Rescue PFDs?

Since my swimming ability is very limited, I buy good life jackets.
I generally look for a lot of floatation but fit, comfort, freedom of movement and not looking ridiculous are also considerations.
I have about half a dozen life preservers. My most recent purchase is a Stohlquist Edge. Seems pretty good, but there aren’t any attachment points for leg loops. Seems like the only PFDs with attachment points for leg loops are rescue jackets. Unless you have a waist like a wasp, I think leg loops are a good idea. They keep the jacket from ending up on your face.
This brings me to a question. Who are rescue PFDs for? I always thought they were for the rescuers, but now I’m thinking they might be a good thing to have if you are the one being rescued.
Rescue PFDs a good idea?

The old Extrasport PFDs had interior nylon loops to allow installation of a crotch strap. Some Type V PFDs do also, and example being the Stohlquist Descent.

The problem with crotch straps is that it is very difficult to use one paddling a decked boat with a spray skirt since the spray skirt tunnel comes up higher than the attachment points of the crotch strap.

The primary feature of Type V rescue PFDs is a quick release belt that allows attachment of a cow tail or tow tether, or allows the wearer to be tethered for a V-lower, or strong swimmer (live bait) rescue. But they also typically have a sizable zippered front pocket and sometimes side pockets to allow stowage of additional rescue/safety gear.

I can imagine scenarios in which a person stranded on a rock mid river in the middle of a rapid might choose to attach themselves to a rope or bag thrown to them using the quick release belt to allow others to assist in their rescue, but primarily the rescue PFD is for the benefit of others.

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I have two Extrasport Hi-floats. Great preservers, but a little bulky and out of date, style wise.
I have crotch straps on one of them.
I paddle canoes, mostly, so haven’t encountered a problem with them.
There is a local company that will repair or customize outdoor gear.
I may just have them add straps to one of my other PFDs.

Extrasports were really very comfortable PFDs and I still have several, including a couple of Hi-floats. They did have waist belts and side cinch straps. But there basic cylindrical design did not allow them to conform to the torso of the paddler all that well.

Some of the modern designs have a cut that conforms to the torso much more closely and makes the PFD less likely to float up reducing the need for a crotch strap.

All rescue PFDs are all Type V per the current USCG classification scheme. Unfortunately, Type V is just a waste basket category for all “specialty” PFDs and does not denote any specific amount of buoyancy.

I just ordered a Kokatat Bahia Predator PFD I saw on sale. It has the waist belt and side cinch. I asked the online helper if that belt helped with riding up and a bunch of other questions and got some non answers back.

I’m hoping with the shoulder adjustments I can adjust it lower and then with the side and waist adjustments I can get that downward feeling.

The cheap front snap PFDs seem to always ride up as I’m tapered the wrong way a little as I got older. I never liked the feel of a crotch/leg strap and hoping to avoid having to go there.

I wasn’t aware that most PFDs had attachments for optional crotch belts. Interesting to hear.

Here is an article from Rafting Magazine on rescue PFDs:

Note - this article may be a touch dated, as the standards have changed from talking about PFDs as Type III and Type V to describing them by use.

I knew about the attachments for a tether as being one of the primary differences between rescue and regular PFDs. I was also under the impression that rescue PFDs had more flotation, but this wasn’t mentioned in the article. They said that both Type III and V could have between 15.5 and 22 pounds of flotation, where I thought the Type IIIs had the 15.5 pounds(ish) and rescues had 22.

A PFDs job is to keep a person’s head out of the water, so more flotation than what is needed for this (about 16 pounds) doesn’t help, and may actually hinder things like swimming ability. My understanding was that rescue PFDs did have more floation due to the chances of being in aerated water, where you would need more flotation to keep a head up.

For fast aerated water, PFDs need to be the best you can find. Leg straps are good, extra flotation is your friend. Good to have places for carabiners and attachments.

For flat water and typical Class II runs that most canoes and bigger kayaks run you have more choices. Comfort is important for long days in a boat. You are more likely to wear if it is comfortable.

I am aware that the USCG is revising their classification of PFDs which is long overdue. But I have yet to see what they have come up with as a replacement classification if it has been finalized.

No, Type V rescue PFDs do not necessarily have any more buoyancy than Type III PFDs and they vary. For example, the Stohlquist Descent has a sea level buoyancy of 17 lbs, the Kokatat Guide has less than 16 1/2 lbs in the S,M, and L sizes and 16 lbs 13 oz in the XL, and the very popular Astral Green Jacket has 16 1/2 lbs.

Kokatat Hustler stays down. Low cut never in my chin. No hour glass figure here. 6’ 235 lb. 38" waist. I have 5-6 jackets 5 Kokatat one Solquist. Thus is by far the best. Floatation is 18 lb. I think! Many are 16. I paddle CD boats with skirt and it does come up. My partner loves hers after 4 different jackets she’s had. She has regular I bought rescue. Few more features and heavier material.

The older rafting PFDs like the Extrasport High Float had 30 pounds of flotation.
That makes a big difference in aerated water.

My rescue vest is an older model by Stohlquist called the Max system.
It’s rated as a class III pfd with 15 1/2 pounds of buoyancy. I’m sure of that, having gone into the garage, dusted if off, and found out for sure.

I let my Swiftwater Rescue and Cave Rescue Instructor certifications expire years ago. A man has to know him limitations. My whitewater paddling/rescue days are over. My 3rd cave rescue was my last one. Also gave up my membership in local Fire Department Search and Rescue Team.


I’m with you. I was an instructor years ago, but blew a shoulder out and that pretty much ended those days for me. I wasn’t ever 100% trusting of my abilities again, so I didn’t want to be in a position where people’s live were at stake depending on me. I still frequently wear one of my rescue PFDs when I’m out… These days it’s usually on much mellower water though!