Buoyancy Aids (PFD’s) & Life Jackets

One of the pleasures of my week is listening to Paddling Adventures Radio, a podcast from Canada.  Essentially Sean Rowley and Derek Specht chat about a range of topics related to all aspects of paddle sport.  This evenings opening article on people wearing buoyancy aids (PFD’s) got me thinking.
My first buoyancy aid, which I had for Christmas at the end of the 1960’s, was filled with kapok, a vegetable material, which was used in life saving devices in the Second World War.  I feel certain that it must have been one of the last buoyancy aids to contain kapok.  Towards the end of the 1970’s, most paddlers in the UK were wearing life jackets, which met the specifications of BS 3595.  They were designed to support an unconscious person in the water, if the inherent solid buoyancy had been topped up with air.
The only disadvantage, being that they were cumbersome and seriously uncomfortable.  As a consequence many paddlers used to carry them under the rear deck elastics as opposed to wearing them on the person.  As shown by the photograph of Nicky taken off the Ecrehous, in the summer of 1979.  How that contrasts with the photograph taken last summer, off the west coast of Greenland, where everybody is properly equipped.
I can’t remember the last time I paddled to the Ecrehous, with my buoyancy aid under the deck elastics.  It must be at least 20 years ago.  Putting on a buoyancy aid is now an automatic reaction.  The last time I remember consciously not putting on my PFD was on a seriously hot, flat calm day in Baja, when I judged that I was more at risk from heat exhaustion than from an unexpected capsize.
There is no doubt that equipment has improved dramatically over the last 50 years that I have been kayaking and the current buoyancy aids are far more comfortable to wear than their predecessors.  So the best advice is to wear it.
Another point to consider is the explosion in paddle sports in recent years, it is rare to be alone on the water nowadays.  Mid week in January, on a rainy windy day doesn’t guarantee isolation in 2018.
Regularly whilst out paddling we come across paddlers, particularly on sit on tops, and it is amazing how many of those paddlers aren’t wearing buoyancy aids.  What is particularly scary is when you see 3 people, normally 2 adults and a child on a double sit on top, and none of them wearing buoyancy aids.
There are 2 potential responses, paddle over and have a friendly word, I have done this a few times as people on SOT’s have been approaching tide races, but my advice has always been ignored.  The other response is to hope that by wearing the appropriate equipment you will be a positive role model and raise people’s awareness of the need to wear buoyancy aids.

Nordkapp
Nicky off the Ecrehous, in the summer of 1979. A classic image of the time, a beautiful orange Nordkapp HM and the BS 3595 Life Jacket tucked under the rear deck elastics.
Buoyancy aids
The group from the Jersey Canoe Club in Greenland last summer. All wearing their buoyancy aids, even though the conditions were pretty benign, apart from the water temperature.

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