Wearing a PFD at all times or maybe not?

Just a basic, Monday morning, curiosity question… We all know Federal Law states that a wearable PFD absolutely must be onboard for each person. But then, certain states, certain various laws, have changed to wear you must wear it at all times, or you don’t exactly have to wear it, but still have it readily accessible should the need be.

As seen in my Avatar, I have a Type III PFD behind me and an shown not wearing it. Here in Virginia, the James River is like that of the Susquehanna in PA. 3 ft deep… 4 ft deep… before you hit Richmond – or the section near the Bosher Dam where it’s slightly navigable with powerboats.

Getting to the point: I have a Cayman 124 sit-on Fishing Kayak that is incredibly stable, 10’ 4", and weighs 52 lbs. I don’t always wear my PFD, as seen in the photo, but I ALWAYS have it with me as required by law. Not to be rude or saying I shouldn’t be saying, but… The James River in VA? Pffffttt… should something happen - just stand up in the water, and get back in! LOL… Then again… Now, now… Then again, I can understand it if I went out below Richmond, where it’s dredged out, 30’ deep, and so on. I would definitely wear my PFD! Same if I were paddling on a large lake 50’… 60’… feet deep!

What do you think? How many always ALWAYS wear their PFD without question?

I always wear my PFD, even during pool practice when there’s a lifeguard sitting six feet away.

I see no reason to not wear it. It is a LIFE jacket, after all.


For insurance against unforeseeable accidents and so I can require kids to wear them without being hypocritical.


Always. I’ve read of too many drownings in the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers as well as other places where the depth was only three feet or get out and walk deep. Folks try to rationalize their decisions thinking they’ve covered all the variables. Except they don’t.


Firstly, you can drown in shallow water. It just takes one medical event or head smack for things to go badly.

Secondly, paddling deaths are on the increase. Read this: An Unsettling Trend: Paddling Deaths See Increase In Latest Coast Guard Report - Paddling Magazine.

I would argue that since The Water Sports Foundation has chosen to partner with Tractor Supply and Dick’s Sporting goods, many of those paddling deaths are happening on Inland waters, lakes and fishing holes where kayakers believe they can stand up or swim to shore so it’s no big deal.

It is interesting that the majority of deaths occurred in those with less than 100 hours of paddle time.

Paddling alone also raises the need to be more conservative. I paddle alone all the time, actually prefer it. I always have all my safety gear: PFD, paddle float, pump, spare paddle, VHF, SOS device, first aid kit and leave a float plan with my husband. I do this even when I paddle a local reservoir (where my VHF would be useless) because always putting on the gear makes it second nature.

Lastly, when you run an errand in your car, I’m assuming you buckle up even if the trip is just around the corner. NTSA tells us that accidents occur within a few miles of home likely because the driver is familar with the area and complacent, running on “autopilot” so to speak. That same reasoning is valid for waterways we frequent.


Thanks for all the great replies…

This past weekend (Father’s Day sales) I picked up a really nice mesh dedicated fishing PFD from Cabela’s. Very nice, very comfortable, numerous pockets and even rubber fishing lure storage (w/protection from getting jabbed). I now wear it whenever I go kayaking, as I filled the compartments with assorted fishing lures that I made (and they work!).

If you look at my Avatar, you’ll see my Cayman 124 Sit-on fishing kayak, and a yellow/black PFD behind me in the bungee storage area. That belonged to my (late) brother-in-law. I adjusted the straps, etc… so it would fit me, but still… It’s a common Type III waterskiing PFD and not a fishing PFD.


Always. No exceptions. It’s a critical piece of safety gear, equivalent to my bicycle helmet. The PFD is the last thing that goes on as I pack my boat, it gets fastened before I get to the shoreline. It stays fastened until the boat is out of the water and on its way back to the car.

It cannot save your life if it’s not on you!


I now stop at recommending that you should always follow the law. Many paddlers don’t like being encumbered like a baseball umpire. However, I make a point that any members in my group wear the PFD really if something happens to me, I don’t want the other person to waste valuable time with safety gear. You never know when you or another person will have a health issue, or you may come across a person in distress. Its foolish to attemp any rescue if you aren’t prepared - seconds count.

