make your own PFD???

I was just at an outfitter and tried on a 130 dollar PFD. Nothing like a real nice PFD to remind you that the one you own is crap (and it is, its the cheapest I could find). As most things I want, I like to make them myself. Has anybody tried this or know of any information about doing this? My wife is going to require some real info or just buying a cheapo and using ALL the foam in it to make mine. It would appear the cheapest source of flotation foam would be a walmart cheapo vest, but does anybody know of a source of floatation foam? Does anybody know of how much foam you need to make it work?

thanks for any info,


I wouldnt
i’d look at it sorta like making my own parachute.

seems to me proper foam placement is the key here to be sure you float face up vs face down if you where incapacited.

I think I would leave design and construction to the pros

if you decide to make one defiantley test it in varios water condtions and let us know how it does

You Can…
I have but, it also have about six PFDs and know a bit about how the floatation should be distributed for me. I also have a sewing machine and know how to stitch. I only did it to make a less high floating PFD (definitely not coast guard approved) for surfing. I still really have not gone and use it much, not having been in really BIG waves which I want to dive under rather than get pounded by…

Anyway, minicell foam is a good floatation material to use inside. Good resiliency with a nice closed cell structure. However, by the time all is said and done with buying foam and nylon, nylon webbing, buckles, etc., never mind labor, you will find it’s actually quite economical to buy a good fitting PFD than making an ill fitting one yourself.


Coast Guard
I do believe that most states, if not all, require Coast Guard approved floatation devices, for every passenger, to be on board every boat.

Coast Guard approved needed for kayaks. Waveski may be exempted since it can be argued that it’s really a surf board.


I’m cheap too but it’s not worth it.
If you ever have to swim for your life in moving water you don’t want the thing riding up over your head or tipping you so you can’t get your head out of the water to swim. I bought a $120 dolar 2004 Astral on sale for ~$70 bucks earlier this summer, it fits really well and works really well, does not ride up when swimming in waves. By the time you buy all the stuff I doubt you are going to do better than a a decent 50-70 coast guard approved vest.

The best is barely good enough.
I feel the same about neuro surgeons as I do about PFDs. The best is barely good enough. For that $130 you get a lot of design and testing to go with the foam and nylon. The jacket that I’m wearing right now has 15 ½ lbs of flotation. Last winter while I was being re-circulated in Cindys Hole for the third or fourth time, I was wishing it had a lot more flotation. I guess a lot depends on what you’re doing on the water. If you’re sitting on your PFD in a jon-boat, a Wal-Mart special is entirely adequate. If you are in whitewater, I’m back to that “best in barely good enough” thing. I don’t paddle on the ocean but I would bet that the “best is barely good enough” applies there also. Another consideration for me is how comfortable the vest is. I have found a correlation between the cost of the vest and how it feels after you have done a 14 mile paddle. A PFD that is rubbing your underarms raw is no bargain at any price. I saw by your profile that you are new to paddling and you have moved into an area where there is ton of great whitewater. You may be upgrading your equipment to keep pace with your increasing skill level before long. Go ahead and upgrade your safety equipment first. Just my rambling and worth exactly what you paid for it.

I hope my PFD is coast guard approved…
I bought two cheap PFD’s from REI just assuming they are coast guard approved. The funny thing is I would have gone with a more expensive one, but figured my wife didn’t want to see the price tag. When they arrived she said they looked ugly. :^) So the moral of the story is to check with the wife first, she might actually be willing to pay more for better quality.

It just so happens…
It just so happens that I was in North Carolina(annual pilgrimage) earlier this month, doing some whitewater canoeing. I took the nastiest swim I’ve ever taken since I started paddling whitewater. Lost control of the boat in highly aerated water; brace failed, foot was momentarily caught, and ended up doing a class 3 with boat on top of me.

Got slammed down by boat as I went over two drops. Slammed in middle of my back by rock on bottom; head also got slammed into a rock on bottom, as did right elbow that got bloodied. Held onto paddle, but had no idea where boat was; it eddied out on it’s own. My only concern was grabbing the throw rope & getting out of the river, which I did.

