You strive to be safe as can be when fishing from your kayak, but you can always be safer. Is a PFD really needed for kayak fishing?
To stay safe on the water, you should wear a PFD when fishing. After all, you will have to paddle the kayak to and from the shoreline, and that’s where the real risk lies. In many states, wearing a PFD is the law!
In this guide, we’ll explain why you need a PFD when kayak fishing. Then we’ll go over the different types to help you choose one. Make sure you check it out!
What Is a PFD Anyway?
When we say PFD, what exactly are we referring to?
PFD is short for a personal flotation device. These devices have many nicknames, including flotation suits, buoyancy aids, cork jackets, life savers, life vests, Mae vests, life belts, and life preservers.
As those names imply, a PFD is a life jacket. You strap it on before venturing out to enjoy aquatic activities.
Although you hope you’ll never need it, a PFD offers various degrees of flotation according to the type. That’s something we’ll talk more about later, so make sure you keep reading for that.
The duty of a PFD is to prevent drowning if you’re knocked out of your kayak or fall out. Your mouth and head will float over the surface of the water so that even if you’re unconscious, you can still breathe.
The U.S. Coast Guard approves PFDs, which should fit you properly and be in usable condition.
Do You Need to Wear a PFD When Kayak Fishing?
You can understand the need for a PFD if engaging in high-speed, high-stakes activities like jet skiing or water skiing, but you’re not doing any of that.
You’re fishing, so do you really need a personal flotation device?
You sure do!
Even though fishing doesn’t pose many risks to you and your fellow friends, you can never say never.
If a large fish were to capsize your boat, you’d be happy that you’re wearing a PFD and that your fishing friends are as well.
The life jacket will keep you afloat so you can right your boat, get back in, and continue your day of fishing or go home from there.
Besides, you’re not only fishing in your kayak. You have to launch your boat into the water and then paddle to your location. When you’re done for the day because your cooler is full of fish, you also have to kayak back to shore.
Is this an inherently dangerous activity? No, but it doesn’t matter. A PFD is for your own personal safety and thus worth wearing.
Besides, whether you agree with the need for a personal flotation device or not, you might not get much of a choice in the matter.
Almost every single state in the United States requires at least one life jacket for each person on the boat when kayaking.
Even if you’re not wearing the PFD (which you really should), you should be able to access it easily and readily so you can quickly put it on.
What if you’re fishing with children? More than likely, they need a personal flotation device too. Here’s what each state law says on the matter.
- Alabama: All passengers under eight years old
- Alaska: All passengers under 13 years old
- Arizona: All passengers 12 and under
- Arkansas: All passengers 12 and under
- California: All passengers 12 and under
- Colorado: All passengers under 13 years old
- Connecticut: All passengers 12 and under
- Delaware: All passengers 12 and under
- Florida: All passengers under six years old
- Georgia: All passengers 12 and under
- Hawaii: All passengers 12 and under
- Idaho: All passengers 14 and under
- Illinois: All passengers under 13 years old
- Indiana: All passengers under 13 years old
- Kansas: All passengers 12 and under
- Kentucky: All passengers 12 and under
- Louisiana: All passengers 16 and under
- Maine: All passengers 10 and under
- Maryland: All passengers under four years old
- Massachusetts: All passengers under 12 years old
- Michigan: All passengers under six years old
- Minnesota: All passengers under 10 years old
- Mississippi: All passengers 12 and under
- Missouri: All passengers under seven years old
- Montana: All passengers under 12 years old
- Nebraska: All passengers under 13 years old
- Nevada: All passengers under 13 years old
- New Hampshire: All passengers 12 and under
- New Jersey: All passengers 12 and under
- New Mexico: All passengers under 13 years old
- New York: All passengers under 12 years old
- North Carolina: All passengers under 13 years old
- North Dakota: All passengers 10 and under
- Ohio: All passengers under 10 years old
- Oklahoma: All passengers under 13 years old
- Oregon: All passengers 12 and under
- Pennsylvania: All passengers 12 and under
- Rhode Island: All passengers under 13 years old
- South Carolina: All passengers under 12 years old
- South Dakota: All passengers under seven years old
- Tennessee: All passengers 12 and under
- Texas: All passengers under 13 years old
- Utah: All passengers under 13 years old
- Vermont: All passengers under 12 years old
- Virginia: All passengers under 13 years old
- Washington: All passengers 12 and under
- West Virginia: All passengers 12 and under
- Wisconsin: All passengers under 13 years old
- Wyoming: All passengers under 13 years old
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The Types of PFDs – Which Is Best for Kayaking?
Personal flotation devices are categorized into one of five types, which are Type I through Type IV. Let’s go over each type and explain which are appropriate versus inappropriate for kayak fishing.
Type I – Offshore Life Jackets
The first of the five types is Type I.
As offshore life jackets, these PFDs are intended for use when stranded in remote and rough open waters where a rescue attempt couldn’t happen immediately. Other types of waters are suitable as well.
The child-sized Type I life jacket offers 11 pounds of buoyancy and the adult version twice that.
