? VHF Radio? Snacks? Flares? Are there straps, etc. to route a water hose through, or to attach a radio/beacon high and easily accessible? Will what you carry and where you have to carry it in the PFD affect remounts?
  • ….

Brands and Suppliers

Made for Paddlers & Surfski

  • A number of international brands make PFDs specifically for minimal interference with strenuous paddling such as surfskiing. Since visibility is such a key aspect of rescue on large bodies of water these PFDs typically offer high visibility color options. Many are non-US made and may not have gone to the expense of getting tested by the US Coast Guard. So they may not be “Coast Guard Approved” if a US race strictly requires that designation. But many do meet an ISO standard (ISO 12402-5:2020 - at least 50 N of floatation) for added buoyancy in on water usage while being designed to be non-restrictive for paddlers. USCG vs ISO reqs


Think (No Longer Avail. - was made by Hiko)


  • Please understand how to use a waistpouch inflatable PFD (iPFD). With some of them you have to first turn the pouch to your front side, unfold the yoke and slip it over your head before you inflate. If you inflate first before getting these PFDs over your head, you may find it difficult or impossible to get over your head. TEST the specific PFD you are using (use blow tube to inflate) and make sure whatever sequence you use is likely to be manageable on the water even under stress.
  • For most paddling you will probably not want an auto-inflating PFD that automatically inflates after several seconds in the water. All inflatables should have an oral tube for inflating with your breath. You should be familiar with how to inflate your PFD with your breath and how to deflate and repack your PFD.
  • When you replace CO2 cartridges for an inflatable PFD - pay attention to the cartridge size. The cartridge size needs to match the rated buoyancy of your iPFD. (check manual, or look online, or be careful about looking at the old cartridge - My M-16 iPFD uses a 16 gram cartridge, but the cartridges from Japan that came with the iPFD reversed the digits and say “61 grams” on the cartridge)
  • Sources
  • Hybrid/Dual Flotation

Other PFD Sources/Brands



Baltic Argus inflatable PFD Demo/Instructions

pfds.txt · Last modified: 2023/10/17 18:43 by preavley