Inflatable PFDs and Rivers


Active Member
Posted on another site, I thought it was very informative.
This post is meant to be educational. What PFD you choose to wear is ultimately your decision.

While doing some research, I found out yesterday that inflatable PFDs, are not legal for whitewater because they are not inherently buoyant. I could not confirm what
Transport Canada considers whitewater, but I would think Class 2 and above. The fact whether they are legal or not, might not matter to some.

Here are some considerations, if you choose to wear an inflatable PFD on rivers.

- the risk of failure(ie not inflating, blowing it up by mouth is not an option on a river)

- the risk of rupture( puncturing due rocks, branches and equipment on boat. ie oarlocks, sharp plastic burr on oars)

- increased risk of hitting your head on the river bottom due to the delayed inflation of inflatable pfds.

- due to the lack of straps to secure pfd to torso, they have a tendency to ride up into your face, making it difficult to keep your head above water.

- difficult to manoeuver due to bulk.

- due to the bouyency in the front of the pfd, it is impossible to use an aggressive swim( front crawl) to get yourself back to your boat or shore quickly.

- difficult to climb back onto your craft due to the bulkiness of the pfd.

- uncomfortable to row in when inflated( inflation due to swim or accidental discharge, you still have to get down the river)

When situations happen on the rivers, they happen quickly, and instantaneous reaction is necessary sometimes. My recommendation is to use a foam PFD,
many people refer to them as kayak or whiterwater pfds. Western Canoeing in Abbotsford and MEC carry whitewater PFDs. I know carries a fishing/whitewater pfd as well.

For your foam pfd to be effective all your straps should be snug, to test pull upwards on your shoulder straps(lapels), if they come up over your ears, then you need to tighten the straps more securely.

As I've mentioned before I've been kayaking and rafting for 28 years on mostly class 4 and 5 water, and two of my closest call were on class 2 rapids, due to complacency.

Have fun and keep safe.


Active Member
From the same author as above.

Why is an aggressive swim (Front crawl) important on rivers?

On rivers, forward momentum is crucial to power yourself through eddy lines and helical currents to gain access to the shore.

Helical currents flow outward from the shore on the surface until they meet the main current, then they spiral downstream, circle under the surface towards the bank. So when you're attempting to swim to shore the helical current is pushing against you. If anyone has swam a river and noticed the last couple of feet to shore was the most difficult, you have experienced helical currents. On faster and large rivers, sometimes the helical currents are so powerful that it's impossible to swim to shore.