A Guide to Buoyancy Aids


Origins of the life jacket can be traced back to simple blocks of wood or cork used by Norwegian seamen. The modern life jacket is generally credited to one Captain Ward, a Royal National Lifeboat Institution inspector in the United Kingdom, who in 1854 created a cork vest to be worn by lifeboat crews for both weather protection and extra buoyancy.

- What is a buoyancy aid and how does it work?
- Different types of buoyancy aid.
- What does the N number mean?
- How long does a buoyancy aid last?

What is a Buoyancy Aid?

Buoyancy aids, also known as a personal flotation device (PFD), are now used most commonly by kayakers and canoeists, as well as sailors. They are designed as a flotation aid, rather than a life-saving device.

Canoeing, kayaking, and sailing buoyancy aids are designed with mobility in mind.

A buoyancy aid that does not fit properly can restrict a paddler's range of movement, which could cause them to tire easily or prevent them from using an effective paddling technique. 

Buoyancy aids are made with a foam core, instead of being inflatable like some life jackets. They typically have front and back foam panel, and generally minimal foam around the sides to allow for better freedom of movement while paddling.
Using foam removes the possibility of them bursting, or not being inflated in an emergency situation.

The type of foam used is typically closed cell PVC (polyvinyl chloride), although some manufacturers are starting to use less toxic and more recyclable materials.

Most buoyancy aids fall inro one of three design categories:

- Over the head vest. Where the buoyancy aid is pulled on over the head. Usually worn in more extreme conditions like white water kayaking where you wouldn't want it to unzip at a crucial moment!

- Front zip jacket. Where the buoyancy aid is worn like a regular jacket and is zipped up at the front. Most commonly seen in recreational watersports, as they are lightweight and super easy to get on and off. 

- Side zip jacket. A combination of the first two, with a smaller zip on the side allowing you to either wear over the head, or you can unzip it and take it off that way if requried. 

All buoyancy aids include some form of adjustment strap for tightening the buoyancy aid, so it won't come off in the water. Generally speaking recreational buoyancy aids will have one or two adjustments as they are only intended for use in sheltered and calm conditions. More adjustments will be found on white water or sea kayaking buoyancy aids where the conditions are tougher so security is key.

They may also include pockets which are great for storing safety and rescue accessories (and the odd chocolate bar for emergencies!) 

It is important to have a buoyancy aid that fits comfortably and allows you to move freely. Make sure the buoyancy you choose is suitable for what you are doing, and the environment you are using it in.

What does the N number mean?

Every PFD will be tested and rated. Often the larger the size the higher the floatation capable due to the added foam.

The (N) newton is a measurement of force, measuring the amount of up lift generated by the buoyancy aid. The higher the number the more floatation. Every manufacturer will have specifications for the consumers size, weight, force and C.E. marking as a PFD that is sold within the European Union must be C.E. tested and approved.

Most adult buoyancy aids range between 50N-70N depending on the size and intended use.

How long will a buoyancy aid last?

The foam used in buoyancy aids will degrade with age.

A rough life expectancy is three years of use, but bear in mind that buoyancy aids which are often exposed to polluted water, wet storage, multiple impacts, and extreme temperatures may degrade faster than normally expected.

You can test how buoyant your buoyancy aid is by using a weight in water just like Palm Equipment did in this video.

Buoyancy aid and personal flotation devices need regular and routine inspection of any belts, stitching and other parts. This wear and damage serve as valuable indicators on when to retire a buoyancy aid.

Review: Yak Junga
Review: Ari'i Nui Mahana SUP

Related Posts

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to

Escape Watersports, Unit 12 Village Court,
Village Farm Ind Est, Pyle, 
CF33 6BX


Secure TradingVisaMaster Cardpaypal v1                   ocean network v1