Coping with heat and humidity, especially during summer months is troublesome. When I buy a PFD, I make sure the bottom front has a buckle so the vest doesnt slip over my head if I open the zipper to ventilate. I also preder a high back so it doesn’t interfere with the seat, and it needs an attachment point for a VHF radio.

The problems start the moment you capsize in wind or current. If you have gear in the boat, it compounds the problem, because you have to decide whether to go after the boat, a paddle, fishing gear, sponges, water bottles, PFD, hat, cooler . . .

My though is that safety gear should be automatic. It’s not prudent to decide when the opportune moment has arrived to actually wear the safety equipment. As an example, if the boat capsized, you will probably have to decide whether90⁰ to chase a wind blown PFD that cost $149, or a paddle that cost $500 and is necessary to be able to get back home, your favorite $19 hat, or the tackle box full of lures. Safety gear should be automatic. If it’s in place, you can depend on it.

One member pointed out that the PFD is only an aid to floatation. Various models offer diffent levels of protection for keeping your face out of the water. So even with a PFD, you could be faced with a struggle for survival.

In a situation where survival depends on having an edge, take advantage of every asset that’s available. Make wearing your PFD authomatic for peace of mind.

I’ve paddled the Jametown section of the James River. My opinion is that the James is as powerful or moreso that the Upper Chesapeake Bay. The navigable segments of the Susquehanna River from York to Havre de Grace can also be challenging.

Your life depends on your judgement - for what it’s worth!


@Bobonli, when I go out with my brother in his power boat, the PFD goes on when I get out of the truck, and it doesn’t come off until I get in the cab of the truck.

It’s automatic reflex action.


This is a topic I feel pretty strong about and I grew up on Lake Erie venturing out 5 miles or more fishing in powerboats as small as 16’. I can’t ever remember wearing a PFD unless we were way out there and the weather changed suddenly and we felt a good chance we could be going into rough water. We went water skiing wearing a foam belly belt that was required at the time. We jumped around in the back seat of the car as kids going down the interstate as our moms sat in the front seat holding the baby on their lap. People felt cigarettes were fine as long as they had a filter and it was good for pregnant women to have a couple drinks. I never heard of a bike helmet until I was well into adult life and my son fully grown. Somehow we stayed alive thru all that and what seemed ok then seem ridicules now.

Now I’m pushing 70 live on a small PA river that’s maybe 40 yards wide and runs between 20’ deep and 6” deep is slow moving and every year requires several fire calls to rescue someone and a fatality every 5 or so years. It is river that can still be ice cold in the spring when the air is in the 70s and people penned up all winter are ready for summer. It is also a party river where a lot of young people in Walmart kayaks do a lot of sun bathing and drinking. My guess is 85% of the people going down river have their PFD laced to the seat back for extra padding or crammed in under the deck or held on top of the deck all dried out looking from years of sun. The ones wearing PFDs are the young kids with an adult that law says need to wear them and a few people setting examples for kids and some of us old timers that would rather be part of the solution rather than the problem. We have an event each summer for the fire department where close to 500 paddlers go out in about an hour. The coast guard comes with 5 or so people and check that you have a whistle and your boat has a launch sticker and will even give your boat a safety inspection and a sticker. But they watch boat after boat shove off with no PFDs being worn and say nothing.

I think the worst part is lack of education here. when I see a party of say 6-8 young adults go out there is normally 1-2 guys providing the boats and the rest have no clue and likely can’t swim even but follow the lead of what their friends are doing.

I always wear mine and if I get into a stretch where I know the water is a foot deep for a few miles and its supper hot out I might unzip it half way.

I have learned to refrain on offering advice unless I’m asked. That goes for PFDs as well as securing boats to car roofs. Last year I paddled up on two teen girls and said hi as I was passing both just in swimsuits and no PFD in sight and they started asking me how much longer to get to their takeout point. The water was 40f was pretty deep and they had 3-4 hours to go as they were just floating. I asked them if they were good swimmers after I told them how long it would be. They said not to good. I told them you know if you go in that cold water its really hard to breath and swim and having the PFD on might make a big difference. It was like the first time they even thought about it. They thanked me and were trying to get them out when I left them.

