A personal floatation device (PFD) is an essential piece of safety gear for all boaters and paddlers. Although there are many types of PFDs available, the most important advice is simply this: wear it! The majority of drownings could have been avoided if the victim had been wearing a PFD.
The majority of PFDs on the market are standard, non-inflatable PFDs that are worn like a vest and are versatile for most water sports activities. They are constructed of foam to create buoyancy, and the U.S. Coast Guard labels them as Type III USCG-approved PFDs. The foam construction requires little maintenance other than keeping it clean, dry, and out of the sun when not in use.
Sizing and fitting:
Children’s sizes are determined by weight, but for adults, chest size (not weight) determines sizing. Measure your chest circumference at its widest point and use this measurement to size your PFD. RAVE Sports PFD sizing is as follows:
Infant – user weight less than 30 lbs.
Child – user weight 30-50 lbs.; chest size 20-25 inches
Youth – user weight 50-90 lbs.; chest size 25-29 inches
X-Small / Small: user weight more than 90 pounds; chest size 30-36 inches
Medium / Large: user weight: more than 90 lbs.; chest size 36-44 inches
X-Large: user weight: more than 90 lbs.; chest size 44-56 inches
A proper-fitting PFD fits comfortably snug and provides enough buoyancy in the water so that when your body is relaxed and your head is tilted back slightly, your chin is above water and you can breathe easily. It should not be so loose that it rides up on your body, nor should it be so tight that you cannot breathe comfortably. If your mouth is not above the water, you need a PFD with more buoyancy.
Other than size, the other consideration is the PFD’s features for different activities. For less strenuous water sports such as swimming and playing on inflatable water parks, a universal-type of vest PFD constructed of a durable nylon covering a soft foam core works well. For more strenuous activities such as water skiing, wake boarding, and paddle boarding, a more athletic-style PFD will be snugger fitting, less likely to ride up, and allows for more movement. RAVE Sports’ neoprene PFDs have more room in the arm holes and waist to allow for more movement than a standard universal-shaped PFD.