If you’re unconscious but wearing a Type I life jacket, you should be turned face-side-up so you don’t drown.
A Type I life jacket is also excellent at retaining heat thanks to the inclusion of extra fabric and foam.
The only downside is that these PFDs are hard to swim in since they’re awkward, bulky, and sizable.
A Type I life vest is recommended for boating in stormy conditions, solo boating expeditions, offshore fishing, offshore racing, and cruising.
Type II – Near-Shore Life Jackets
The Type II inherently buoyant PFD in an adult size offers 15.5 pounds of buoyancy so that some wearers who fall unconscious will be turned face-side-up.
If you’re in inland, protected waters close to the shoreline, a Type II life vest performs optimally. The rougher the waters, the worse the performance.
You would have to be conscious and capable of treading water in a Type II PFD worn in rough waters. That’s due to the reduced degree of flotation and buoyancy compared to a Type I life vest.
You should wear a Type II inherently buoyant PFD when boating in light vessels or when sailing, fishing, and cruising in inland waters.
The Type II inflatable PFD affords 34 pounds of buoyancy for adults. Even still, the wearer might not turn face-side-up when in one of these life vests.
Much more comfortable than even inherently buoyant Type II PFDs, an inflatable life jacket has better buoyancy too.
You cannot use one of these life vests for any kids on your fishing kayak who are under 16 years old.
When seriously cruising near shore or inland cruising, reach for this type of PFD.
Type III – Flotation Aids
As was true of Type II PFDs, Type III flotation aids are available in two subcategories as well, inherently buoyant or inflatable.
We’ll start once again with Type III inherently buoyant PFDs.
These offer at least 15.5 pounds of buoyancy for adult users, which make them good in inland, protected waters where you’re not far from shore and know you can be rescued relatively fast.
In rough waters, a Type III inherently buoyant PFD cannot turn a user over so their face is out of the water when unconscious.
This relatively comfortable but reduced-flotation PFD is ideal for kayaking, canoeing, fishing, water skiing, racing dinghies, or sailing regattas.
A Type III inflatable PFD is more buoyant at 22.5 pounds for adult wearers.
Like the inherently buoyant PFD, a Type III inflatable flotation aid does not necessarily turn the user right-side-up when unconscious.
You also shouldn’t offer this type of PFD to kids under 16 years old.
A Type III inflatable PFD is recommended for canoeing, racing dinghies, or other supervised near-shore and inshore aquatic activities.
Type IV – Throwable Devices
Next is the Type IV PFD, which is a throwable device.
This isn’t a life jacket at all but an inflatable device you can throw to someone who’s conscious but overboard in the water.
A Type IV PFD has a buoyancy rating of between 16.5 and 18 pounds depending on if it’s a ring style or a cushion.
Whoever receives the PFD should be able to swim while holding onto the device. They cannot sit on or float on the throwable device, as it will not be able to sustain their weight very well.
Type V – Special-Use Device
The last type of PFD is Type V. These devices can be broken down into three subtypes.
The first is a special-use PFD that offers 15.5 to 22 pounds of buoyancy for adult life vests.
These jackets are intended for special use purposes such as commercial white water vests or sailboard harnesses.
The next Type V subtype is the automatic flotation PFD, which affords 22.5 to 34 pounds of buoyancy for adults.
It too has exclusive uses such as being worn with a float coat, deck suit, or belt pack.
An automatic flotation Type V special-use device might include foam or carbon dioxide inflation to make it buoyant but won’t necessarily turn you right-side-up if you’re unconscious in the water.
The last type is a Type V hybrid inflation PFD, which is used when a rescue is in progress. These PFDs offer between 7.5 and 22 pounds of buoyancy.
Very comfortable to wear, a Type V hybrid inflation PFD will not turn an unconscious person upright.
How Do You Know Your PFD Fits?
Besides selecting the correct type, you also need a properly-fitting PFD, or you won’t get the promised level of protection on the water.
Here are some tips for finding your correct fit.
Try on the PFD Wearing Regular Clothes
Since you’re kayak fishing, you probably don’t have much specialized wearable gear. Thus, wear an outfit you’d put on for a real day of fishing to determine the fit of your life jacket.
Tighten the Straps Before Deciding on Fit
When you slip on a life vest, you should loosen up all the straps first. Zip up any areas with zippers and then secure the waist straps first.
After that, tighten the straps at the shoulders.
The right fit for a PFD is snug but not so tight that you can’t lift your arms or otherwise maneuver your upper body.
Shorter Is Better
Since you’ll spend most of your day sitting as a kayaker, the height of your life vest is important.
A slightly shorter PFD than most will still offer you the protection you need while also allowing you to sit without the life vest cutting into your abdomen all day.
When setting out on a fun day of kayak fishing, you and your fellow passengers (including children) should all wear a personal flotation device or PFD.
It’s not only highly recommended for your personal safety but it’s also the law!
Make sure that you select the right type of PFD for your boating activities and the life jacket has a snug but not overly tight fit.