On wearing your life jacket

I’ve been on an awful lot of canoe trips. Most of them ones I put together.
Almost without exception, the people that consider themselves “swimmers” end up taking their life jacket off, on the water, sometime during the trip. Many never put them on.
Big mistake. A good swimmer not wearing a life jacket is more likely to drown than a non swimmer wearing one.
I consider myself a non swimmer, but if you put me and your average person, in life jackets, and dump us in the middle of a lake, I will beat most of them to shore because, while they are drinking beer and watching sports on TV, I’m working out. In a couple hours I’m leaving on a very hilly 45 mile bike ride. That would kill most of the people taking their life jackets off while paddling.
The best way to stay safe, on the water, is to stay in shape and wear your life jacket at all times.

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If you paddle you are going to get wet. It rarely is predictable or comes with any warning. Poof the boat capsizes and you are wet. It might be cold, it might be moving water, it might be windy. That is the wrong time to figure out where your life jacket is.

I have organized a lot of trips over the last 50 years. One rule, wear a lifejacket or don’t get in the boat. Some people “forget to put it on.” Some refuse to wear it. I paddled with one guy that wore open hip waders for fishing while paddling in a cold fast river. He kept “forgetting to wear it.” I never paddled with him again.


If you are out of your boat without a life jacket you cannot effectively help with your own rescue. In water over your head much of your energy and use of your arms is dedicated to keeping your head above water. Grabbing a thrown line, weighting down one end of the boat in a T rescue, etc., all become secondary to keeping your head above water.

Wear the life jacket.


These posts are always just an echo chamber.

You’re talking to the more serious paddlers here. We all know the importance of a pfd


There’s one (or two) in every crowd. Just took this photo today while walking at local park along the Potomac River in Virginia. Ramp chained off due to high water.
At least these fellows are wearing PFD’s. They were just returning from somewhere upstream and headed back to their car.



What I have found on the internet and forums for every regular frequent poster there are a dozen lurkers reading and never posting and likely not even members.

Yes the experienced paddlers understand the needs of PFDs and when we see pictures of the clueless risking their lives most of them don’t even give it a thought. They just do what everyone else is doing.

I even blame my state a little they don’t tell me I have to only wear a seat belt during the winter months and then the rest of the year I have to have them in my car is all. In this case the same rules are for 80’ cabin cruiser as a $200 8’ rec kayak from Walmart with no flotation that will sink like a rock.

I’m the first to say we live in a free country and we are free to do stupid things if we want and our freedom ends where we put someone else in danger. A good case could be made for that with wearing a PFD.

It is a personal choice still here and people should figure it out for themselves. I spent many years out on Lake Erie miles from shore fishing on calm days with waist high gunwales and the PFD clearly there if we needed it or if we were moving. If the weather got bad and it can quickly we all buckled up. I didn’t find the risk something I wasn’t ready for. Now I’m in my canoe 10’ from shore under a shade tree with an anchor out in warm waist deep water letting my fishing bait drift down stream. I will be honest I might take my PFD off and cool down.

If I had kids with me I would keep mine on as an example why they are keeping theirs on.

If the state said I had to I guess I wouldn’t risk a fine. :canoe:

I’m at the other end of that spectrum. I wear my PFD even during pool practice with a lifeguard 20 feet away.


Nothing wrong with that. I don’t have a deep fear of water being around it all my life, but I do have a great respect for it.

Us kids all the way thru high school had a tradition to have a beach party every Memorial Day on a beach in our town on Lake Erie. It became a thing to have the first swim of the year during it. OMG I could never survive a plunge into that cold water today. Young and crazy is all I can say. We had such a beautiful warm spring this year and I had the new to me canoe and wanted so much to try it out. I watched the river temp every day and said not yet. Maybe next year I will get some warm gear for colder water. The crazy thing was as soon as the air was warm I was seeing kids in swimsuits in cheap walmart kayaks in the river no PDF and I just cringed.

In NYS if your boat is under 21’ and you’re in it from Nov to April you need a PFD on. So they can make a law if they want on kayaks.

As I posted here in April or May neighbor has party for his son’s 15 the birthday canal has bunch of skinny kids in 50° F water. No PFD’s on, most no PFD with them, some on paddle boards, some in rec kayaks. it’s rediculous.

Watching boats leaving the canal yesterday kids on boats 4-5 years old no PFD on.

Kayak group on FB some 3,000+ members mostly newbies 95% or more. It’s like talking to the wall with most of them. Few deaths here has got the attention of some. Some continue on with a hundred excuses why T shirt and no PFD is on them. I trudge on I know I helped some see the dangers. There’s just no help for many if them they have the long list of excuses.


Let me get this straight. You say you organize trips. And that on these trips you organize, people refuse to wear a life jacket. You continue to have ZERO idea who you are talking to.

