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Buoyancy aids and Life jackets ( Personal Flotation Devices – PFD’s )




Ever wondered about the difference ? Buoyancy Aids and Life Jackets are essential safety devices designed to keep individuals afloat in water, a very, very good idea in various aquatic environments. Despite their similar purpose, they have distinct features and are suited to different activities and conditions.

Buoyancy Aids

Buoyancy aids are often used in activities like kayaking, canoeing, sailing, and windsurfing. These aids, as they suggest, provide buoyancy to help the wearer stay on the surface of the water, but they do not typically turn an unconscious person onto their back to keep their face out of the water. Buoyancy Aids are generally less bulky and offer more freedom of movement, which makes them ideal for active water sports.

These aids come in various styles, including vest-type, jacket-type, and belt-type, each offering different levels of buoyancy, usually measured in Newtons (N). Common buoyancy aids provide between 50N to 100N of buoyancy. The European standard for buoyancy aids, EN ISO 12402-5, specifies that these aids should provide at least 50N of buoyancy and are suitable for use in sheltered waters where help is readily available.

Life Jackets

Life Jackets, on the other hand, are designed to provide a higher level of safety by ensuring that the wearer stays afloat with their face above water, even if they are unconscious. This is achieved through the distribution of buoyant material that typically keeps the wearer’s head and chest above water. Life Jackets are recommended for use in rough or open water, as they significantly enhance the chance of survival in emergencies.

There are several types of life jackets, categorized mainly by their buoyancy levels, ranging from 100N to 275N.

  • 100N Life Jackets: Suitable for inland and sheltered waters, these jackets can turn an unconscious person into a safe position but are not recommended for rough conditions.
  • 150N Life Jackets: These provide a higher level of buoyancy and are suitable for general offshore and rough water use. They are designed to turn most unconscious wearers into a safe position.
  • 275N Life Jackets: These offer the highest level of buoyancy and are used in extreme conditions, such as open ocean sailing or when wearing heavy clothing that could impair buoyancy.

Life jackets come in various designs, including inherently buoyant (foam-filled), inflatable, or hybrid models. Inherently buoyant jackets provide immediate buoyancy, while inflatable ones offer a less bulky option but require manual or automatic activation to inflate.

Choosing the Right Device

The choice between a buoyancy aid and a life jacket depends on several factors, including the location, and the activity being undertaken. For instance, a buoyancy aid might be suitable for kayakers on a lake with assistance nearby, whereas a 150N life jacket might be more appropriate for offshore sailors.


Buoyancy aids and life jackets are indispensable for water safety, offering varying levels of buoyancy and safety features tailored to different conditions and activities. Understanding their differences and choosing the right type for the situation can significantly enhance safety and potentially save lives in aquatic environments.

Palm are excellent when it comes to buoyancy aids, and this is a very good demonstration of how to fit one. I also use other brands to give a wide range of options for the many different shapes and sizes we all come in.

If you are interested in a First Aid course in this area, I’d fully recommend contacting Ross & Sue here :

This guy is not part of Lakes First Aid, but he goes over the basics of finding yourself in the situation of maybe pulling someone out of the water.


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