Updated: Nov 23, 2021
In this post, we will delve deeper into the different types of PFDs, why they are a necessity and our recommendations. You may have heard people complain that PFDs feel uncomfortable or limit their movement when paddling but it is mandatory to wear one or have one on your board in most places. AND the more you wear it the more normal it feels, like wearing your seatbelt in a car - feels weird without one now right?!
*This post contains affiliate links, for which we may receive a super small commission should you decide to buy a PFD. We will only ever recommend products we know, like and trust!
Let’s get into it…
What is a PFD?
PFD stands for personal flotation device. It enables you to stay buoyant in the water in the event you fall off your paddle board. It helps keep you afloat when the unexpected happens. Without a doubt, a PFD is one of the most important pieces of gear you should have when it comes to your safety. Here at Blue JellyFish SUP Adventures, we class it as an essential part of your equipment and require everyone to wear one while paddling with us. Transport Canada requires you to wear a life jacket or have one with you on board.
What is the difference between a life jacket and PFD?
Lifejackets and PFD’s are made for two completely different purposes. The activity you are participating in, decides on whether you will wear a lifejacket or PFD.
PFD’s are designed to give you a greater range of motion and to feel ‘less bulky’. They must allow unrestricted movement so you can swim but must not compromise on buoyancy. PFD’s are designed for all-day wear while doing active sports like paddle boarding, whitewater kayaking, kayak fishing and more.
Lifejackets are designed to save lives rather than to be comfortable for all-day wear. They are required to be aboard all licensed vessels and they are often stored in an easy to access place should they be needed in an emergency.
The location of the buoyant material is one of the defining characteristics of a personal flotation device versus a lifejacket. For example - Lifejackets can keep someone alive even when they’re unconscious because the buoyancy is primarily on the front. This automatically positions the head so it’s facing up toward the sky rather than down toward the water.
PFD’s have buoyant material on the front and the back, only just enough to keep you at the surface. When wearing a PFD, you are expected to be comfortable to self-rescue or be out with others who are capable of supporting you in the event of an emergency. PFD's require you to actively participate in your own rescue.
Personal flotation devices are designed for recreational activities (such as stand-up paddle boarding) that take place on or in the water, while lifejackets are typically found in situations where ending up in the water is an undesirable possibility.
What are the five different types of PFD’s?
There are five different types of PFD’s and it is important to know which one is the best option for you and the activity you will be doing.
Type I PFD's
A Type I PFD is high-coverage maximum flotation. They contain a minimum of 22 lbs of buoyancy mostly located on the front of the jacket. They are the safest jacket when rescue is far away.
Type I PFD's are used when boating alone or in stormy conditions in open, rough, or remote waters like where fishermen, rescue teams and other mostly industrial operations take place. We do not recommend this type of PFD for any paddling sports.
Type II PFD's
These PFD’s are also known as “offshore buoyant vests”.
Used predominantly by Ocean racers and adventurous sailors, these PFDs are designed and developed for environments where wearers find themselves in isolated or rough waters. They have a streamlined profile and self inflate upon hitting the water. We do not recommend these for paddling as you may fall in frequently.
Type III PFD's
Type III PFD’s or "inshore buoyant vests" are the most common choice for recreational water sports such as canoeing, kayaking, sailing, water skiing, fishing, and of course paddle boarding! They are best when immediate rescue such as self rescue or nearby help (your paddling partner) is available.
These PFDs are not suitable for extended survival in rough water like Type I or Type II. Their shoulder straps and profile design make them more comfortable than other types, and we believe a perfectly fitted type III should complement your activity and allow for movement.
Type IV PFD
A Type IV PFD is not worn but thrown. In pools, motorboats, or commercial vessels, they are often rings, horseshoe-shaped, or cushions with handles.
In a rescue situation, you would throw the PFD to aid a conscious swimmer, who would then pull themselves on top of the flotation and wrap their arms through the handles.
Type V PFD
Type V PFDs are special-use jackets. They are optimized for their activity such as kayak rescue vests, sailing harnesses or deck suits.
Commercial guest PFDs have a neck pillow to help keep the head above water, making those PFDs Type V. Many paddlers wear Type V vests with a quick-release tab attached to a line and ring meant for live-bait rescue.