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The Difference Between A Lifejacket & A Personal Flotation Device?

Posted by Luke Green

Though commonly seen and spoken about as though they’re the same thing, there are actually some very important differences between lifejackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs) that you should know about. Don’t get us wrong, they are very similar and generally fulfil the same function as one another (keeping someone afloat), but certain criteria must be met before a lifejacket can call itself a lifejacket. There are a number of functional differences between the two, which we will come to shortly, but in essence, PFDs are designed to assist a conscious person (which is why they are also commonly referred to as ‘Buoyancy Aids’), while lifejackets can effectively support those who are unconscious.

The fact of the matter is lifejackets and PFDs are actually made for two different purposes. Paddle boarders, kayakers, and other watersport enthusiasts, for instance, tend to rely on PFDs and will very rarely use lifejackets. This is because lifejackets are generally a lot bulkier and less comfortable to wear, as they are designed to save lives first and any concern for comfort is a distant second. PFDs, on the other hand, are built to strike a balance between keeping wearers safe and allowing unrestricted movement. As a result, PFDs are far less cumbersome and the buoyant area that allows them to keep wearers afloat is relatively dispersed.

The location of the buoyant material is actually one of the defining characteristics of a personal flotation device and a lifejacket. While having the buoyant areas spread around may be more comfortable for the wearer, having it in the front actually makes it a lot more effective when it comes to saving lives. In fact, the reason lifejackets can keep wearers alive even when they’re unconscious is precisely because of this, as the buoyant front of a lifejacket should automatically position the head so it’s facing up toward the sky rather than down toward the water.

This is why lifejackets are favoured in situations where, in the event of an accident or emergency, wearers may find themselves in the water for an extended period of time. As the safer option, they are also relied upon in situations where the swimming ability of those using them cannot be quickly or easily verified; for example, during sailing lessons for children. Unfortunately, the size and shape of lifejackets mean they will inevitably get in the way and would hinder activities such as kayaking and wild swimming. This is why competent swimmers and those who regularly engage in watersports will commonly choose PFDs due to their comfort and lack of restriction.

Though there are exceptions, as a rule, personal flotation devices are designed for recreational activities that take place on or in the water, while lifejackets are typically found in situations were ending up in the water is an undesirable possibility. In order to ensure that wearers are fished out of the water as soon as possible, lifejackets must also accommodate a number of features to help to grab the attention of any would-be rescuers. This is why they are made using reflective materials in garish colours and include a shrill whistle. It is important to bear in mind that it must also provide 150 Newtons of buoyancy and full collar support to truly be considered a lifejacket.

The Best Of Both: Red Original Airbelt Personal Flotation Device

Red Original was born from a love of watersports and part of loving the water - be it the sea, river, or lake - is respecting the potential dangers. That’s why we teamed up with Baltic Lifejackets Sweden to build the Red Original Airbelt Personal Flotation Device, a buoyancy aid that provides wearers with the best of both worlds in order to deliver a reliable albeit discrete safety solution. Worn around the waist, the compact size of the Red Original PFD allows wearers to move completely unrestricted and participate in activities without hindrance or discomfort. If needed, however, the ISO Certified bladder can be quickly pulled out, placed over its wearer’s head, and inflated.

Once inflated, you’ll find that the Red Original PFD possesses features very similar to a lifejacket; including reflective panels, full collar support, a whistle, and bright yellow colour. The inflatable material is also located at the front, meaning that its wearers will be encouraged to float face-up once inflated. It is important to note, however, that only 50 Newtons of buoyancy is provided, rather than the 150 Newtons required to ensure that even unconscious wearers are faced upwards.

Ideal for competent swimmers and those who are comfortable on the water, a Red Original PFD comes with a 5-year guarantee and can be rearmed once deployed simply by replacing the used gas cylinder with another 16g CO2 cylinder. For more information on how to use the Red Original Airbelt Personal Floatation Device, you can download our PFD user guide PDF.