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Lifejackets, PFD’s and a myriad of models to choose from! What to do? What’s appropriate? What’s best?

Your decision depends on a number of factors, including your type of  power boating and the temperature of the water but it is fair to say that today’s recreational  power boaters opt for wearable personal flotation devices or more succinctly PFD’s. They are more comfortable than the traditional lifejackets and are offered in many models to satisfy everyone’s needs. It is well worth the investment to choose one with features like sturdy buckles and fabric, comfortable collar, etc. It will cost a little more than a low end model, but you will be more comfortable wearing it while operating your boat. In Canada, there is a difference between approved Lifejackets and approved Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs). For a description of Canadian approved lifejackets and the differences between them and Canadian approved PFDs, click here.

Choose a PFD based on your needs and power boating activity. If you will be boating in cold water (water less than 15°C), choose a PFD with some thermal protection. Anglers can choose a PFD with camo colouring and a multitude of pockets and patches for equipment. For high performance boaters there are high impact PFDs with lots of straps and good chest and neck protection. During the shorter seasons when more warmth is required you can get a full body core vest type that has no arms but goes down far below the waist or a complete jacket with arms. For more extreme cold you might want to consider a floater suit with full jacket and pants.

An emergency is no time to try out a new device. PFDs should come with an owner’s manual. Look for it and read it carefully. Before heading out try it out in a controlled situation to make sure you know how to use it. Simply put on the PFD, make sure it fits snugly, walk out into the water to mid chest depth, slowly raise your legs bending at the knee and move about a bit to experience how it feels. Another simple test is to walk out into the water, again to mid chest depth holding your PFD. Raise your legs and then try to put the PFD on and buckle it up. This will show you just how hard it is to do and may help convince you to wear the PFD while on deck and under way.

Inflatable lifejackets are favoured by many  power boaters and understandably so! They are light and unobtrusive until you need them and then, with a simple pull of a tab for the manual models (auto inflate models are available as well) you have all the benefits of a full lifejacket.  The auto inflatable models will inflate as soon as you hit the water. Inflatable lifejackets must be worn while on board to be considered legal and they can’t be worn by someone under 16 years old. To learn more about inflatable lifejackets, click here.

Smart skippers require that their crew and passengers wear a PFD at all times on deck, especially when far from land and at night.

When not in use, store your lifejackets/PFD’s in a dry, ventilated area out of the deteriorating rays of the sun. Ensure that you maintain your PFDs and/or lifejackets so that they remain in good condition (and legal!).