Inflatable PFDs

I am thinking about buying a manual, inflatable PFD. I always wear a PFD when paddling - my real issue is the bulk - I’m just strong enough to hoist myself onto the back deck for a self-rescue, but too often my PFD (a nice, relatively new Kokatat) gets in the way and I’m back in the water. I also never paddle alone - our assisted rescues are adequate. Anyway…any thoughts on inflatable PFDs?

I see…
I see that your favorite paddling place is Lake Superior. Never paddled there, but guessing cold water, even in the summer.

You also state that you have trouble reentering your kayak wearing the pfd that you currently own.

I have two questions for you:

  1. Do you think an inflatable pfd will resolve your reentry issue? I don’t think it will.
  2. What is your backup plan if your inflatable pfd gets punctured, and starts to deflate? The reason I ask this is because you have already stated you have problems reentering your kayak,and that is with a pfd that won’t deflate if punctured.

    There are hundreds of responses to questions about inflatable pfds in the archive section on pnet.

    In all likelihood, there are many more responses there than you will get to your post.


I have one…
…made by Hobie. It’s lightweight and very comfortable and on hot days on a calm lake where a swim to shore would be easy it’s perfect. For absolutely anything else - rough and/or big water, cold weather, etc - I wear a bulky but effective Kokatat.

I considered an inflatable
when the design of my Stohlquist got in the way of getting back in my boat. Front pockets and zippers were my issue. They would catch on the cockpit coaming.

Looking at USCG approved inflatables online, I realized manual inflation was necessary since paddling is a wet sport. And if inflated, then all of the inflation seems to be in the front. When I’m trying to flip my boat to empty it, I want my PFD to support me front and back. Inflatables also require some maintenance and testing - and can be punctured, as Bob noted.

Nor did I see how I could carry carry a whistle I could easily reach (USCG requirement) or even the barest essentials such as a phone and car keys. A VHF radio? Forget about it. You need the important stuff on you, not attached to your boat.

After voicing my frustration in a different thread, a Pnet member suggested an Astral YTV. Clean front with two small side pockets. Problem solved. The stuff I need to carry on me is stashed in a Kokatat Tactic Pack, attached to the back of the Astral.

BTW, don’t hesitate to use a paddle float and heel hook rather than the cowgirl. What counts is getting back in your boat, not how you do it.

Water temps on Lake Superior are still in the 30s/40s, with some 50s near shore.

My wife wears one
It can be set to auto inflate when it gets wet or only inflate when manually activated. She wears it when it’s over 90 and over 95% humidity And she’s over 90% certain she won’t actually need a PFD… If it’s a little choppy she wears a standard one.

If it’s set to autoinflate a lapful of water will inflate it. Manufacturer recomends carrying a spare canister and replacing it immediately if it has been activated.I think re-entry would be more difficult while wearing one. It’s basically just a loose fitting horse collar.

I bought one for me after I bought hers thinking it might come in handy but I have never actually used it.

different re-entry - heel hook
Keep in mind - if you aren’t using an inflated PFD you will be lower in the water. Even though the uninflated inflatable may cause less catching as you get on your back deck, you are starting from a lower point (deeper in the water), which may cause new problems.

If you are always with others and the issue is getting yourself back into the boat, there may be another option rather than replacing PFD. That is to change the way you get back into the boat. Instead of diving on the back deck, try the heel hook version. The rescuer does pretty much all the same for a T-rescue, just the person in the water does different (so you don’t need to retrain your rescuers).

Here is information from Gordon brown rescue video:

thanks and…

– Last Updated: Jul-07-15 3:06 PM EST –

BOB - Thanks....I suppose when all is said and done, I will stick with my trusty Kokatat (love the little hand warmer pockets!) and what I really need to do is focus on strength training and skill's just the arthritis,rotator cuff, and A-G-E stuff that keeps getting in the way - should have started paddling 30 years sooner!

Yes, L. Superior is cold. We did a 12-day trip last year...water was chilly!

I’ll stick with my Kokatat - thanks!

Marine radio, whistle, chapstick, and the million other things I like nearby will send me looking at the one you suggested…but, in the end, will probably stay with old faithful!

Stormy Seas Inflatable PFD Is What
I wear under my race jersey when doing the 32 mile Molokai solo kayak race when the winds go over 20 kts. and you can’t see your escort boat due to the big ocean swells. It’s so comfortable, that I’ve even forgotten to take it off after the race until I got home later that evening around 11pm.

Anyway, no matter which brand you choose, inflatables are high maintenance that require thorough washing and drying. They need to be inspected and tested before going out everytime.

And there’s a trick to remounting with a bulky pfd:

You got to sink yourself first, then immediately hoist yourself straight up and into the boat with a little assist of the pfd’s buoyancy.