hooked on lifejackets

There is a difference between lifejackets and PFDs and it is important to weigh the characteristics of each to decide which is better suited to your specific on-the-water activity and needs.


Compared to PFDs, lifejackets offer a higher level of protection. Lifejackets come in red, orange or yellow and have SOLAS-grade reflective strips which, along with the bright colour, make you much easier to see in the water. They have a minimum of 22 pounds of flotation, are usually equipped with a whistle, and are designed to turn a person in a face up position. They are reversible and must be Canadian approved as indicated by the attached label. Currently, there are three types of Canadian approved lifejacket types to choose from.

Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Lifejackets

  • SOLAS lifejackets provide the best performance in the water. No matter what, these lifejackets will turn you on your back in seconds to keep your face out of the water, even if you are unconscious.
  • SOLAS lifejackets are only available in two sizes; one for individuals over 32kgs or 70lbs, the other size is for individuals less than 32kg or 70lbs.
  • SOLAS lifejackets are available in the keyhole model.

Standard Type Lifejackets

  • Standard Type lifejackets have slower performance in the water than SOLAS lifejackets. These lifejackets will turn you on your back to keep your face out of the water, even if you are unconscious, but not as fast as SOLAS lifejackets.
  • Standard Type lifejackets are available in two sizes; one for individuals over 40kg or 88lbs and one for individuals less than 40kg or 88lbs.
  • Standard Type lifejackets are available in the keyhole model

Small Vessel Lifejackets

  • Small Vessel lifejackets provide the slowest performance in the water. They will turn you on your back to keep your face out of the water, even if you are unconscious, but may do so more slowly than the previous two approved lifejackets.
  • Small Vessel lifejackets are available in three sizes; one for individuals over 41kg or 90lbs, one for individuals between 18kg or 40lbs and 41kg or 90lbs, and the other for individuals less than 18kg or 40lbs.
  • Small Vessel lifejackets are available in two models, the keyhole model and the vest mode


Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs), unlike traditional lifejackets, are more comfortable because they are designed for constant wear. However, they do not generally offer the same level of protection as lifejackets for staying afloat and turning an unconscious person onto their back so you can breathe. PFDs are available in a wide range of approved types, sizes and colours, so it is important to choose one based on your needs and your boating activity. For example, if you plan to operate your vessel at high speeds, look for a high impact PFD which features three or more chest belts for security. For cold water boating, choosing a PFD with some thermal protection. There is a large selection of PFDs designed and manufactured specifically for most on-water activities such as sailing, kayaking, canoeing, personal watercraft riding, and even for angling. And they all come in a variety of sizes suitable for small children up to large adults.



Inflatable lifejackets have been designed for wearability. However if you decide that an inflatable best suits your boating needs, it is important that you understand its limitations, how to use it and how to care for it.

An inflatable lifejacket is only approved in an open boat if you are wearing it. If your boat has an enclosure, then you only need to wear the inflatable lifejacket while you’re on deck or in the cockpit.

Inflatable vests come in two styles:

  • The first is a vest type, which can be inflated manually or automatically with a CO2 system. The automatic inflatables are designed to inflate when submerged. They also have a manual inflation system which is activated by pulling a toggle.
  • The second is a pouch style which can only be manually inflated by pulling a toggle.

All inflatable PFDs have an oral inflation tube in case the CO2 inflation system fails. However, for weak swimmers, this might be hard to use when they are trying to keep their head above water. It is important to know that inflatable PFDs are not approved under the following conditions:

  • Anyone under 16 years old.
  • Anyone who weighs less than 36.6 kg or 80lbs.
  • Use on a personal watercraft.
  • White water paddling activities.

When choosing a lifesaving appliance, remember the differences in functionality between lifejackets, PFDs and inflatable PFDs. Pick one that best suits your needs and think carefully before purchasing. Also consider colour when you make your choice. Bright colours are easier to spot in the water. The best lifejacket or PFD is one that you will wear whenever you are on the water. And remember that an emergency is no time to try out a new lifesaving device, so locate your owner’s manual for whatever type of PFD or lifejacket you own, read it carefully and know how to use it before setting out on the water.