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Personal Floatation Device

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs), unlike traditional lifejackets, are more comfortable because they are designed for constant wear. PFDs don’t generally offer the same level of protection as lifejackets for staying afloat and turning an unconscious person onto their back so they can breathe.

The PFDs that you’ll see most recreational kayakers, canoers and stand up paddle boarders wearing, look like a vest and rely on flotation material, often foam, to create buoyancy. These are labeled as Type III USCG-approved PFDs.

PFD (Personal Floatation Device) Small Vessel Regulations

The operation of kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards are governed by legislation enacted under the Small Vessel Regulations. 

Human Powered Watercraft (Canoes, Kayaks and Stand-Up Paddleboards)

Life-Saving Appliances — Personal Life-Saving Appliances and Visual Signals

  • S209 (1) A human-powered pleasure craft shall carry on board a personal flotation device or lifejacket that is of an appropriate size for each person on board.
  • S209 (2) A personal flotation device or lifejacket that is carried on board a human-powered pleasure craft operated in whitewater shall be inherently buoyant.
  • S210 a buoyant heaving line at 15 m in length.
  • S211 must carry on board a (a) bailer, (b) a bilge pump or (c) bilge pumping arrangements.
  • S211 (a)a sound-signaling appliance that meets the requirements of the Collision Regulations, or a sound-signaling device;
  • (b)if the pleasure craft is operated after sunset or before sunrise or in periods of restricted visibility, navigation lights that meet the requirements of the Collision Regulations; and
  • (c)a magnetic compass

Although the Small Vessel Regulations do not state that the PFD must be worn, while in a human powered watercraft Paddle NL recommends that PFDs be always worn when operating a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddle board. It is the policy of Paddle NL that PFDs are worn during all Paddle NL sponsored paddling events on inland or ocean waters.

PFD Fitting and Use

As specified in the small vessel regulation PFDs are required for persons operating any type of vessel operating on inland waters or on the ocean.  PFDs are often referred to as Life Jackets; however, is a distinction between pieces of safety equipment.

Compared to PFDs, lifejackets offer a higher level of protection. Lifejackets come in red, orange, or yellow and have SOLAS-grade reflective strips which, along with the bright colour, make you much easier to see in the water. They have a minimum of 30 pounds of flotation, are usually equipped with a whistle, and are designed to turn a person in a face up position. They are reversible and must be Canadian approved as indicated by the attached label. Currently, there are three types of Canadian approved lifejacket types to choose from. (Source: Canadian Safe Boating Council) For further information please go the Canadian Safe Boating Council website for further information PFDs and Lifejackets (link below).,back%20so%20you%20can%20breathe

Red Cross Video – PFD vs Life Jacket (link to video)

PFD Fitting and how to wear them.

It is important that PFDs are appropriately sized and worn to ensure safety on the water when engaged in paddling activity.  The attached video provides details on choosing the appropriate PFD and how to wear it for maximum protection.

Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) video on choosing and fitting a PFD.