In the Wild with Greg Wagner

PFDs for Family, Friends and Fido. by Greg Wagner

Katie Stacey here again to talk about personal flotation devices (PFDs). 

A type II PFD is designed to turn an unconcious person face-up in the water.

When most of us think of PFDs, we probably envision this type II device to the right. Growing up here in Nebraska these are the only type I was ever exposed to on my family’s visits to friends who had boats or even when we got one of our own. These PFDs are economical and universal (for adults), so they are great for owners of boats who need extras around for guests to use.

But, for those of us who spend a lot of time in our own boats, these types of jackets can be cumbersome. Luckily, there are  many other styles to choose from, many of which are tailored to specific boating recreational activities.

Type III PFDs are designed to help a concious person remain easily afloat.

These two PFDs are approved for sailing, paddling and water skiing. They have straps at the shoulder and sides which allows for air movement and make them cool and comfortable and they allow the wearer plenty of movement. They are also available in a range of colors. 

Lots of pockets on these type III PFDs keep things handy for anglers.

Because I spend most of my boating time either fishing or paddling, my own PFD (the green one above) is one that is useful for both activities. Like the other PFDs in the picture above these have large arm openings that allow for great freedom of movement. They also have lots of pockets and pouches for keeping things hand. I like to keep my wallet and keys in one of the zippered pouches, that way if I do end up in the water they may be soggy but they won’t be on the bottom of the lake.

A type III inflatable PFD

For those who still find these options too cumbersome, there is the inflatable PFD. These are compact and light-weight. They are comfortable to wear and have a CO2 cartridge activated by an easily accessable pull tab to quickly inflate the PFD in an emergency situation. In the event the cartridge fails, there is a manual inflation tube that allows for quick inflation.


A child's type II PFD

It is especially important to check the fit of a child’s PFD. Infants and young children are much more likely to panic if they end up in the water and might slip out of an improperly fitted PFD. According to the U.S. Coast Guard the fit should be snug. To test, pick up the child by the shoulders of the PFD, if the child’s chin and ears do not slip through it’s a good fit. Teach children how to use PFDs and to float calmly in one prior to taking them out in a boat. Remember to never leave a child unattended near the water. A PFD may not be able to turn a struggling child face up in the water.

For more information about choosing the proper PFD, check out the U.S. Coast Guard’s web page on PFD selection:

Bria and Kinsey O'Meara are ready for a day on the water.

Even the family pet can be made safe on the water. Flotation devices made for dogs are available now as well. While many dogs have no trouble swimming, boating accidents can happen too far from the shore to make it back safely. Some breeds are simply not well-built for swimming, my greyhound with her lean muscle and long skinny legs would sink like a stone.

PFDs can’t save you if you don’t wear them. Choose one you find comfortable and are willing to wear. See you out there, being safe on the water. – Katie Stacey


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