The $120.00 I spent on my pfd (Lotus Rio Bravo), and the $65.00 I spent on my helmet(Pro-Tec Ace Wake) seemed like peanuts. They both did exactly what they were designed to do; money well spent! I got the breath knocked out of me, got my chimes rung, got bloodied, got humbled on a rapid I’d successfully run over 20 times, and I’m going back & do it again next year. I may invest in some elbow pads.

Buy a good pfd!


I once made a 30 lb flotation vest from
a Wildwater Designs kit. Unfortunately for you, Wildwater Designs is not longer in business.

I suggest you patiently shop for cheaper PFDs.

I applaud your spirit
but I would leave this stuff to the pros. I got caught in a nasty undertow when I was younger and have always gone overboard when it comes to safety. Dont play with your life. I need ya around so I can ask more stupid newby questions.

Walmart pfd’s can be used for canoeing
and kayaking in general. A Type III pfd may be used for most boating. So, the old orange blocky $5 pfd meets the requirement and WILL do as good a job of saving your life as a $100 pfd. Then, it gets down to looks, comfort, type of activity, and those sorts of things. For some activities, white water, for example, you probably want a pfd designed for that use, but its not required except by some outfitters maybe and can be required by state law. For extra safety, a pfd that keeps your mouth and nose above water is available, but they’re damn uncomfortable for all day use. See the following link for the neigh from the horse’s mouth:


– Last Updated: Aug-28-05 6:51 AM EST –

At first I posted a message that was a real long message about why I thought it was ok to try it anyway... who cares :). Thanks for the info. According the coast guard site, the approved PFD only needs to be in the boat and readily accessible. So I can strap the one I already have behind me and use it as a paddle float and still be legal. Asside from that, many people do make their own parachutes. Realistically there is nothing magical about PFD's, they are still foam, fabric, webbing and buckles. By studying whats out there already, it shouldn't be that hard to find out what works and why. The reason why I want my make my own is that making your own equipment is a very fufilling hobby. Its not realy about saving money, altough you definately do as everything is costom fitted to you and exactly how you like it. I will keep y'all updated on how it goes. IF it doesn't work, I still have my el cheapo that works just fine.
Thanks for your honest opinions,

See Where You Coming From…
I like to tinker and make things too. Already made a non coast guard approved (for less floatation) design. I think with a sewing machine and good stitching skills, it ain’t really a big thing to do. I just didn’t find it cost effective because you can’t buy materials in bulk for savings as a manufacturer would. But if you want to do just to say you that you did… Power to you.


bubble wrap
just wrap yourself up tightly in a lot of it. floats great. remember to leave holes for your arms and head.

good less expensive pfds
my favorite pfd so far is the extrasport challenger. its light and comfortable. about $50. any other suggestions for good pfd’s that dont cost much?

Dont throw it in the boat.
Your honest about your level of experience and we applaud you for that. Bank that great humility now and wear the pfd at least until your a bit more experienced. Technically we should all wear ours all the time but some (including me) don’t under certain conditions based on our experience and the waters being paddled.


wrong idea
Thanks for the conern. If you read my profile, its completely wrong. I’ve been paddling long enough not to be a beginner. My comment about putting the PFD behind me would be for legal reasons and wear the homemade one that is not coast guard approved (but still completely capable). I never go paddling without a PFD…


coast guard approval
Since you made one yourself from a kit, was it coast guard approved? Or was this before the rule? I noticed that the last mention of that company name according to the internet was in 1993 or 95. There seems to be an issue about being approved. I know my abilities and comfort levels and would never make anything that isn’t funcional but being legal is a pain in the butt it would appear.

Thanks for any info,


Wildwater Designs kits
Charlie Walbridge marketed these back in the '70s, when choices for serious paddlers were not good. His design was a “high float”, with extra foam over the shoulders. Great value, but with the arrival of CG approved type III’s there was no way to get approval for a kit, as the CG submittal process includes strength of straps etc and the variables of home builders could not be accounted for. But it was a good design, and the Extrasport High Float is essentially the same.

What you migh save dollar-wise by DIY you might find erased in the form of a fine issued by a conservation officer. Consider a good PFD to be part of the cost of doing business. Get over it.