Life Jackets

-Life Jackets

n. A life preserver consisting of a sleeveless jacket of buoyant or inflatable design [syn: life vest]

Life Jackets are also referred to as PFDs (ie: Personal Flotation Device). Technically there are five different categories of PFDs. Canoeists typically use a “Type II—Near Shore Life Vest” or a “Type III—Flotation Aid”.

Sketch of type 2 and type 3 PFDs (life jackets)

To determine if your life jacket fits properly, cinch the straps tight around your waist and put your thumbs under the shoulders and pull up as far as you can. If the life jacket comes up far enough that you can stick your thumbs in your ears, the life jacket is too big and you should try to find a smaller one or a way to cinch it tighter.

Sketch of a girl checking for proper life jacket fit

Honestly, most life jackets are uncomfortable to wear while paddeling. When you’re out white water rafting it isn’t as much of a bother, because the likelihood of going swimming in rough water is very clearly apparent…but when you’re out on a nice calm lake, it’s just plain annoying. It’s even more annoying to drown because you couldn’t inconvenience yourself to wear the stupid life vest.

If you’re under the age of 13, you can’t swim well, or the water is very cold, you should be wearing a life jacket when you’re on any kind of moving boat—comfortable or not. Check out the US Coast Guard website for a detailed overview on the subject of life jackets.

Each state has different laws about boating, and following those laws is usually much cheaper and easier than the fine you’ll get if you’re caught violating said laws. So, be informed: take a moment to google search the boating laws for your state.





Equipment Recommendation

If you’re just getting into the sport of canoeing, buy yourself a cheap life jacket ($8 – $15). If you are the kind of person that is going to love canoeing, having to wear a cheap, uncomfortable life jacket for a while won’t kill your joy.

After you’ve gone paddeling a time or two and decided you really enjoy canoeing quite a lot, then consider investing in a nice life jacket, like the NRS Vapor PFD. A good paddling life jacket gives more freedom of movement for your arms and shoulders, and they are usually in the $50 – $100 range.


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