Modern lifejackets and PFDs are used as emergency floatation devices to prevent you from sinking when stranded in the water. All Australian states recommend that you wear an Australian Standards approved lifejacket or PFD whenever you are out in your kayak.
Although they both are designed to keep you afloat while in the water, PFDs and lifejackets are designed differently to serve varying purposes.
A PFD or personal floatation device is constructed to have the flotation material concentrated on the chest and back of the device. The primary purpose of a PFD is to keep the wearer’s head out of the water in calm conditions. They are generally more compact than a lifejacket, featuring more room around the arms and shoulders. PFDs are perfect for watersports such as kayaking that require flexibility and mobility to operate your paddle.
Lifejackets on the other hand feature far more floatation material on the chest and shoulders.They have been designed to tilt an unconscious user’s face-up in the water in rougher conditions. The added material on the front of the jacket makes it slightly more bulky than a PFD, decreasing your mobility while paddling.
A lifejacket is best suited to a number of situations. It should be used when venturing far off the coastline into deep open water, with young children and with weak swimmers. PFDs befit confident swimmers, people who are paddling in shallower waterways such as lakes and rivers. Paddlers who need extra mobility, such as kayak fishermen and whitewater kayakers should consider a PFD too.
Different flotation devices better suit particular scenarios. Kayak fishermen should consider a PFD that has multiple pouches and pockets for all their fishing tackle and tools. While someone who uses a padded seat in their touring kayak would benefit from a high-back lifejacket. Both types also come in self-inflating and pre-packed options for your convenience.
To better understand your next lifejacket or PFD, have a look at our guide to life jacket regulations in Australia.