A Guide to Buoyancy Aids


The life jacket’s origins can be traced back to basic blocks of wood or cork used by Norwegian seafarers. Captain Ward, a Royal National Lifeboat Institution inspector in the United Kingdom, is widely credited with inventing the modern life jacket in 1854, when he designed a cork vest to be worn by lifeboat crews for both weather protection and added buoyancy.

What exactly is a Buoyancy Aid?

Buoyancy aids, often known as personal flotation devices (PFD), are now routinely utilised by kayakers, canoeists, and sailors. They are intended to aid buoyancy rather than save lives.

Buoyancy aids for canoeing, kayaking, and sailing are developed with mobility in mind.

A poorly fitting buoyancy aid can limit a paddler’s range of motion, causing them to tyre quickly or preventing them from employing an effective paddling style.

Buoyancy aids are designed with a foam core rather than an inflatable core like certain life jackets. They usually include a front and back foam panel, as well as minimal foam around the sides, to allow for more flexibility while paddling.

Using foam eliminates the chance of their bursting or failing to inflate in an emergency.

Closed cell PVC (polyvinyl chloride) foam is commonly utilised, while some producers are beginning to employ less harmful and more recyclable materials.

The majority of buoyancy devices fit into one of three design categories:

  • An over-the-head vest. The location where the buoyancy aid is pulled over the head. Typically worn in more extreme settings, such as white water kayaking, where you don’t want it to unzip at an inopportune time!
  • Jacket with a front zip. Where the buoyancy aid is worn like a conventional jacket and has a front zipper. Because they are lightweight and easy to put on and take off, they are most typically seen in recreational watersports.
  • Jacket with a side zip. A hybrid of the first two, with a smaller zip on the side that allows you to wear it over your head or unzip it and take it off that way if necessary.

All buoyancy aids contain an adjustment strap for tightening the buoyancy aid so it does not fall off in the water. Recreational buoyancy aids will often have one or two adjustments because they are only meant for usage in protected and tranquil conditions. More adjustments will be found on white water or sea kayaking buoyancy aids when the conditions are more difficult and security is essential.

They may also have pockets for storing safety and rescue equipment (as well as the occasional chocolate bar in case of emergency!)

It’s critical to have a buoyancy aid that fits well and allows you to move freely. Make sure the buoyancy you chose is appropriate for what you’re doing and the environment in which you’ll be using it.

What does the N number represent?

Each PFD will be evaluated and rated. Because of the extra foam, the larger the size, the greater the floatation capability.

The (N) newton is a unit of force that measures the amount of uplift produced by the buoyancy aid. The greater the number, the greater the flotation. Every manufacturer will have standards for the consumer’s size, weight, force, and CE marking because a PFD supplied in the European Union must be CE tested and authorised.

The majority of adult buoyancy aids range in size from 50N to 70N, depending on the size and intended application.

How long may a buoyancy aid be used for?

The foam used in buoyancy aids degrades with time.

The average life expectancy of a buoyancy aid is three years, however keep in mind that buoyancy aids that are frequently subjected to contaminated water, moist storage, multiple hits, and high temperatures may degrade faster than predicted.

You can test the buoyancy of your buoyancy aid by submerging it in water, as Palm Equipment does in this video.

Any belts, stitching, and other portions of buoyancy aids and personal flotation devices must be inspected on a regular and routine basis. This wear and tear serves as an important indicator of when to retire a buoyancy assist.


Although the phrases PFD, buoyancy aid, and life jacket are sometimes used interchangeably, they have slightly different meanings.

PFD is an umbrella word for a variety of buoyant safety devices designed to keep you afloat in water. The two primary varieties of PFD are buoyancy aids and life jackets, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. We only have buoyancy aids in store, but it’s worth explaining the main distinctions for clarity.

Life jackets provide significantly more buoyancy than conventional PFDs, and they are built in such a way that an unconscious person will not only float, but will also self-right so that their head is facing up out of the water. Life jackets are most commonly utilised in situations where falling into water is extremely dangerous and the wearer need immediate assistance. As a result, they are most typically employed for children’s sailing courses, on commercial yachts, or in cases where the user is unable to swim alone.
Buoyancy aids are only intended to help a conscious person stay afloat. As a result, they require less flotation and are hence smaller and less visible than a fully rated life jacket. This has significant implications for active water users such as kayakers and stand up paddle boarders, who both benefit immensely from a lack of constraint and a wide range of movement.

As a result, as long as the user is a proficient swimmer, a buoyancy aid is almost always the superior option for activities like paddle boarding due to the absence of restrictions and the user’s need for assistance only on rare occasions.

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