Your PFD, A Multipurpose Utility Device

02/20/2016 10:06 PM | Anonymous

By Tommy Gram

A PFD is a crucial piece of gear for everyone who recreates on the river. In the most basic sense, it helps keep us afloat when we become separated from our boat, board, or raft. PFDs not only kept us afloat but also serve as multi-purpose utility devices. Let’s talk about some of the key components to look for when choosing a PFD and how I outfit my own.

First, look at function. For paddle sports, a slimmer profile, type III PFD designed for active movement is recommended. With training and practice on appropriate use, many whitewater paddlers use a type V rescue PFD. The rescue PFD is essentially a type III with a sewn-in quick-release harness that can be used in a rescue situation. There are a lot of different rescue PFDs out there, make sure to get one that is lower bulk and intended for paddle sports.

Insuring your PFD has adequate flotation is also important. All PFDs have a flotation rating in pounds. As a PFD ages, it loses floatation. Consider replacing your PFD every five years.

Another important factor when choosing a PFD is fit and color. An appropriate fit is essential for comfort and safety. Your local paddle sports shop will help you find the best model for your needs as well as fine-tune the proper fit. A poor-fitting PFD can be uncomfortable and may not function properly. Also, make sure to choose a bright color that is easy to spot. Color can aid in rescue situations by making you more visible. Remember, a PFD not only keeps us afloat, it also serves as a multi-purpose utility device.

Accessorizing your PFD allows you to keep all necessary items for rescue and comfort within your grasp at all times. Consider what you want to carry in your PFD and the storage you may need for these things. In my opinion, the bigger the pocket(s) the better. When deciding what to store in you PFD, categorize your items into two categories: rescue and personal comfort.

For rescue, think about what you might need in a moment’s grasp? What should you not waste time getting out of the dry bag? If you are separated from your boat and have to retrieve it or hike out, are there items you need?

Here is a list of the rescue/emergency items I carry:

  • Whistle
  • Knife
  • Basic lightweight pin kit
  • CPR mask and gloves
  • Light source
  • High-calorie snack

For comfort think about the things you often use. Some examples of comfort items include:

  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Nose plugs
  • Ear plugs
  • Helmet liner

What you keep in you PFD may vary depending on the length or difficulty of your run as well as personal preferences. Whatever you keep in your PFD, make sure it is highly functional and that suits your needs for comfort and an emergency situation. Enjoy your time on the water and be safe out there.

Tommy Gram is an instructor trainer for the American Canoe Association (ACA) and teaches whitewater kayaking and swiftwater rescue in the Arkansas River Valley. Check out his upcoming courses at He is also the instructor for Colorado Whitewater’s swiftwater rescue clinic in March. See the event calendar for more information:

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