Inflatable PFD Question

Looking to acquire an Outcast PAC 800 to float local rivers and am wondering about people's opinions on wearing an inflatable pfd on a pontoon boat. I am a rookie rower so I will probably get one to start but what sage advice do y'all have for wearing one..sometimes, always? Are there any suggestions you might make as to brand, model, etc?

thx all

Old Man

Just an Old Man
True,but I've had my doubts about those inflatable ones. If your sinking and get into a panic situation are you going to think about pulling that cord that comes with it or just trying to save yourself. I have a stearns vest that doesn't requies a pull to inflate it and it's not that uncomfortable.

Just my $.02 cents worth.


Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
I have worked swiftwater rescue, and was an avid whitewater enthusiast in a previous life (until my exwife ruined that lol).

I've found the only good vest is one that is worn and NOT inflatable. Now, wearing a vest isn't a definite you'll live. Have pulled people submerged who were sucked under with hi floatation vests on. But you have no chance if vest isn't on at all.

Jim is right. I will say that you will be thinking of yanking a rip chord on the manual inflates. I've been tossed and flipped out of whitewater boats on hard class IV and V's. The first thought in your mind is getting to your boat. Plus, in situations that WILL flip you, you will be more worried about avoiding rocks/sweepers as you're trying to get to the boat. Personally, I would never risk my life to an inflatable vest. Anything mechanical is prone to fail. Do you want to risk your life to a mechanism that may be 99.9% effective? Chances are, it's that one 0.1% that kills you. I'd rather have a bit of bulk, then have a State Trooper come to my house to talk to my family.

Onto vests. I've found your best vest is a kayakers vest. They are made with decent floatation (vests are rated in #'s of floatation usually). The nice thing about them, they have huge amounts of floatation with lots of movement in arms. Some even have pockets built into them too boot. Just remember, PFD's are like anything in the whitewater world. You get what you pay for. You can find deals, but normally the higher floatation and durability, you pay more for. the rio Bravo is a good kayakers vest. But gets pricey of course. Then you have these here Good variety for good prices. These are the two companies I've done most of my whitewater dealings over the years. Both are good companies.


I have worn inflatable PFD's for years while flying helicopters. The major advantage with that use is that they dont become bouyant until you activate it. If you were inside a sinking structure like a helicopter then you would definately drown while being pinned in the structure use a lifevest. I dont think in most circumstances that would be the case on a pontoon boat. Think you would be better off with a floatation vest. Not to mention that we were highly trained and skilled prior to ever needing to use the inflatable. Not something for the untrained to use.

I was dumped on a float of the Sky 10 years ago while wearing a wet suit, vest and helmut all of which floated and I was still pinned under a rock and held there for quite some time. No guarantees when your taking white water. Good luck in your choice and I hope you never need the equipment.

Mike Etgen

Not Quite A Luddite, But Can See One From Here

There was a great thread on this same topic last spring. I had persuaded my wife to get me an inflatable for Christmas but hadn't yet used it in the field. The discussion led to rethink the whole idea and in fact I sent it back and went back to using my Stearns.

Come to think of it, my wife still owes me for last Christmas now...

Seriously, I think you're better off staying away from an inflatable, especially being new. Steelheader69 nailed it just as he did last spring.

Good luck!


Matt Burke

Active Member
I talked to a guy last week about inflatables. There are vest's with automatic release valves in them too. Don't know who makes them, but anything would be better than nothing. I for one plan on buying a couple. The thought of not being able to go fishing because I'm dead just kills me.


"Everyday that you wake up and decide not to go one less day you'll go fishing." Forrest Maxwell


Active Member
I bought the inflatable SOSpenders that would automatically inflate if it was submerged and took it back after one 3 hour trip. It rubbed my neck so uncomfortably that I hated it. Maybe different for others but for me it wasnt doable.
Kayakers pfd's rock!! But, as mentioned above, the more comfortable, the more expensive....but how much is your life worth is how I look at it.

~Patrick ><>


Active Member
So what vest would be your ultimate recommendation when it comes time to our 8/9 foot pontoon boats?? When I wear a vest that has a back portion with flotation in it, it pushes me too far forward on my seat? What would you reccommend??
~Patrick ><>
Yeah, my SOS rubbed my neck raw too. Was thinking of spending more $$$ on a thinner more comfortable white water PFD, w/o worrying about the CO2 not working. We'll see.
Good luck!

Peter ><>

"Follow Me and I will make you fishers of Men" Matthew 4:19

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
Well, my point is that even with the automatics, it is reliant on a switch that disolves in the water, that sets off the inflation. With military personnal, they are trained heavily on survival training (at least my buddy who was an army chopper pilot). So you're well schooled to get that chord yanked when out of the craft. But in a whitewater situation, much different beast. I've heard different accounts how fast they'll pop. But thing is, what happens if by chance it malfunctions. For me, unless it has a 100% success rate, I wouldn't use it. But I've dealt with this situation too many times since I was a teen, and prefer to have something there and ready when the situation arises. You have too much to think about then your vest inflating. Especially, like I said, in a boulder run that accounts for most flips.

