Wearing a PFD at all times or maybe not?

Your post reminded me of a time a couple of us went out in Lake Erie in a 16’ speed boat with a 50hp outboard to water ski. The motor died and we were stuck about a mile or so from the ramp. No paddle of course. If you have ever paddled a boat using a water ski as a paddle you will never forget to bring a couple paddles again. We made it within 50 yards of the ramp and someone spotted us and came flying out to offer us a tow. We said no thanks we got it.


Gosh. I don’t think I have paddled in water that warm. Sounds wonderful.


It gets up to around 86° in the summer. The problem is air temp of 94°. The great salvation is the wind speed. Mid July will see high 90s, high humidity and slight wind.

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You missed my point.

It’s not about what you DID do and how you handled it with confidence; it’s not about analyzing performance with electronic gizmos. It’s about what MIGHT have happened if the conditions had worsened. Your original post said you were taken by surprise by winds significantly higher than predicted and changing directions. The conditions could have continued to change.

A misjudged a wave, a missed brace, a rogue gust of wind and you’re in the drink. I’m sure you have a bombproof self rescue, but without a spray skirt, a roll will bring you back up with a flooded cockpit and a sponge.

Yes, risk assessment is a personal thing based on many factors. I’ll leave it at that.


In the smaller coves and rivers the waters around the Chesapeake Bay in the last few years it can get so warm that it’s not refreshing to swim in.

The Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and has a surface area of 4,479 square miles but only a mean depth of 21’. As such it warms and cools very rapidly and has some of the coldest
water in the winter for a large estuary.


You got something against sponges, KB?

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@KayakerBee, I did understand you comment. I was suprised, but not shocked. As I pointed out with the different graphs, I knew exactly what to anticipate. I have over 15 years of paddling this area. I paddled this route excusively nearly eighty times in the past four seasons. If you compare the charts, you can see that despite almost doubling the wind speed, I nearly compensated, but was set back 10 minutes by the unexpected wind change. My goal was a 1 hr 52 min trip that extended to 2 hrs 2 minutes. That’s a drop in the bucket, or a gallon in the kayak. My trips are thoroughly researched for current weather conditions, moving fronts (a weak line system was out in Ohio, but I knew it wasn’t going to arrive until hours later, and I believe it would fizzle once it hit the mountains). Conditions change for a reason and the reasons are typically telegraphed in advance . Tides are predictable. I carry a VHF tuned to the weather channel to monitor alerts. However, I do agree that forcasts are often not as posted. Despite the harsher than usual conditions, a slow start, and the unanticipated wind veering, I still had as much anaerobic energy to spike above my average speed.

I’m comfortable with my preparedness. Thanks for pointing issues.

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Did you wear your PFD during this adventure?

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I don’t care what anyone does, I always wear a PFD, even in dead calm. It’s like a seat belt to me. The way I see it, if the boat capsized, the paddle is the most valuable equipment on the kayak, and I can’t get back without it. That’s the first thing to save.

The PFD is $150. It floats high and will catch any wind or current, so if you aren’t wearing it, chances are it will probably lead to your drowning if you try to chase it and miss.

I wear it so its one thing I won’t have to worry about.


Take notice that I’ve never asked for advice on bracing, managing waves, wind or current, needed any explanation about tide cycles, staying upright, information about paddling long distance, how to go faster, staying upright in a tippy kayak, what paddle length is best, interpreting weather patterns . . .

I’m sure any advice is well-meaning, but it seems a but condescending to imply that I’m unaware of the dangers lurking out there. It makes me feel like maybe I shouldn’t be going that far from land when its windy.

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Well, I used to paddle whitewater rivers, and the rule in my AMC chapter was a PFD must always be worn, except in flat or brownwater (i.e. no rapids), it must be within reach. Now I paddle open water sea kayaking, Long Island Sound, and occassionally, coastal Atlantic Ocean. Obviously, a PFD is a must for the above. Because of this, putting on my PFD has become such a habit that I don’t even think about whether I should wear it on a pond… THAT SAID… there is still a LOT of grey between a pond and the ocean. I don’t know this river at all, but things you must consider: 1., Just because it’s only 3-4’ deep don’t assume you can always “just stand up”. You would be surprised how little current it takes at that depth to knock you off your feet. 2, what is the landscape like? Does the river have bends with over-hanging or submerged branches? These are called “strainers”. Even in current that otherwise seems tame, they can be deadly if there is any significant current: the water flows freely under them, but you don’t, so it traps you and pulls you down. A PFD gives you a fighting chance. 3, How wide is this river? If you flip, it is incredibly easy to get separated from your boat. Maybe you’re Mark Spitz, but are you sure you would be able to swim to safety? (See above re current and strainers.) 4, What time of year are you talking about and what is the water temp?


