Are PFDs Difficult To Put On In The Water?

Yes, personal flotation devices (PFDs) can be difficult to put on in the water due to buoyancy and mobility constraints. It’s recommended to wear them before entering the water.

The most important safety equipment you will carry on your boat is PFDs and life jackets. They are the last line of defense for someone who ends up in the water.

According to USCG recreational boating statistics, drowning is the cause of approximately 70% of all fatal boating accidents. Of those that drowned, approximately 90% were not wearing a life jacket. 

Key Takeaways

1️⃣ PFDs must be worn at all times when in the boat. There are two categories of PFDs – Inherently Buoyant and Inflatable PFDs.

2️⃣ If someone ends up in the water without a PFD or life jacket, it should be considered an emergency that must be quickly acted on.

3️⃣ Putting inherently buoyant or automatically inflating PFDs on while in the water is very difficult.

4️⃣ Most vest-type inflatable flotation aids meet the carriage requirements as long as they’re readily accessible but can only be worn by people who are at least sixteen years old.

🦺 Types Of Personal Flotation Devices

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) regulations require all boats to have sufficient quantities of life jackets or PFDs available.

They must fit the occupants properly, be in good condition, and be easily accessible.

There are two classifications of PFDs.

Inherent Buoyancy PFDs

Just like the name says, inherently buoyant PFDs will always float and require no action on the wearer’s part to activate them.

Inherent buoyancy PFDs are generally filled with foam cells that trap the air in sealed pockets that float when immersed in water.

Inflatable PFDs

Inflatable PFDs activate automatically or may require the wearer to activate them manually when needed. Several possible methods inflate these:

🔸 Using the fitted mouthpiece and blowing until it is inflated.
🔸 Activating cartridges of carbon dioxide gas that are sewn into the PFDs

Some models use a water-activated trigger (HRU) that releases gas in the carbon dioxide cartridges and inflates the PFD.

These models use a water-soluble material that dissolves in contact with the water and triggers the gas canisters.

Other models of PFDs require the user to pull a tab or trigger to release the gas.

🌊 Challenges Of Putting On PFDs In The Water

The best way to stay safe on the water is always to insist that the boat’s occupants wear PFDs, whether in the water or not. 

Children under thirteen must wear an appropriate US Coast Guard-approved life jacket when a vessel is underway unless they are below deck or within an enclosed cabin.

Understandably, children often panic when they suddenly fall into the water. Panicking can make it difficult for the child to float face up, even when wearing a PFD.

So, kids should get used to wearing a PFD in the water before heading out on the boat. I’d suggest checking out this article covering the best life jackets for children if you are in the market.

PFDs are designed for the following:

🔸 Reduce the effort needed to stay afloat, particularly when the water is cold
🔸 Help the wearer to rest and preserve energy.
🔸 Keep the wearer afloat if they become exhausted or incapacitated by cold.
🔸 Provide a bit of thermal protection.

If someone enters the water without a PFD and tries to put it on after the fact, these benefits are eliminated.

Buoyancy And Stability

The design of PFDs makes them quite difficult to put on in the water.

Inherently Buoyant PFDs and automatically inflating PFDs are the hardest to manage because they have to be pushed down under to be put on successfully.

If fitted correctly, the PFD can hold the person above the water. This makes it hard to push down below the water surface to put it on.

Manually inflatable PFDs are the easiest to put on in the water because they can be kept deflated until they are on and can then be inflated.

Water Conditions

The situation becomes more difficult in water conditions with high seas, wind, and cold temperatures.

If someone enters the water in these conditions without first donning a PFD, the chance of a good outcome is significantly reduced.

The effort and energy expended to put on an Inherently Buoyant PFD reduce the wearer’s survival time.

🎓 Safety Tips And Recommendations

The following safety recommendations will ensure that anyone in the water has the best chance of survival. 

Wearing PFDs Before Entering The Water

Have a strict rule on the boat that everyone, irrespective of age or swimming ability, wears a PFD.

Trying to put a PFD on after someone has fallen into the water is like shutting the door after the horse has bolted. Apart from any legal liability that the boat captain may face, the enormous emotional cost of someone drowning from your boat is simply too high.

Proper Fitting And Adjustment

The USCG regulations require that PFDs and life jackets be in good condition, easily accessed, and fit properly.

A PFD that’s too large will easily slip over the wearer’s head when they land in the water. So, be familiar with how to choose a life jacket when you are out buying one.

Always ensure the PFD is a snug fit and properly tightens the straps. Children should use PFDs with “crotch straps” that fasten between the child’s legs, preventing the PFD from slipping over the head.

Everyone else should wear PFDs that may seem a little small but are a snug fit.

🔑 Key Takeaways

The safety devices of last resort on any boat are life jackets and PFDs. When they are needed, someone is in the water and needs help.

1️⃣ Your boat rules should require that ALL occupants must wear their PFD at all times while on deck.

2️⃣ Inherent Buoyancy and Inflatable are the two categories of PFD available.

3️⃣ Putting an Inherent Buoyant or automatic inflating PFD on in the water is very difficult and wastes substantial energy.

Nice to e-meet you. I’m Justin, a seasoned sailing journalist and communications pro with more than 25 years of extensive industry experience. And a track record of successfully promoting teams and events on the global stage.