I have often wondered just how I would feel if after falling out, I was 30 feet away from my drifting boat where my life jacket was draped over the driver’s chair.
I have always been a strong swimmer, but the Yukon water is very cold and we are often bundled up in layers to stay warm.
Both of those factors make an unplanned dip in one of our lakes or rivers a possibly fatal event.
Until children came into my life I was prone to using my life jacket, also called a personal floatation device (PFD) as a cushion and rarely had it on. Of course, back then our PFDs were very bulky and restrictive so it was more convenient to leave it off but handy in case it was needed. For an eye-opening experience, just try to put on any kind of PFD while you are in the water. Some, like the carbon dioxide-charged inflatables can be put on in the water but any kind of floater coat or other bulky PFD cannot be donned in the water.
In any of our typical fishing or recreational activity boats, a PFD should be worn at all times by everybody.
PFDs are now designed so that in many of them, the floatation padding does not extend up over the shoulders. This is especially important to paddlers and boating hunters as the old padding-over-the-shoulders made it impossible to paddle easily or mount the rifle so that the sights could be used. Hunters who were dressed for the elements could not wear the old-style PFD if they had any hopes of shooting accurately.
Things have changed in the PFD world as designers have realized that in order to get people to wear PFDS all the time, they had to be made so that they were more convenient to use.
PFDs designed for paddling are now common with no bulk up over the shoulders and often have Velcro closable pockets for small gear.
Other general use PFDs also have minimal to no floatation bulk up over the shoulders, making them much more convenient for all-day wear.
The PFDs that are the least intrusive (read: bulky, prone to getting in the way) are the carbon dioxide-charged inflatable types, which typically are just like a fat pair of suspenders which you can wear all the time because they are not the least bit in the way.
All the old style and even the new “bulky” type of PFDs have a great advantage over the newer carbon dioxide devices, because the bulky ones will keep you afloat whether you are conscious or not. The carbon dioxide devices generally have to be triggered to inflate and keep you afloat, so if you are injured or unconscious you will likely sink. However, the industry has come up with a water actuated trigger for carbon dioxide inflatables. If you have one of these units and you are in the water, the water actuates a switch that causes the PFD to inflate and keep you afloat.
Please remember that PFDs are only good if you are wearing them.