The Rio Bravo vest is about the nicest vest you'll find above. But in the links, ANY of the one's you'll see will do you fine that are the low cut kayakers. If anything, head to Swiftwater Outfitters (think that's the name) in Seattle that carries whitewater stuff primarily. They should have a few vests for you to check out and try on. I'd rather have a little bulk then looking up trying to get out of a hydraulic. I've been under one, it isn't fun and scary as HELL!

Now, if you're a bankie only. I wouldn't mind the SOS suspenders with yank chord. And then, ONLY then, would I possibly think of one. But same thing. Those COD cartridges do go bad. Plus, can have faulty one's too. Another thing to consider. Doesn't happen that often, but it's that one time you have to have it that it counts.
I started a 'thread' on this very topic a few months ago. BUT, I was looking for an inflatable for lake fishing in my float tube and wading in streams. I also wanted it to double as a light fishing vest. Ended up getting a Stormy Seas inflatable fishing vest [special order through Fisheries Supply. It was expensive: $120 and well worth it, for what it is used for. Would NEVER consider using it running a river. Listen to the guys that have the years of experience running rivers and buy the best one you can afford! Just my 2 cent's worth. Fred


Not to be confused with freestoneangler
This is my first post (been lurking for a while) but PFD use is kind of a hot button with me and since I use both inflatable and regular PFD's, I wanted to offer my perspective on when I wear one versus the other.

I've been running rivers for about 30 years in canoes, kayaks and rafts and I never get on the water in a small craft without a PFD (and yes, I can swim and even teach kayaking). I strongly agree with the others that one should use a regular PFD for whitewater, not an inflatable. However, flat and mild water are another thing. Most of the time, I fish rivers that are class I, maybe 2-, like the Stilly, Snohomish, lower Yak canyon, etc. I rarely observe anyone wearing a PFD on these types of rivers. On lakes and in the salt, it's even rarer. An inflatable has drawbacks, but IMO it's far better than wearing none at all, especially while wearing waders. I know plenty of people who have developed serious leaks, holes or faulty vavles while on the water in their float tubes or pontoon boats.

So what to do? I've used my kayaking PFD on lakes and rivers and truthfully even the lowest profile ones are a pain to wear while fishing. I've tried wearing a vest or lanyard over it - way too bulky, so I take it off each time I stop to fish - big pain. Tempted to join the masses and store mine on the back deck, I finally bought an inflatable because of it's one main advantage - I'll wear it. I bought the manual inflation type and I bought one that is integrated in to a fishing vest (by Stearns). It's more comfortable than some of the suspender-type. It's not the most attractive fishing vest in the world but I find I leave it on the whole day. A PFD not worn is useless.

As I said though, in whitewater, I wear a normal kayaking Type 3 PFD for a few other reasons in addition to not being able to pull the cord. If you buy an inflatable, be aware of some of the other drawbacks and use good judgement in wearing it. Most inflatables have high bouyancy and float you face up, a good thing most of the time. But they are nearly impossible to swim in which is bad if you find yourself having to swim aggressively away from a sweeper. Almost all of the floatation is in the front making climbing back in a boat or getting on/over a sweeper all but impossible. Unlike a normal PFD, you can't safely wear a jacket, vest or chest pack over the top of it. If it can't expand outwardly, it will put so much pressure on your chest, you'll likely suffocate. The cartridges are a one-time use, so you'll need to carry spares. The little green pin is very fragile and after breaking several spares, I keep my spares in a small pill container. I regularly inflate mine by mouth to check for proper inflation and leaks and then reposition the yellow pull cord as high as possible to maximize it's visability. Even with these precautions, I still wouldn't rely on it's or my performance in whiterwater.

So if you'll mostly be using your boat on flat or mild water, be honest with yourself & ask - "Will I really wear a PFD or will I get complaicent once I get comfortable with the boat?". If you're like most people and are likely not to wear one, consider an inflatable for the gentle waters - it's better than nothing. They aren't cheap but I'm sure your loved ones would gladly chip in!

If you think you'll wear a normal PFD and/or will do whitewater, everyone is right - get a good, comfortable kayaking PFD. They are cut with larger arm holes than most rafting PFD's and often have more adjustment straps for a better fit. Mail order is great for somethings but like shoes, you want to try them on; what's comfortable on one person isn't on another. They're all comfortable when worn loosely but cinch it down tightly, then cinch it some more - you'll find out why the first time you swim. A good tightness test: with arms over your head, someone should be able to pick you up from the ground by the shoulder straps without it riding up past your ears. Move around in it, pretend you're casting or rowing. Take time to try on several and get which ever is the most comfortable - things like pockets and color should be secondary. However, if you wear waders in your boat try to get one with a lash tab, you'll want to keep a river knife handy. You'll probably find the best selection of kayaking vests at kayak shops like Northwest Outdoor Center, Pacific Water Sports or REI in Seattle. They're not cheap but neither's your life.

Hope this helps. Just remember, like a wading belt, the best type of PFD is the one being worn.

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