Get the most out of your PFD

Making your PFD rescue-ready, caring for it, and knowing when to let it go

New, old, and all the tools. Pictured PFD: Kokatat Ronin Pro
New, old, and all the tools. Pictured PFD: Kokatat Ronin Pro

By Chris Baer – WhereIsBaer.com

Many people are oblivious as to when their PFD has reached the end of its functional life. An easy indication of when you ought to get a new Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is when you can't read the label on the inside. When the label starts to deteriorate to the point you can't read it, the flotation has probably started to deteriorate as well.

To say I'm picky about my PFD, how it fits, and what I carry in it, would be a massive understatement. If you spend the number of years having fun on the water that I have, you will encounter your share of rescue situations. What you have on your chest will be the tools at your disposal to fix those situations.

Fit

Thankfully, we are not all shaped alike. Try on a bunch of different PFD's and find the one that fits your body shape best. Taking into account the level of paddling you will be doing and/or the situations you will be putting yourself in should dictate what you carry on your body.

What do you carry in your PFD? Tools of the trade.

1. A throw rope… on me. Mine is a simple homemade "dinger bag" 35 feet of high tensile strength Dyneema line. No flotation in the bag, as the rope floats already. This is not the only bag I carry, but it is the quick, ultra-accessible one on my chest. It's also great for difficult portages and lowering boats or people.

Throw rope and knife neatly tuck away in the pocket.
Throw rope and knife neatly tuck away in the pocket.

2. If you're going to carry a rope you need to be able to cut it. CRKT makes a nice, tiny, SHARP knife. Straight blade for quick access, tiny so it's not cumbersome, sharp to get the job done now, and with a sharp point because I want the ability to pop a raft if I need to.

3. Whistle, Fox 40 mini. It's actually louder than the full size version. And don’t forget the fun whistle; it makes a kazoo type noise, perfect for the comedy swims, or while racing the Green River Narrows.

4. CPR shield and gloves in a freezer bag. I carry a full size pocket mask and more gloves in my medical kit but I want the possibility to jump out of my boat and start working if I need to.

5. Extra carabiner. Petzl makes this tiny wire gate that is still full strength and takes up almost no space. Perfect for a quick two-to-one system.

6. Sunscreen and chapstick are a must for me as well. We are in the sun way too much and skin cancer sounds like a miserable way to go.

7. Tow tether, high tensile Dyneema line tied to the releasable ring and to a locking carabiner. Make sure it's long enough – if you paddle a long boat make it long!

Clean and lean, even with a pile of tools in the pocket.
Clean and lean, even with a pile of tools in the pocket.

Nothing should be exposed and you should strive to keep the exterior of the jacket as clean as possible. This will help you climb back into a raft, onto shore, or through the jungle without getting hung up. Classically, you will see people with huge knifes dangling off their jacket, creating an item to get hung up on ropes or vegetation, or worse. Another classic example is a bunch of carabiners attached to a shoulder strap… where your teeth are nearby. Clean is quick and quick is what you need in the worst case scenarios.

Bonus caution: swap out your tether pull cord with a monkey fist I had the little plastic ball pull off the cord once.
Bonus caution: swap out your tether pull cord with a monkey fist. I had the little plastic ball pull off the cord once.

–Check out more tips, videos and adventures from Chris Baer at WhereIsBaer.com

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