Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) fall in two categories – lifejackets and buoyancy aids. The former makes users as buoyant as a balloon and about as maneuverable, the latter allows for movement whilst aiding buoyancy.
Fitting around the torso, a buoyancy aid acts as a floatation device and, to a degree, as body armour. It allows for enough flexibility in the shoulders, arms, neck and waist for kayaking and swimming if necessary.
A well-fitted buoyancy aid should:
1. be short at the waist enabling the kayaker to twist, turn and lean
2. stop at the shoulders and cut away at the armpit so arms can hang straight when standing
3. have an easily accessible pocket for a flare
4. be adjustable to allow for more or less clothing weather depending
5. be of hard wearing materials
6. have a BSI safety kite mark
A buoyancy aid should be secured tightly so that there is no up and down movement. Hints for looking after a PFD are as follows:
1. Do not use it to sit or kneel on
2. Do not wear it or leave it near a campfire
3. Wash it down with fresh water after use and hang to dry naturally
4. Jump in the water with it regularly to check buoyancy
Lifejackets are not always suitable for kayaking. The foam, cork or inflatable sections are too bulky and rigid to allow for the necessary movement of a kayaker at sea and risk causing more problems than they solve. The inflatable type rely on being inflated (either manually or with the use of a gas cylinder) and I don’t know many who want to worry about doing that whilst in stormy seas, securing their paddle and boat and worrying whether they will fit back in their cockpit.