The whole thing seems crazy to me most of these cheap sit inside kayaks have no added flotation to boot. But then I think back to when I was that age and I wonder if wouldn’t have done the same thing.

My opinion is better safe than sorry and it doesn’t bother me to wear it and maybe I set an example here and there. I have also had quite a few young guys comment on my canoe and they ask questions about my float bags and such. When I get a chance I will give some advice.

Cold or cool moving water trying to secure the boat and stay with it and ether reenter or get it to shore to reenter while trying to capture what got away and is floating I think a PFD will help even if the water is only waist deep, and it can’t hurt.


In the past 20+ years I have worn my PFD on every paddle no matter the heat or quiet water with one exception about 15 years ago…about 4 miles of a river paddle was mostly dragging the kayak along a gentle Southern river over about 4 inches of water above a sandy bottom. Occassionally paddled a few hundred yards in 6 inches to 1 foot of water w/o wearing my PFD.


@bud16415, it is so true. That brings bsck vivid memories. In the 70s, we carried PFDs when we paddled the river in our canoe and only put them on when we reached rapids. We rarely wore a PFD on a power boat. It apparently made sense back then, but I can’t explain or justify the logic of it now.

Perhaps we feel invincible when young, but I think the more you’ve invested in life, the more precious life becomes. At 18 yrs old, you really haven’t struggled and don’t have much wealth. By the time you lived into
your late 60s and 70s years of age, you’ve worked a lifetime and are set to retire or already have. You may be busted up and worn out, but if you planned properly, at least you’re on a fixed income and reaping the benefit of a lifetime of learning and laboring. Probably in the back of my minf, I’m thinking, "what if in my golden years, I go out to have fun and fall in the water (you probably already found out that when you need help, it typically isn’t available). No, I don’t count on rescue. That happens in movies. I want to hang around and spend my children’s inheritance. Besides, the longer I’m around, the more that pot grows.

I guess it just depends on what you think your life is worth. Since I don’t expect to be around for another 70 years, the time I have left suddenly seems more valuable than the first 70.


I have never understood the logic of having a PFD on your boat but not wearing it. Do people actually put them on in the water? That seems like it would be mighty difficult, especially in choppy and/or cold and/or fast-moving water.


I feel seen. :joy:


Out of habit (a good one) I carry all my safety gear and wear my pfd etc. I even consider my storm cag as an item of safety gear. Nevertheless … a counterexample:
Freya Hoffmeister, the famous expedition paddler, typically wears her pfd, but occasionally in calm conditions she has gone without in order to heal from the pfd chafing that long distance paddling incurs. That or infection I suppose.


At times, you got to do what you got to do. Sometimes I stay home instead.

The advantage of a conscious decision is awareness of your circumstance. To simply discard the thought as an unnessecary encumbencec is a conscious effort to put the PFD out of mind, which is a bad place to be when the fates get hold of you.


Based on past threads related to this topic, I would guess most here do.


I never wear a PFD in the shower, the bath tub or in a rain storm.

That’s it. That’s the only times I get wet without one on.


I’m almost afraid to type this… I don’t always wear a PFD.

In the winter I wear a dry suit, aka personal portable sauna, and PFD all the time. But once things start to warm up i have a choice of ditching the dry suit, stashing the PFD on the back bungies, or heat stroke. I pushed to too hard once and started feeling faint from overheating in spite of keeping my head soaked. That can get dangerous fast.

I’ve tried submerging myself with the dry suit on, no dice; so much air trapped around the clothes that I couldn’t get my head under. So I wear the dry suit and the PFD goes on the back bungies. Once the water warms up the dry suit stays in the closet and the PFD stays on me.

If I lived in a place that required PFDs I would probably get a zero R-value inflatable.

Aside: I see people “wearing” PFDs all the time while floating (I won’t call it paddling) down the river in the summer. Half the time the PFDs are unfastened and hanging from their shoulders. And almost always when they are fastened they are so loose that they will ride up on the torso. It should be tight, like hard to take a deep breath tight, or they won’t do the job they are designed for.


I always wear a regular foam pfd, no matter the temps.

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