Selecting a PFD

Personal Floatation Device

The PFD is the single most important piece of equipment you take on your trip, yet you probably donít give it much thought.  Are you planning on wearing the same PFD that you used for the last ten years?  It may not be such a good idea.  Letís talk about PFDs.


Type III PFD is the most common used by paddlers in Canoes and Kayaks.  Adult PFDs are required to have at least 15.5 pounds of buoyancy. Over time some of the buoyancy is lost at about 10% to 15% a year.  That 10 year old PFD may not provide very much floatation. Test the buoyancy by holding it underwater.

Wear and tear

Is your PFD faded or are there worn seams or tears?  Are all straps and buckles in working order? Look for signs of waterlogging, mildew odor or shrinkage.  Remember, you PFD must be usable for the entire trip.


Is your PFD comfortable? Remember, you will be wearing it for the entire trip.  If itís not comfortable, you probably wonít wear it.

Type of Boat

If youíre normally a kayaker and will be using a canoe this trip, you may want to consider a different style PFD.   A Kayaker would normal wear shorter PFDs with the minimum required floatation, providing more comfort while sitting lower in the boat.  A canoeist tends to wear longer PFDs with more floatation but just as comfortable because you sit much higher in the boat.  Depending on the type of trip such as whitewater, the extra floatation may be desirable.  The PFD may also provide pockets to carry items you want to keep handy.

Someone that is in a kayak that normally canoes may want to try a shorter PFD for the comfort it will provide. Longer PFDs, normally used in a canoe may tend to ride up on the paddler when sitting in a kayak.

Inflatable PFDs

Inflatable PFDs are not recommended for some activities such as white water, water skiing, persons under 16 years old and for non-swimmers.  Inflatable do not meet the US Coast Guard requirements for any of these activities.  RICKA does not allow inflatable PFDs on any RICKA trips or other club activities. Because wilderness trips can involves a variety of conditions including white water, Inflatable PFDs will not be allowed. For more information, please visit