If you going on paddles with a lot of people who refuse to wear a PFD you are choosing your companions very badly. In fact making a choice there that most of us posting do not. My local paddle has had a PFD-required rule a long time, we are typical in terms of organized groups led by people posting on this board.

If you want to get really picky, after some poor experiences with an adult who could not swim but thought just wearing a PFD was enough, my husband and I and friends put non-swimmers on our list of people we would not take out. The guy was panicking every time he ended up in the water - which due to some other choices he had made was not infrequently - and after the second trip where he would come up by the boat gasping in water he could stand up in we told him to get swimming lessons before we would go out with him again.

The YMCA has two levels of classes for non-swimmers. With CoVid restrictions ending most places I expect that these classes will be starting again. Or private lessons. Especially if you are going out with people you seriously think are going to drown on you, as an adult you should not only get swimming lessons but take it to a level where you learn how to help someone in trouble.

At the least you need to rethink how to plan a trip. I and most I know refused to bring out people with that attitude a long time ago.

You should also rethink suggesting that you are somehow more fit than anyone you are talking to here. This board is chock full of people who work very hard - literally - to be able to paddle the way they want. And have all of their lives.


I have been around people who panic in the water and they are more than a danger to themselves. That was my point above where their rights end when mine are being infringed upon.

A panicked person trying to be helped and me in an easily tipped boat is not a good situation.

It is not enough for them to assume their own responsibility because once in trouble others will get involved.

This is where I disagree with the OP assumption that a non swimmer in a PFD is safer than a good swimmer without. A good swimmer with a PFD is the best, but even a good swimmer without a PFD will likely stay in control of themselves when put in the water.

Of course cold water and having little kids unprotected multiply all the risk factors and when events unfold as they do anything done proactive helps.

I watched a family launch the other day. The teen daughter was buckled into a PFD and she took off in her own rec kayak clearly not wanting to be seen with mom and dad in a tandem canoe. The son seemed to be a special needs child and he was put in a PFD in the center seat Mom and Dad jumped in with nothing but a seat pad PFD and off they went. The top of the lake was strangled in the area they were going with aquatic vegetation and only thin breaks in it could be paddled. IMO it was a disaster in the making and I questioned them as they went out and the mom said oh its fine we do it all the time the plants are no problem.

Do something enough time and it becomes safer is not really logical to me. :canoe:


You are not a leader I would trust… You seem to fail to understand that on a trip it’s not about you; its about the people in the group.

Why are you even here. Your bragging is nauseating and your attitude is condescending. You really do not know your audience. We are not impressed.


Wearing a PFD when paddling is basically the same as buckling a seat belt when driving.

It can be done, however it takes an almost unimaginable, extraordinary reason not to buckle a seat belt or wear a PFD.


I’m usually within 10 feet of shore in water waist deep or less and I always wear a PFD (and I’m a lifeguard). Our rivers are low and there are lots of underwater obstacles to hit and lots of sunken trees to get tangled up in and if I bump my head on the way out its game over without a PFD. I suspect that many people that think they are good swimmers have minimal recent experience swimming in open water or moving water. I think I’m “lucky” in that there were two deaths on my local river on the stretch I usually paddle and one of them was the safety guy for a local kayak club. He was in his 30’s and fit and was in the rear of a group and just didn’t show up at the takeout. I’ve also seen people suddenly go under at pools that would never have come up without help. Not trying to lecture anyone, I just think it’s much easier to die in water than most people realize.


Don’t feed the troll.


You don’t have to be in a boat. Not to long ago we had a couple hiking and had experience with water. They were crossing a waterway and he slipped hit his head and was taken down stream. They searched for a couple months before he was found stuck under logs and brush.

Moving water is a powerful force, years ago we used to raft in the Youghioghney and there was a section they called the swimming rapids, smooth bottom fast current and not real deep. It was imposable to stand if the water was much above your ankles. Hikers always think its only knee deep lets cross here.

Everyone is correct if you are in the water a PFD should be on. :canoe:


From sophomore year in high school (1956) we took yearly canoe trips to the Boundary Waters for most of the next 12 years. No pfds, no understanding of hypothermia, no clue. Also no crowds, no permits, no attention paid to the Canadian border. We survived. As an older kayaking adult I always wear a pfd and will not kayak with those who don’t.

A counter example: The well known expedition paddler, Freya Hofmeister, has circumnavigated this and that (now working on North America) and mostly wears her pfd. But in hotter climates and calmish conditions, she will take it off to relieve the endless chafing which can become infected and pose a health hazard.

I know a volunteer to sooth her chaffing. :laughing:

People with some fat float better. Skip some biking and take some swimming lessons. As a leader I think you need to know how to swim.

Best way to stay safe is know how to swim and wear a PFD.

Anyone who could not swim I would need to see them in the water with a PDF. I’d like to see them jump off a dock and make sure they’re comfortable and trusting of a PFD.


In cold fast water everyone is a bad swimmer.