Testing Buoyancy Aids (PFDs)

People often wonder how they can check their PFD (or buoyancy aid as we call them in UK) is still ok and meets flotation standards.

PFDs for sea kayaking

If the PFD is old or worn change it.

Somewhere deep in the BCU website is this document on how to test PFDs (buoyancy aids). It dates from 2000. “Notes for guidance on the implementation of the EU directives on Personal Protective equipment“.

The BCU now only ask for random testing of 10% of PFD’s using this method at a centre. A PFD with a 50N rating needs to be tested in a tank of water with a 5kg lead weight attached to it. If it floats it is okay.

Bear in mind the date of manufacture may be some time before you have bought/used the PFD. We check our PFD’s when issued out to clients and withdraw any suspect ones from use until repaired, or are dumped. Over the years I’ve found that zips, straps, outer materials have been the main reason to take a PFD out of use even when it might still pass the flotation test. The key message is regular inspections rather than just leave the PFD’s in a heap/ boot of the car for the season.

The Canoe England website also has a section on kayak Safety Advice.

There is also a Health and Safety Executive document:

Personal buoyancy equipment on inland and inshore waters HSE AIS1

Inspect your PFD for damage and wear. Using it as a seat is not a good idea.

Equally, if you picked up the PFD really cheap or free then I’d certainly take a long close look at it. Your life may depend on it.

The float test is the method we use at Jersey Kayak Adventures to check our buoyancy aids.

There can be quite a variation between the quality and longevity of PFD’s between different manufacturers and even models. For example: some of our Palm junior PFD’s have suffered a lot of ripping on the outer materials. Older models have not suffered this problem.

In 5 years none have failed the tests. A few have been dumped because the outer material was showing signs of wear, or straps/buckles were in a poor condition. The age of the PFD is not a good indicator as much will depend on the level and type of use.

If you do dump an old PFD make sure it is not likely to be picked up by someone and re-used. I remove belts, buckles and take out the old foam -it makes a nice mat to stand on when changing-. Some parts can be re-used and re-cycled as spares or to use on other bits of kit.

Derek Hairon