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Life jackets & PFDs (Personal Floatation Devices) Replacement? Too small? How many? Approved?

PFDs (Personal Floatation Devices) vs life jacket & PFDs types 

PFD means Personal Flotation Device. PFDs are available in a wide range of approved types, sizes and colours. 

While PFDs are more comfortable than lifejackets because they are designed for constant wear, they do not generally offer the same level of protection as life jackets. You must have at least one approved PFD for each person onboard.

A key characteristic of an approved standard life jackets is to keep a person face up even if the person is uncouncious, so that you can breathe properly. Not wearing a personal flotation device is the first cause of recreational boating deaths in Canada!

Which organization approves PFD's?

When buying a Personal Flotation Device, look for a Transport Canada approval stamp or label. You must have a PFD that fits each person on your boat. The PFD must be of an appropriate size for each individual. During a nautical excursion it must be available and within reach at all times on board the pleasure craft.

All of the care that you give to your PFD will prolong its use. There is no expiry date for a personal floatation device and/or lifejacket, but it becomes void if it has been repaired or altered; therefore, it is no longer usable and must be replaced and discarded for recycling. This measure may seem somewhat extreme, but one must be made aware that no control method exists to verify the quality of the repair or of the alteration. A repair or an alteration may compromise the floatability of the PFD and consequently, approval by Transport Canada is no longer valid.

It's on board... It's on me!

Specific personal floatation devices

Specific personal flotation devices exist for many different sports such as in kayak, canoeing, fishing, sailing, etc. When you purchase a PFD, choose the model that is the most appropriate for the activity to be practiced.

Many pleasure craft operators neglect to care properly for their PFDs. Some people use their PFDs as a cushion in the pleasure craft. Others use them as fenders to protect the hull while the craft is docking. The material inside the PFD that ensures the floatability could break-up and the external shell could become torn. Some people will expose their PFDs directly to sunlight. The ultraviolet rays can damage the fabrics of the PFD. All of these behaviours are strongly discouraged.

Personal floatation device for infants

It is important that an infant wear a PFD that corresponds to his/her size and weight. An infant can easily lose a PFD that is too big. On the other hand, a PFD that is too small will not ensure proper floatation, and in both cases, the infant is at risk and may drown. The personal flotation devices should be snug fitting, yet allow freedom of movement of arms and legs. 

The maintenance of PFD

The maintenance of a PFD is simple. The operator of a pleasure craft should clean personal floatation devices and lifejackets with a mild soap or running water, avoid dry cleaning them or using strong detergents or gasoline to clean them. Let the PFD dry in the open air, never put them in the dryer, or in constant exposure to sunlight, or close to a direct heat source. On board a pleasure craft, the operator must place the personal floatation devices (PFDs) and the lifejackets that are not being used, in a dry, well ventilated and accessible area.

Approved PFDs types?

There are two approved types of personal flotation devices:

  • Inherently buoyant PFDs which have buoyancy capabilities due to their construction from unicellular foam or macro cellular elements;
  • Inflatable PFDs, which are fitted with an oral inflation device and a manually activated CO2 inflation system.

PFD's floatability and comfortability

Make it a habit to periodically check the floatability of your PFD. It must keep the person face-up in the water. Conventional lifejackets and personal floatation devices both have the same use. Each one has certain advantages and disadvantages.

The PFD is comfortable. It is available in a wide variety of colours and styles with models that are designed for specific nautical sports. The main inconvenience of the PFD is that it offers a lesser degree of floatability. The standard lifejacket offers a much greater degree of floatability than a PFD. By its construction, the conventional lifejacket can turn an unconscious person face-up in the water and maintain this position until the person is rescued. However, it has the inconvenience of being larger and less comfortable than a PFD. This is why lifejackets are  less popular than  PFD's.

During any nautical activity, in case of emergency, a lifejacket or a PFD stored under the seat in a pleasure craft will not be of any great use. Wear it!

Approved standard Lifejackets regulations

A Canadian approved (coast guard, Transport Canada, etc.) standard lifejacket, when worn properly, is designed to turn an unconscious person from face down to face up in the water, allowing them to breathe. The standard lifejacket is keyhole style and comes in two sizes - one for people who weigh over 40 kg (90 lbs), and one for those who weigh less than 40 kg (90 lbs).

For standard life jackets, requirements are that they must be orange, yellow or red, and have a whistle attached to them.

PFD too small

If you can’t make your life jacket fit snugly, then it is too big. If you can’t comfortably put it on and fasten it, it is too small. To enssure a snug fit, have someone pull up on the shoulders of your lifejacket while you are wearing it; your chin, head and neck should not slip through. As for the lifejacket, the rules are that it must be worn loose to allow the water to flow under the device in order to turn you face up. The lifejacket must offer a sufficient degree of floatability to allow it to turn an unconscious person face-up in the water and be able to maintain this position until the person is rescued. So if a boater falls overboard when wearing a personal flotation device that is too small, the PFD may not support his weigth.

Testing a personal floatation device, take the following steps:

  • In a supervised area, put your lifejacket or PFD on and wade out into chest deep water.

  • Bend your knees and float on your back.

  • Make sure your flotation device keeps your chin above water and you can still breathe easily.

  • Practice swimming on your stomach and back.

  • If you are responsible for children, let them experiment with their own flotation device under your supervision.

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