PFD vs. Lifejacket

Being as we are here in the heart of the Monadnock region, a veritable vacation paradise, and that we are staying in a house on a lake that is equipped with various recreational boats, it seemed like a wise thing to invest in a lifejacket for wee Oliver.

So before we drove down we went off to Canadian Tire and bought a solid looking Buoy-o-Buoy brand lifejacket.

And last night we decided it would be wise to try Oliver out in the lifejacket to see what would actually happen were he to fall out of a boat and need the lifejacket to keep him, well, alive.

We were not pleased with the result: left to its own devices, the Oliver + lifejacket combination resulted in an Oliver face down in the water. This is not a Good Thing and, I assumed, not what a lifejacket is actually supposed to do.

So I phoned Buoy-o-Buoy in Guelph, Ontario and talked to a very helpful woman who explained the situation.

We had not, as it turned out, purchased a lifejacket at all, but rather a PFD. I always thought that a PFD — it stands for personal floatation device — was some bureaucrat’s semantic reinvention of the word lifejacket. But I was wrong: a PFD is not a lifejacket.

A PFD, it seems, is simply designed to help an otherwise fully-functioning person float. A lifejacket, on the other hand, is designed to roll you over onto your back and thus to keep your face out of the water.

Which is obviously what we want to have happen with Oliver.

So we’ll be off in search of a bona fide life jacket (Buoy-o-Buoy sells them too) and we’ll try that out with Oliver to see if the result is any better.

If you’ve got a wee one of your own you may wish to check to see what sort of lifejacket or PFD you’re using before you take them on the water: you may be surprised.


Alan's picture
Alan on August 30, 2002 - 13:01 Permalink

…so a PFD is there to ensure there is something for the funeral? Sounds like a lost lawsuit preceded “PFD” by about 5 minutes…

Stephen DesRoches's picture
Stephen DesRoches on August 30, 2002 - 13:24 Permalink

Correct me if I’m wrong but one goes on like a vest and the other is more of a pad that goes around your neck and snaps around your waste.

With only the floating device in front of you, it forces you to turn over. However the vest style is warmer in colder weather/water.

Ann's picture
Ann on August 30, 2002 - 15:04 Permalink

That was exactly my thought, Alan. However, I wonder if there should be/is some kind of disclaimer attached to the PFD…as in, this will not save your life is you can’t swim.

Alan's picture
Alan on August 30, 2002 - 18:34 Permalink

Maybe a disclaimer such as “This will not provide the only function you could possibly want from it”!

Oliver's picture
Oliver on August 30, 2002 - 18:37 Permalink

They might as well call the products “Joe” and “Jane” for all the help they are in picking the right product. Also shows the danger of pentagonese. I wonder if any children small enough to fit into the size PFD you bought for Oliver could make use of it as intended or if they’d all turn face down in the water.

megan's picture
megan on September 16, 2004 - 03:49 Permalink

pfd’s are better. ‘nuff said.

Waterborne's picture
Waterborne on September 20, 2010 - 02:59 Permalink

I believe the PFD versus the Lifejacket comes down to one thing and one thing only. What is the users true intended use? Its up to us as Rec boat users to decide what our needs are before we go out into the water. Just like any sport that has some form of risk, planning and preperation goes a long way. We are always at risk no matter what form of protection we carry for ourselves and we can no longer go after the makers of these products for our own lack of information or education in relation to these products. Like everything else in life, we have choices and it is up to us as individuals/families to always prepare even for the worse possible situation. In doing so we make better choices to where our destinations are and exactly, what type of clothing to wear for immersion. People are sacrificing water protection for comfort and in doing so we limit the performance of the product for our own needs. Not the other way around! I kayak and I`m prepared to take some risk with a PFD but never allow myself to believe that I am unsinkeable in the water and in doing so only paddle within my limits………..