Always. We were paddling in a shallow, quiet river here in RI - and some yahoo in a jon boat came barreling around a curve WAYY too fast, swamped my kayak with his wake, and damn near t-boned another kayaker. Which might have been fatal. Anyone getting hit and injured without a PFD would have sunk like a stone. It’s not always about the water or your skill or your boat or the weather. ALWAYS.


We had two deaths in RI on the 4th of July. Two men went out for a late night paddle and didn’t return. Both bodies were found the following day. It’s a small pond, and conditions were calm. The police haven’t released more than the names and ages. Both were relatively young men – 37 and 52. It is easy to speculate about what happened.

As president of one of the local paddle clubs, I was interviewed by a local news station on paddling safety, and put in a plug for PFD use.

In RI it is required by law anyway. Getting paddling safety down to 30 seconds is harder than you think.


Great job of summing up paddleboat safety in 30 seconds.

It is always so sad to hear of these events. We were out on our river yesterday as the day of the actual holiday is always a little bit to much activity for our liking. Even two days later it was pretty busy and as normal with holidays there, was lots of infrequent boaters in cheap boats without much flotation, not wearing PFDs and doing excessive drinking. I believe the drinking is the curse of a slow moving deep river where the span between the put-in and take-out points is about 6 hours of float time. Sunburn seems to be a big problem as well.

It is almost a case of the easier the water conditions with little to no water movement and warm summer condition with warm water it lulls novice boaters into a feeling of safety.


Life is a series of managing risks. I always wear my PFD, I won’t drink alcohol before or during any water outing (I wonder if that was a contributing factor in the featured accident)), I don’t use a spray skirt, and prefer to paddle alone. That’s my risk acceptance. Nothing anyone offers will change my perspective. Don’t cry for me if I misjudge. It’s just part of the calculated risks that makes life a bit more meaningful.

Sometimes I enhance my chances against the things that try to bring my life to an end, by strapping into a recliner and watching others ride close to the edge.

I know! Olympic level kayaking is the epitome of grueling physical edurance sport performed by the most daring of the daring, which requires the utmost physicsl exertion to paddle up to and beyond the hull speed of a boat. This is just riding a bicycle on paved roads, climbing 10% grades and decending around 60 mph and braking to negotiate hairpin turns (it is downhill), but occasionally, like a few days ago, there were still snow drifts on the course, so they must have climbed some steep hills. A few years ago, one rider was edged off the road at 30 mph into a barbed wire fence, and he finished the remaining two weeks of the race. Each stages only last 4 to 6 hours and cover 100 to 120 miles each day. At least most of the roads are paved instead of dusty gravel.

They probably don’t realize how dangerous it could be. That’s why my recliner has a seatbelt. I get tired just watching.


We were out on a trip yesterday on easy river with some marshy backwaters. We passed 8-10 people out enjoying the day - none of them had PFD’s on. As far as I know they all made it home safely last night - there was nothing on the evening news. I don’t say anything to anyone. Fortunately, 99.9999% of the time folks come home safe.


To be specific, the Susquehanna has snags from branches, dumped metal and abandoned fishing line, and some funny currents downstream of rocks. I believe a person could drown on that beautiful river, for sure. Better to have the jacket on with the option to remove it than wish for ¼" more buoyancy.

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I talked to 2 women today. One had just bought kayaks for she and her daughter. I asked if she had PFD. She was looking. Both were pre beginners who had never paddled.
The 2nd was a girl who had a kayak and was using it. When I asked the PFD question she waffled. She had one but didn’t wear it. She was a cutie who I’m guessing didn’t want a PFD ruining the look.
These conversations resulted from both women seeing the boats on the truck.

Kayaker’s drowning underscores importance of life jackets: OPP | London Free Press (lfpress.com)

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“… “Whether it be a paddle board, kayak, floatie, or any size vessel. Conditions can change on the lake and you need to make sure yourself and your loved ones have the right safety equipment to return safely.”…”

Absolutely well said.