(Personal Floatation Devices) We use to refer to
these as lifevests, life jackets or life preservers. Though now a days they're more
commonly referred to as PFDs, these vests are still life savers. Wear them! Type III is recommended for paddling.
Some are more comfortable than
others. Prices may range from $40 on up to a
few hundred dollars for a new PFD. Prices will of course vary amongst some of the
manufacturers and their various models. As comfort and options go up, so often does the
price, though there are PFDs out there offering the kayak angler a lot of bang for the buck.
The important thing is matching the PFD with the person's size and their intended use. I
think we'd all agree that being comfortable is being alive. PFDs may also offer an additional layer of thermal protection.
The U.S. Coast Guard are the experts. They do extensive testing and research on PFDs and have for years now. Be sure your PFD is Coast Guard rated and approved. Read below for more information from the U.S. Coast Guard regarding PFDs.
Guard Approval Ratings:
What is the "Best" PFD?
In terms of risk of drowning, the safest Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is the one youíre willing to wear! "I only need a PFD in case Iím unconscious or incapacitated, right?" Wrong. You need your PFD before you're unconscious, otherwise, how would you put it on? Once you understand the importance of wearing a PFD, youíre prepared to consider the best design for you. There are many good choices to keep you and your loved ones safe on the water. Some of the choices are a better for certain situations than others, and therefore the choices are explained in the "Think Safe" PFD pamphlet that is sold with every US Coast Guard approved PFD. By reading the pamphlet, you can understand how to safely have fun on the water.
Obviously, the safest PFD is the one that saves your life every time itís needed. To accomplish that task, a PFD must be available for proper use at the time of an accident, must be designed to perform well enough to keep your head out of the water, and must be reliable enough to provide its design performance when needed. It is the combination of these three characteristics that define the life-saving potential, or safety, of your PFD. If a PFD fails to do any one of these three essentials tasks, it canít save your life.
The perfect life preserver, lifejacket, or PFD has not yet been designed. All the designs in existence today have some limitations. For example, Type I PFDs (off-shore lifejackets) have the highest buoyancy of the inherently buoyant Types, but they are not considered comfortable enough to be worn continuously. Therefore, they are frequently not being used when accidents occur, and many boaters have died that could have been saved with just part of the buoyancy in this kind of PFD. Another example is the inflatable Type III PFDs. These recently approved PFDs provide the buoyancy of a Type I PFD and are comfortable to wear, but they lack the reliability and low maintenance characteristics, and cost, of inherently buoyant PFDs. Because each style has limitations, users are given a choice of PFDs to match to their particular boating activities. The Coast Guard requires the "Think Safe" pamphlet to be attached to each PFD sold in order to give boaters the information needed to make a good choice.
Accident data clearly shows that Type III PFDs have very significant reduced fatalities overall, as well as those fatalities in which a PFD was somehow used. While the number of people who boat has steadily increased, the number of drownings (excluding other fatalities) has decreased from about 1500 to 500 annually (from 1971 to 1996) since Type III PFDs were introduced. Equally important, the number of drownings when a PFD was "used" has decreased from nearly 200 to about 55 over the same period. So, while the total number of drownings has been significantly reduced (especially in light of increased boating) the drownings with a PFD used has been even more significantly reduced.
It canít save you if you donít use it. Research and boating accident statistics have shown that the most frequent failure resulting in drowning is not having a PFD available when needed. Nearly 1300 (1286) people drowned for lack of a PFD in 1971. Since that time, the Coast Guard has approved Type III PFDs which are more wearable, and in 1996 only 448 people drowned for lack of a PFD. This remarkable reduction occurred even though the number of boats increased from about 5.5 million to 12 million over the same period. That means that about 15,000 people are alive today because Type III PFDs are approved. Thatís 1100 in 1996 alone if there were no increase in boating activity. When increase in boating and trend prior Type III PFDs are considered, 1700 lives were saved in 1996. The Coast Guard approves a number of Types of PFDs so that you can choose the one that best suits your boating activities and environment. All the types are explained in a pamphlet, entitled "Think Safe", provided with each PFD sold. This means that people who wear PFDs today are safer than they were 25 years ago.
What about someone drowning while using the "wrong" type PFD?
It is unlikely that any different Type of PFD would have prevented most of the drownings
where a PFD was used. Consider this regarding PFD performance: