Life jackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs) come in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes and materials. Some are made to be more rugged and last longer while others are made to protect you from cold water. No matter which life jacket you choose, be sure to get the one that is right for you. Select a PFD based on your planned activities, and the water conditions you expect to encounter. Remember, planning a little time now can save your life later. Always look for the Transport Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans or Canadian Coast Guard approval on any life jacket you buy. Be sure to read the manufacturer's label and the "Wise Choice" pamphlet that is attached to the device. Valuable information is contained within these resources.

Inflatable PFDs

Inflatable PFDs are NOT approved for use in Canada by persons less than 16 years of age or weighing less than 36.3 kg. The inflatable PFD (manual is approved by CCG, automatic is not yet approved) is now available.

Because inflatable PFD's will not float without first being inflated, they are not considered appropriate for use by non-swimmers or weak swimmers, unless worn inflated. Inflatable PFDs use a replaceable CO2 gas cylinder as the primary means for inflating the PFD. They can also be inflated by blowing into an oral inflation tube. A manual inflation requires the user to jerk on a pull-tab (lanyard) to inflate the PFD.. The CO2 gas cylinder is good for only one inflation. To keep the PFD in a serviceable condition, a used CO2 cylinder must be replaced with a new one after each CO2 inflation. A PFD that is not properly rearmed can only be inflated using the oral inflation tube. Some users may need assistance to properly rearm their PFD's inflation system. The user must check the status of the inflator and cylinder before each outing. Inflatable PFDs must not be worn under restrictive clothing because automatic or accidental manual inflation could restrict breathing and cause injury or death. Inflatable PFDs are not legal for use in whitewater, with personal watercraft or while water-skiing.

Testing Inherently Buoyant PFDs

Put your lifejacket on. It should fit properly with all zippers, straps, ties and snaps correctly secured. Ease yourself into the water or walk into water up to your neck. Lift your legs and tilt your head back, in a relaxed floating position. Your mouth should be out of the water and you should float comfortably without any physical effort. If the life jacket rides up, try securing it tighter to your body. If it still rides up, you may need a different style. You should be comfortable and able to swim without significant restriction. You should have someone else to act as a lifeguard or assistant if you are uncomfortable with being in the water or are trying this activity for the first time.

Testing Inflatable PFDs

If you do not wish to test the CO2 inflation system, remove the CO2 cylinder. Put your life jacket on and fully inflate it by blowing into the inflation tube. Then test it like an inherently buoyant PFD.

Because of the design, ride-up is generally not an issue with inflatable PFDs. The amount of buoyancy provided with inflatable PFDs will probably require the user to swim using some form of side or backstroke, as it will be difficult to swim on your stomach when the PFD is properly secured.

The Law

The law requires boats to be equipped with an approved PFD or lifejacket of an appropriate size for each person on board (except for any infant who weighs less than 9 kg or any person whose chest size exceeds 140 cm). In order for an inflatable PFD to meet this requirement, it must be: worn while in an open boat, or worn while on deck or in the cockpit or be readily available to persons below deck of vessels with cabins.

A PWC rider, white-water paddlers or if the person is less than 16 years of age and weighs less than 36.3 kg, may not wear inflatable PFD's. Sail boarders may not wear the automatically inflatable type.

Information provided by the North American Safe Boating Campaign.