6 Types of Personal Floating Device (PFDs) for Kayaking

Types of Personal Floating Device (PFDs) to put on depends on the regulations and rules set out by relevant authorities. For example, the United State Coast Guard are responsible for approving the type of PFD on the boat for any type of kayaking, such as recreational, whitewater, flat water, and more. The number of life jackets depends on a number of factors, namely, the capacity of the boat, the size and type of your kayak. There are four different topography with its specific life jacket floater, these are;

USCG PFD recommendation

Off-Shoe life jacket, the USCG recommends a type 1 PFD, Next to the shore requires a Type 11 PFD, Floating aid for Type 111, and Special Type VPFD designed for special occasions.  Besides, a boat longer than 16 feet must have a Throwable device of Type V PFD. However, the rule is not applicable for the Kayaks and canoes. The rules requires that a seater inflatable kayaks to have not less than five PDFs, that is, the wearable life jackets and a throwable clothing. Besides, the right Kayaking PFD protects you from Kayaking dangers experienced by paddlers.

How to Select the Right Type of PDF for Kayaking

The life savers are available in a variety of shape, clothing, colors, and materials. For example, some are rugged and sturdy, this type of PDFs are durable and last long with proper care. While others are designed for cold water protection. The choice of the right kayak clothing for safety depends on the cost, the materials, regulation, and the water temperature you intend to Kayak. In addition, it is recommended to look for the right attire approved by the USCG. These attires have specific approval number for identification.

personal floating devices for kayaking

The Types of Personal Floating Device for Kayaking (PFDs)

The six types of PFDs are Type I, Type II, Type III, Type IV Ring Buoys PFD, Type IV Boat Cushions, Type V Hybrid PFD, and Type V Special use Device.

Type I PFD

Are made for Off-Shore Life, and recommended for the open, rough, or isolated waters. The selected areas are points hard for the rescue to reach you in good type. Besides, they are the best floaters for the newbie kayakers who are afraid of the waters. They will keep you afloat with your head up for several hours. Moreover, the Type I PFD, “turns the most unconscious wearers face up in water.” In fact, this is the type of floater jackets for rough water kayaking with heavy winds and waves. Identification is easy due to the bright color, which is visible from a distance. There are two sizes for both children and adult. Remember that a child must not put on an adult’s lifesaving jackets, because there are higher chances of drowning. The disadvantage with the Type I materials is their bulkiness. Meaning drying up when soaked takes time, hence you may be force to have an extra life jacket.

Type II PFD or Near Shore Buoyant Vest

The USCG recommends the product for calm waters, such as flat water kayaking with less waves and tides. Further, they best suit inland water boating for ease of rescue operation. Have a number of benefits, such as, they can turn unconscious wearer face up in water. Moreover, they are lightweight, more comfortable compared to Type I jackets. The available sizes are for the infants, small and medium size children, and adults. Their major undoing are; are not designed for rough waters with heavy waves and winds. If a paddle has this on, the rescue time must not be prolonged. As much as they are capable of turning unconscious wearer faces up, in other cases it is not possible.


Known as the floating Aid. The authorities prefer this for the calm inland water, where rescue is not a challenger. If you happen to slip in water, assistance should arrive in hours. What this mean is that rescue team must be nearby. Basically, this is the most preferred wear for comfort. Manufactured for water sporting activities and recommended for the general boat and kayaking transport. Correspondingly, it is available in different styles, namely, vest and floating coats. However, it is not for extended survival in stormy water. Besides, a kayaker have to tilt the head backwards to avoid drowning, otherwise, you will find yourself among the deep sea debris. Furthermore, in rough water waters and windy conditions, your face is likely to be covered with water. Last but not least, there are different sizes of the water clothing from child, youths, and adults.


The throwable life saver device is recommended for calm waters, such as lake and Mild Rivers with heavy boat traffic flow for ease of rescue. They are suitable for places with instant assistance otherwise you are likely to drown. The benefits are, the Type IV PFD are easy to throw to a needy person whose life is in danger, are used as backup to wearable PFD, and lastly, for comfort a kayaker with back pain problem can use them as seat cushions. Also, they are manufactured in different kinds, sizes, and shapes, in particularly, we have the cushions, ring, and the horseshoe buoys. Despites of the benefits, it has a number of disadvantages, for example, they are not suitable for a person who is unconscious, non swimmers kayakers not to use the throwable device, and lastly, not suitable for extended hours in rough water.

