All you need to know about Personal Flotation Device (PFD) and Buoyancy Aid's

What is the difference between a PFD, B/A or a Lifejacket?

  • PFD’s and B/A’ s are the same thing. We will use PFD.
  • PFD’s are less bulky and less buoyant than a lifejacket
  • PFD’s may not roll a person into a position where their head is out of the water if unconscious (in most cases a Lifejacket will)
  • PFD’s are more popular for active sports such as canoeing and kayaking because they allow better movement for the wearer .

What are the main types of PFD’s?

As with most things in Canoeing and kayaking PFD’s are split into 3 basic groups

  • Recreational- These are simple PFD’s which are nice and adjustable and very comfortable they normal have a zip front entry and no pockets. 
  • Touring and sea- These PFD’s are normally still front entry, they tend to be a bit more buoyant  and have more features such as bigger pockets, water hydration pouches and reflective paneling for greater visibility at night. They are still fantastically comfortable and very adjustable.
  • White water- The PFD’s start getting more buoyant, the strapping adjustment starts to run continuously through the PFD’s (like an inbuilt climbing harness) and on the more rescue specific PFD’s you start to get integral quick release harnesses for use during river rescue situations.          

What foam do they use in PFD’s? 

Most companies now use supersoft PVC foam or GAIA® foam these foams have better flexibility, fit and superior comfort. GAIA® foam is based on an organic compound which is non-toxic and is free of CFC ozone depleting materials. 

There are 3 types of foam:

  1. Flat cut sheets of foam (normally entry level price point PFD’s)
  2. Multi layered cut sheets that mould to the users shape (mid price point PFD’s)
  3. At the top end 3d shaped foam panels. These give maximum buoyancy yet still provide an excellent freedom of movement.   

Newtons ISO testing and the fit of your PFD

Since 1995 the CE and ISO standards have used Newtons to measure the buoyancy of PFD’s.  A Newton is a measured unit of force. 10 Newtons are approximately equal to 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of buoyancy.  

As well as floatation testing the CE and ISO testing also look at every other aspect of the PFD, material, reflective areas, stitching, load bearing areas everything. All modern PFD’s are literally tested to destruction. From a consumer point of view this is great because if the PFD you are looking at has and EN / ISO number printed inside, fits and is comfortable, then it will keep you afloat and will be fit for purpose.  We only stock PFD’s with EN / ISO number.

The perfect fit, for adults this will normally be determined by your chest size not your weight. For children though it’s the other way around, there weight not size we determine the jacket to go for. Sizes and shapes of PFD vary from manufacturer to manufacturer so it is important to check the information panel on the inside of the PFD to find the right size.


How do I measure Flotation

The level given is based on an adult size. Buoyancy will vary depending on the users size/weight.

  • 50N = 11lbs/5kg
  • 60N = 13.5lbs/6.1kg
  • 70N = 16lbs/7.3kg
  • 80N = 18lbs/8.2kg

EN393 Buoyancy Aids

  • Only suitable for competent swimmers
  • Sheltered water use where help is close at hand
  • Only provides support to conscious people who can help themselves

What to check for before using your PFD

Take this checklist with you to the pool or waterfront and test your Personal Flotation Device (PFD) or your lifejacket.

  • Does the PFD have an EN/ ISO number?
  • Will it support the person whos wearing it?
  • Are all the clips, buckles, belts, ties, tapes & zips on your PFD in good condition?
  • Is it easy to put on and take off?
  • Can you move your arms freely when wearing it?
  • Does it let you bend at the waist?
  • Does it keep your head above water?
  • Can you swim and maneuver easily in the water?

How to Look after your PFD

After use always rinse your PFD in clean water, hang it up and allow to dry naturally. When dry store the garment in a cool dry place ideally out of direct sunlight. Don’t wash your PFD in a washing machine or dry in a tumble dryer.

Get to know your buoyancy Aid!

After buying your PFD look at it check it on a regular basis, if you notice any rips or stitching coming undone bring it back to us (with receipt!) to have a look at, if it’s a warranty issue we will get the issue resolved for you. If your PFD is out of warranty we will see if the problem can be fixed, if it cannot we will help you purchase a new one.      

*This article is designed only as a guide, for all up to date information regarding EN / ISO testing please contact the manufacture of your PFD. 

Here is a video from Pete Ford of Yak about PFD's

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Whitewater The Canoe Centre 1954 to 2016