Inflatable PFDs

Looking for ANY informaton on (manual) inflatable PFDs and comparisons between Sospenders, Stearns, and Mustang. Experience with Kokotat’s SeaO2 would also be usefull (product reviews are very sketchy).

I have used the Sea O2
I have used this PFD for 2 year now and still love it.

It is low profile and helps me not look like a middle aged fat guy that I am… I paddle a sea kayak and doubt I will ever need the co2 pull string. It only takes 3 full breaths to fully inflate it and just one or two to put it where I might need it. There are no regrets to its purchase, but do take the time to test it without air in the bladder. It should, but may not have enough buoyancy to float you “empty”. Depends on your body mass fat vs muscle. Skip it if it does not float you. Wearing a dry suit vs neoprene, you will notice a difference. I’d skip any PFD that does not include any basic flotation without being inflated.

I’ve used sospender inflatables quite a bit on sailboats. The fanny pack type is the least intrusive, but when I do not have a lot of faith in it’s usefulness. Once inflated you need to put it over your head, find a strap, and secure it around your chest. Sounds like a stretch to me.

I’ve used the harness-type inflatables much more often, and for sailing they work great. For paddling I think you might have a chafing problem as the edges on my vests are a little stiff around the neck. If looking at the harness-type vests be aware that some are much longer in front than others. You’d need to get a short variety if you were going to wear it paddling.

Astral Hybrid
Astral Hybrid

People I’ve seen running it like it.

I’ve been using the Sospender for 10 yrs
I am very happy with my inflatable PFD; it is cooler and less cumbersome than a type III PFD. Once inflated it gives 35 pounds of buoyancy and will keep your head above water even if you are unconscious. One thing that may not be obvious is that if a vessel pops out of the fog, or the operators drunken haze, and bears down on you, you have the option of flipping over and swimming down out of the way. With a regular PFD you don’t have that option.

There are a few factors on the down side of inflatable PFDs. One is that you have to be conscious to inflate it. I discount this issue because if you are unconscious a type III won’t keep your head out of the water anyway. For me the main negative issue is the lack of pockets for your VHF and flares. I can clip my VHF on my PDF’s waist strap, but it isn’t an ideal configuration. Another issue is unintentional inflation. I have only had this happen once in ten years (it happened when I was shoving gear around in the back of my car) but it cost me about $12 to replace the CO2 canister.

i had one
but realized that as often as I went over the side… I’d spend a fortune reloading and repacking it so I gave it away.

I think that they are made for people who will probably do a lot of work and never get wet like aircraft pilots and sailors.

For paddlers who spend a lot of time in the water, they are a pain where the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

In what kind of conditions do you paddle where you actually need to rely on your PFD to be inflated after you flip over?

I’m looking for a new PFD for the summer and I want something thin and unrestrictive. I probably do not need one at all where I paddle 80% of the time (and 100% of each time I paddle there) e.g. flat still water with lots of moving slow traffic (no wake zone). I thought an inflatable would be perfect there - would fend-off the water police from ticketing me for not having a PFD and I would have potential flotation if I need it for some reason (e.g. muscle cramp or what not and I can’t get back in my boat or swim to shore/be rescued in a few minutes).

There are automatic and manual inflaters
The automatic inflaters are triggered when a material in the valve is dissolved by water. I have never used one but apparently the material dissolves immediately when immersed in water. Mine is a manual inflater, it is activated by manually pulling a lanyard. The lanyard has a tab on the end specifying who is responsible for inflating it; it says JERK TO INFLATE”.

Inflatables are classified as Type V PFDs. Unlike types I, II, III and IV PFDs, Type V PFDs must be worn at all times to satisfy the Coast Guard PFD requirement.

Can you elaborate a bit more?
Are you saying that I don’t necessarily have to wear the PFD but have it handy to satisfy the coast guard? I don’t want to open a can of worms about safety here - just simple question about the regulation :wink: Though it probably varies state to state and area to area… The scull paddlers never wear them where I paddle so I do not see why I should in a kayak on totally flat days…

You only need to carry, not wear,
a PFD to satisfy the Federal regulations (33 CFR 175). The regulations specify that it must be a Type I, II or III (§175.15), but let you substitute a Type V PFD if you adhere to the requirements of the approval label and owner’s manual (§175.17).

46 CFR 160 defines the requirements for use of inflatable PFDs and states in §160.076-9, that ”PFDs marked Approved only when worn must be worn whenever the vessel is underway and the intended wearer is not within an enclosed space if the PFD is intended to be used to satisfy the requirements of 33 CFR part 175.” Apparently when the Coast Guard approves a specific inflatable PFD they specify that its approval label has the “. . . only when worn” language unless the inflatable PFD meets all the requirements for a type I, II or III PFD, which I don’t believe, though I’m not sure, any do.

Under 33 CFR 175.5, States may enact requirements stricter than the Federal regulations for wearing or carrying PFDs by certain categories of users. Operators of canoes and kayaks are specifically included in this exemption (§175.5(b). So check the state laws where you are paddling.

Yes, it varies by state

– Last Updated: Apr-09-09 12:01 AM EST –

A ranger in New Mexico yelled at me for not wearing my PFD (I had it in my kayak). Very surprised to find that they require wearing it. A real pain then, since air temp was high 90s and water temp must've been close to 80.

And I just read the 2009 boating regs for Colorado. There was an interesting change in the PFD regs. Although the main requirement is still to carry a PFD (wear it if under 13 years old), there is a separate paragraph that says the requirement may be waived in certain conditions on certain waters. Which I interpret to mean it's up to the ranger to decide whether it's worth ticketing a paddler who obviously can swim, roll etc., and is paddling in nice conditions but is neither wearing a PFD nor carrying one. But that may be just my wishful thinking, wishful for some common sense to prevail. WHY ISN'T SWIMMING ABILITY REQUIRED INSTEAD OF FIXATING ON PFDS?!

Damned things make swimming harder, which would seem counterproductive for "safety".

thing about…
a lifevest when unconcious is that it can make the rescue of the unconcious person much faster and easier for the rescuers, especially in rough conditions. I have no idea how much floatation some of the inflatables provide but if the rescuee is not floating high they can be extremely difficult to rescue. I know, I’ve rescued people who could not participate in their own rescue.