Type V PFD

Also called Special Use Device for special use and conditions only. Besides, the special device exists in many different forms and styles which includes deck suit, boardsailing vest, work vests, hybrid PFDs, and more. But the use of the device is limited to specific areas and situations. Please check the accompanying package for further instruction.

Type V Hybrid

The hybrid type is an inflatable device and counted as floating life jacket when worn by the authorities. This is the least bulky and easy to carry among the other types, it is highly float when inflated, and it is recommended for continuous wear. However, the hybrid clothing might not adequately function if fully inflated, in such a situation, the PFD is partially inflated. Furthermore, it is for an active use and the care for the inflation chambers to function optimally. Last, the performance condition is comparable to the Type I, II, and III PFDs

Why Wear PFDs

It is observed that majority of drowning happens not in the deep seas but in the inland water next to the shores, a few yard from safety. Why? Because the victims die for not wearing the floating jackets despite owning them at the time of accidents. People can avoid the water clothing for a number of reasons, for example, the feeling and look may deter you from wearing the clothing, but manufacturers are designing attire which fits you well, lightweight, better looks, and easy to walk on for a long distance. When doing selection, choose a bright color PFD that can be spotted from far to increases the chances of rescue. Other than the bright colors, the selection of a better life jackets is influenced by the body fat, lung sizes, clothing, water type, that is rough or calm. The factors mentioned are responsible for saving your life and ensures that you stay on top. Before setting your Kayak on the voyage, have your life saver jackets on with all straps, zippers, and ties fastened. When strap are not tucked, you will hang up.

Recommended PFD Adult Buoyancy

  • The minimum Adult Buoyancy per pounds required (sources Think Safe, BJ1201)
  • Type I              22.00 pounds, Type II   15.5
  • Type III            15.5
  • IV Ring Buoys  16.5
  • IV Boat Cushions        18.0
  • V Hybrids        22.0 (fully inflated) and 7.5 (deflated)
  • V Special use device   15.5 to 22.0

How to take care of the PFD

You have the devices the lifespan depends on your care. Poorly handle devices won’t last long but item handle with care and kept safely will save you money and life. Below is a list of safety precautions to adhere to.

  • Replace unfitting PFD, when you purchase a new clothing and it does not suit you, never alter or modify. Instead, buy a floating jacket which fits you well.
  • Avoid using PFD as a storage bag for items, such as kneeling pads, boat fender, among other heavy objects. Besides, doing so the PFD will lose its Buoyancy.
  • After use let the vest drip dry. Further, store the item in well-lit or ventilated room.
  •  When not in use, move your PFD to the storage room to avoid too much sunlight.
  • Do not use electronic drier, such as radiator, heater, iron etc.
  • Label the PFD for ease of identification in a busy place
  • It is recommended to practice throwing the Type IV PFD and cushions.

Personal Floating Device for Kayaking Checklists

  • Check the PFD for any rips, tears, and holes
  • Confirm that the seams, fabric straps, and hardware are fine
  • Look for sign of waterlogging, mild odor, and shrinkages which may affect the PFD
  • Find out if the bag of kapok for storage leaks, you can squeeze the bag to find out if there is any air leak.
  • Check if the storage bag is wet, when soaked, the bag get stiff, or waterlogged and end up loosing buoyancy. If the above happens, it is advisable to replace the bag.
  • Check if the PFD is fading. To avoid fading, store the PFD in a cool, dry, and dark place. Besides, fading is a sign that your life jacket is losing forte. Further, check the strength of the device and if not suitable for use, replace with a new one.
  • Check that your PFD is in good shape before usage to conform to the laws. Otherwise, you risk drowning or arrested by the authorities.
  • Check and try the PFD if its fits comfortably snug
  • Check a newly acquired PFD for buoyancy. To do this relax water, and tilt your head back

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