If you fall in the water, chances are you’ll sink. It’s a fact of life that’s behind inventions from the inflatable pool raft to the airplane seat you can use as a flotation device in case of emergencies. For hunters, anglers, and anyone who enjoys water sports, staying safe means having and wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). These necessary pieces of gear are far more advanced than the life preservers you likely wore while canoeing at camp many years ago. Cliff Jacobson says PFDs are much more comfortable now than in years past and gives seven tips for choosing the best life vest.
A comfortable fit is everything! How the vest feels on your body is every bit as important as its performance in water. For these reasons, it’s best not to buy a personal flotation device by mail. Sizing, cut, flexibility and utility vary widely from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Grasp the jacket by the shoulders and lift it upwards until the fabric jams under your armpits. This simulates performance in water. Now turn your head right and left. You should be looking over your shoulder not at fabric encased foam. Does the V-neck of the vest crunch against your chin? If so, keep shopping. PFD’S which force the chin up may have a more positive righting moment than do those which don’t, but they hinder maneuverability in water–exactly what you don’t want when you have to swim a rapid!
Photos: NRS (top); Cliff Jacobson (above)