Selecting a PFD
(a.k.a life jacket or life vest)
Application: Are you a canoest or kayaker? The standard rule: taller
jackets for canoests, shorter (low-profile) jackets for kayakers
Adjustments: The rule: the more adjustment points, the better the fit
Style: Refers to choices like front zip, side zip, buckle, or
pullover-style vest Features: Many PFDs now come with front pockets, lash
tabs, hand warmers,
and reflective striping
America’s Cup, Astral, Extrasport, and Lotus Designs all size their vests
the same way - by chest size. Always try on a vest with all the
adjustment points loose, and then cinch the straps up firmly, from the
up, to determine whether or not that PFD will fit. The most important
characteristic of a life jacket is a proper fit.
U.S. Coast Guard accident statistics bear that out. They cataloged
484 drownings; 431 of them (89%) were not wearing life jackets.
Numerous studies show that up to 90% of drowning victims could
have been saved had they been wearing a life jacket.
The Oregon State Marine Board has gathered statistics for that
state that are more clearly broken down by type of craft involved.
From 1997 to 2005 they tabulated 71 fatalities of boaters in
non-motorized craft - kayaks, rafts, canoes, etc. 76% of them were
either not wearing a PFD or didn’t have it properly fastened.
Those are the
statistics. The cold-hard fact is that most of these people didn’t
have to die. A life jacket would have saved their lives and saved
their family and friends the grief of their loss.
|What’s the best
type of life jacket to have? It’s the one you have on. PFDs are
available in such a wide array of types, models and sizes that there’s a
comfortable fit for everyone. Boaters must use Coast Guard Approved Type
III, III/V and V models that have a minimum 15.5 pounds of buoyancy.
So choose a model that’s comfortable and you’ll be able to wear it all
the time you’re on the water.
Know the Flow Before You Go
Baseball has “RBIs”, basketball has “PPGs”, and boaters have “cfs”. Cubic
feet per second (cfs) is one of the key indicators of river or creek
conditions. The mathematical formula is: river width x depth x speed
(flow and gradient) = cfs. A given cfs reading will have been taken at a
particular point on a river, and will vary with location. As a general
rule, the higher the cfs reading, the more water is flowing past that point
More is not necessarily better. Water volume data, including cfs
readings, are collected by agencies like the USGS, Fish and Game, Bureau of
Reclamation, and other federal and state agencies. For boaters, too much
or too little flow can affect the runnability as well as the difficulty
posed by a river. The Middle Fork of the Salmon, for example, is best run at
1,500-5,000 cfs, while the Lower Salmon River is best run around
River volume is also measured in gauge feet. To get a handle on this
concept, imagine a big ruler attached to a rock wall or stuck in the
river, and where the waterline hits on that ruler (i.e. the 4' hash mark)
be the river's gauge feet. Sometimes gauge feet can be equated with cfs; at
other times, though, gauge feet is the only available indicator of water
volume, and local historical knowledge (or your neighborhood paddle shop)
will be needed to determine when that river or creek is best run. Other
good sources for information are government websites, guidebooks, local boat
shops, friends, or paddle clubs. It’s a good idea to learn all you can
beforehand about specific characteristics of the rivers you want to run
this coming season.
To see what the current flow is on a specific river, please go to