Buyers Guide to Buoyancy Aids

A piece of kit sometimes ignored during a paddler’s early experiences of kayaking is the Buoyancy Aid/Personal Floatation Device (PFD). Offering extra flotation, warmth and storage, a PFD can also be a lifesaver when you find yourself in sticky situations – So it’s a bit of kit you don’t really want to ignore.

Sourcing a comfortable fitting PFD is one of the main things you should purchase before going out for a paddle. The cheaper PFD’s are normally bog standard, designed just for floatation. The more expensive models offer bonus features and should also be taken in consideration – depending on what paddling you’re going to partake in.

The open sea, fast flowing rivers and even the calm and peaceful lakes all have their fair share of potential hazards. In many situations a well-fitting PFD could be the difference between keeping your head above water… Or not.

With plenty of choice in models and types to choose your PFD from,  Here are some key points to keep in mind, whilst shopping for your new PFD.  Here is a look at why you always need a PFD.

WHAT’S AVAILABLE?

There are many different paths your kayaking career may take and in each instance there will most likely be a BA that fits your style of paddling.

Whether you face surfing some heavy white water, or taking a nice chilled paddle across the millpond sea watching the sunset, There will be something available suiting your requirements.

Buoyancy aids for whitewater, touring, sea paddling, female specific and youth/junior types can all be found if you do a bit of looking around.

If you’re also a dog owner, then you can keep them safe with a canine buoyancy aid! – There is no excuse for the whole family to not get involved!

BUOYANCY LEVELS

The minimum buoyancy level for PFDs is CEN 50N, but whatever water conditions you’re going to paddle in will be the guide on just how much buoyancy your BA should have.
For example, a PFD with 50N flotation isn’t suitable for paddlers heading for white water, it needs to be 60N – at least! 50N is fine for calm waters, lakes and messing around on the sea.

Always check for the CE mark when looking at buoyancy aids to insure the garment has been manufactured according to strict guidelines.

If you’re the type of person who is going to launch yourself over a weir or glide down a raging river then it may be worth looking at a more heavy duty PFD… Like the white water ones…

***One thing to remember though is that your PFD will not turn you face up if you’re unconscious – they are only able to provide extra floatation.***

FITTING

The main thing when purchasing your PFD is to get the fit spot on. If it doesn’t fit you securely then you may as well not bother wearing one!

Keep in mind that you will be using your buoyancy aid all year round, during different seasons you will be wearing less and more – This needs to be taken into consideration.

Whilst you are in the shop, it’s worthwhile tightening up the PFD and getting a friend to try and lift the buoyancy aid over your head. If your PFD can be easily pulled over your head then you need to try a smaller size, or a different design.

PADDLER PROTECTION

If your favourite spot is full of hazards like rocks and other obstacles then it could be worth getting a PFD with extra padding.
A PFD with thicker padding could help protect you against knocks and scrapes if you’re getting chucked around or even if you’re tipped out of your kayak.

EXTRA FEATURES

You may want to have some goodies on you whilst you’re out paddling. A few energy boosters such as chocolate or energy bars are always good to have when your muscles become tired and achy.

From a safety point of view it is useful to have somewhere to attach a throwline and a knife, Many PFD’s come with various loops, pockets and places to store and attach all the tools for your session.

Other features such as reflective strips and clips for your gear are all handy and could influence which product you eventually end up owning.

GARMENT CARE

Finishing up a paddling session and dumping all your soaking wet gear in the boot of your car, is the quickest way for your PFD to gather mould and eventually break down the materials making it a useless bit of kit.

Hosing off your buoyancy aid ad the end of each paddling trip with fresh water will increase its life; As will drying it thoroughly and keeping it stored away from moisture and direct sunlight.

If your PFD shows any signs of wear within its warranty period, even after due care, then it needs to be taken or sent straight back to the retailer. Don’t under any circumstances continue to use a faulty piece of equipment – Your life and others could be at risk if you do so.

Look after your kit and your kit will look after you.