Which PFD is right for me?


     It goes without saying that you should have a life jacket on when your out on the water.  It's estimated that about 10 people a day lose their life to accidental drowning in the U.S. alone.  Last year over 372,000 people died of drowning worldwide.  I'm not writing this to convince you to put on your life jacket.  If you have half a brain, and care about your family you already use one.  If you need a refresher on life jacket use or fitment follow the link here.  The reason I'm writing this is to explain the different types of PFD's (Personal Flotation Devices), and how I decide which one to wear on the water.
     Back when I first started kayaking I just used whatever PFD I had around.  To be honest I never really gave them much thought.  However, as I've progressed through the years I have found that I prefer to wear different PFD's depending on the angling situation and water conditions.  What am I talking about?  Let's take a look at 3 different life jacket styles and when I wear each type.
Perfect those cool fall mornings.
     The first jacket will look at is one that most of us are familiar with.  This one will call the boating PFD.  They are designed with the power boater in mind and will do a great job of keeping you afloat when you're in the water.  Boating PFD's are full cut and are not the best choice for paddling.  That said, I like this kind of PFD in the early spring or late fall.  I wear them as another layer on really cold days.  Since these PFD's get really warm, I find them very uncomfortable when paddling in warmer temperatures.  These jackets are normally less expensive than the other PFD's will be taking a look at in this post.  
They look small, but are perfect for the paddle sport enthusiast.
     Next up is the paddling specific life jacket.  These jackets are designed with the paddling enthusiast in mind.  They are usually cut shorter so the jacket doesn't ride up when sitting down.  Many also feature back flotation that is placed higher on the jacket to better accommodate the backrests used on many of today's canoes and kayaks.  These PFD's are very comfortable when on the water.  The only downside to these jackets is that they still feel fairly bulky when paddling or casting.  I wear this type of PFD whenever I am on large bodies of water or on lakes with a lot of boat traffic.  If I were to get hit by a passing boat or knocked over by a rogue wave I know this jacket is always ready to go.
Lightweight and out of the way, great for warm weather kayaking.
     The last jacket will take a look at is the inflatable.  These are relatively new on the boating/kayaking scene.  Inflatable PFD's work exactly like the name suggests.  They inflate, usually with the help of compressed Co2.  You can purchase them setup to inflate manually with the pull of a cord, or to inflate automatically when exposed to water.  Inflatable life jackets are lightweight and comfortable to fish in.  I wear them on calm days or when it gets really hot in the summer.  The only downside I see to these is the risk of accidental inflation.  Just remember that inflatables should never be used as a life jacket on a child.

So just to recap:

Boating PFD
Pros: Inexpensive, Lots of flotation, Warm
Cons: Heavy, Not accommodating to a paddlers range of motion, Warm

Paddling Specific PFD
Pros: Accommodates a paddlers range of motion, Cut for backrests, Good flotation
Cons: Pricey, Can still feel bulky when paddling

Inflatable PFD
Pros: Lightweight, Extremely comfortable, Good flotation
Cons: Expensive, Has to be inflated in order to work

     Hopefully this helps explain the common PFD's you'll see on the water.  As you can see, I let the conditions dictate the type of PFD I need.  Like everything else in fishing, what life jacket style you use is a personal choice.  The important thing is that you remember to wear one.
     Tight Lines.

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