Should you wear a PFD (personal floatation devices) when paddleboarding? And, if so, which one? Here, we explain the difference between the different sorts of bouyancy aids and which type could be best for you
Whatever your paddleboarding or swimming ability, it pays to wear a PFD, particularly if you’re paddling alone. Of course, you’d be forgiven for thinking that your board itself can help you, or that your swimming ability will be enough, but neither will come to your aid if you hit your head on the board, or another object, on your way down. A PFD can be a vest, jacket, hip belt that is designed to keep you afloat and enhance your chances of survival.
There are plenty of PFDs to choose from, some of which are designed to be less intrusive on your paddling stroke. Below are some of the most common types, and some of PFDs we use and are happy to recommend, and what to look out for.
- Your PFD must fit. A poor-fitting buoyancy aid will be more of a hindrance than a help.
- Make sure it’s tight around your body, but still comfortable.
- Make sure it has an ISO/CE approved label.
- Tuck away any loose straps so they can’t get caught.
Beltpack inflatable PFD
A belt pack is worn around the waist like a bum bag, and it’s the least obstructive type of flotation device you can get. They contain an inflatable bladder which inflates when you pull a cord when you need it. Once the PFD is inflated, they usually support you under the arms and chest, over your head, or as a cushion, and can be further topped up with air using a valve. Small and easy to use… they key is to ensure they’re certified, and the buoyancy matches your weight. Some also come with other pockets for phones and things, and D-ring clipping points.
All-purpose universal PFDs
Commonly known as ‘life jackets’, these buoyant PFDs are an ‘always on’ option, and so considered the safest to use for beginners or younger paddlers. They consist of a vest with varying degrees of foam thickness – you need to match your weight to the appropriate level of buoyancy – that covers your chest and abdomen, and which wraps over the shoulders. By spreading the coverage across the upper body, there is less bulk, making it easier for users to pull themselves back on to the board. It usually has a zip or buckle fastening, or both, which can be adjusted for a tight fit.
Similar to a universal PFD in terms of its coverage, but which looks like a coat of armour, these optimised vests cater for more adventurous paddlers who want the protection of a universal PFD but without the restriction of movement that comes with the foam thickness.
Low-profile life jacket
Designed to provide greater freedom for paddlers around the shoulder/arm/chest area, these low-profile PFDs contain all of the buoyancy into a small area around the abdomen. This way, your movement isn’t restricted at all. Preferred by more experienced paddlers and those in a white water environment, they’re designed with a greater floatation area on the front to ensure you float face up if knocked unconscious.
You can also find jackets and gilets that double up as buoyancy aids. They don’t look like buoyancy aids but provides 50N or more of bouyancy using a multilayer floatation system.
A low-profile PFD with added features… a rescue PFD is more suited to advanced paddlers and instructors. They’re big enough to enable you to carry things such as a first aid kit, quick-release belt and more.