Everyone should wear a buoyancy aid (Personal Flotation Device) when taking part in paddle sports. That means everyone and everything from experienced swimmers to a casual SUP paddle on a calm river. Water can be unpredictable and your abilities in the water can be compromised in certain situations, especially cold water shock.

A PDF / buoyancy aid needs to fit properly, feel comfortable, and not be restricting. You could be wearing the buoyancy aid for several hours and you need complete mobility for paddling and getting on and off your paddleboard or kayak.

How to fit a PFD

Loosen all the straps on the buoyancy aid. Put your arms through the arm holes then, standing straight with shoulders back, take a deep breath whilst puffing out your chest – this means that once fastened, it won’t be too tight or restricting and will allow natural movement.

Do up the zipper, then start adjustments from the waist upwards. Clip in the waist strap(s) and pull it tight but not too tight. Try lifting the PFD upwards from the shoulder straps – it should not move much if the waist strap is correct.

Finally, adjust the shoulder straps. Don’t do them up so tight that the PDF sits too high on your torso or becomes uncomfortable on your shoulders.

Top Tip: If your buoyancy aid sits too high or moves up and down too much, there will be less space between your head and the water if you fall in. This could compromise your breathing abilities in rough water.

falling in the water with a buoyancy aid

If you fall into the water wearing a PFD

Your PFD is designed to help you float or give you extra buoyancy. Depending on the type of water you are in, there a different steps to take.

Calm water – such as a canal or calm sea water with small to medium waves. Try and make your way back to your SUP, kayak or boat. If you’re on a paddleboard, you should be tethered with a leash so it will be easy to reach.

Moving water – such as a flowing river or strong current in an estuary. With paddle boards you should be wearing a quick-release waist belt and you should quickly pull the cord. Try and make your way back to shore if it is safe to do so.

If you’re having difficulty use the RNLI’s Float To Live technique