What Is the Difference Between A PFD and Life Jacket?

What Is the Difference Between A PFD and Life Jacket?

For anyone participating in ocean performance sports, it's important to know what level of buoyancy aid, life jacket or PFD you need, and the difference Between A PFD and Life Jacket. Vaikobi creates PFDs for watersports including paddling, sailing and other windsports, so our expert team have the following answers to your questions!


Firstly, what does PFD actually stand for? 

"PFD" is an acronym for 'Personal Flotation Device'.


The basic difference: 

The terms PFD, lifejacket, life vest, life preserver, buoyancy vest and buoyancy aid are used interchangeably for the same item, all with the same key purpose; to prevent persons drowning. 

A PFD is a garment designed to keep a conscious person afloat and to assist with buoyancy in the water. PFDs are ranked by flotation levels in types 1 (levels 150, 100) 2 (level 50), and 3 (level 50S).

Only type 1 is classified as a traditional life jacket, with neck support to keep the user’s face up in the water. In the traditional meaning of the word, a ‘life jacket’ used to refer to a garment that kept an unconscious person's head above water in an emergency, by including a neck float piece that holds their mouth and nose out of the water. However nowadays a life jacket refers to any vest that aids in the flotation of a person who is still conscious.


How do I choose the correct PFD or life jacket for me? 

For professional kayakers and sailors alike, safety is the top priority while in high-risk circumstances such as river rapids, ocean waves, solo expeditions, or low light. However, the safest on-water gear does not have to compromise manoeuvrability or aesthetics.

There are endless options out there, with user-activated inflatable PFDs also becoming popular across the market, making a choice difficult for consumers. The product information listed on our website will help you select the right Vaikobi PFD life jacket according to your on-water plans.


Kayaking and Paddle Sport PFD Life Jackets

The three most important things to consider when choosing a kayak PFD are comfort, design function and durability. Vaikobi has specially designed a versatile range of PFDs for high-performance ocean racing across surf skis, kayaks, dragon boats and stand-up paddleboards. 

The hugely popular V3 Ocean Racing PFD Life Jacket features a super soft form-fitting foam for maximum range of movement, with ultra-lightweight material and padded shoulders. A hydro compartment is located on the back, complete with larger hose tab guides, for efficient hydration in long or rigorous training sessions. 

This kayaking lifejacket is free of side panels, for maximum breathability and temperature regulation. This design also ensures the user's stroke is unimpeded, with no uncomfortable rubbing or chafing, while maintaining an excellent fit. Its classic style features a centre zip for ease of fitting and various colours, including cyan, fluro yellow, orange, and pink for visibility in adverse weather.

The VXP Race PFD Life Jacket is another excellent option for paddle athletes due to its large velcro pocket closures for extra security while storing key items. It has a side zip entry and a larger hydration pocket on the back, holding a water bladder of up to 2 litres.  

Both products have been manufactured to ISO 12402-5 (50N Buoyancy), which is the most internationally recognised safety standard for this level of PFD. 


Sailing PFD Life Jackets

Depending on the size and nature of your sailing vessel, your choice of buoyancy aid will differ. 

Vaikobi's VX Race PFD Life Jacket strikes the perfect balance between safety (50N Buoyancy) and free movement for skiff and dinghy classes. The elongated profile and VX print grip prevent it from riding up around the neck and won’t impact capsize recovery times like other bulky designs. Its side zip and lightweight form-fitting panels provide a sleek and minimal shape that prevents snagging on boat fittings. Our range of colours will also keep you in style on the racetrack.  

Alternatively, yacht sailors tend to go for an even more minimal life jacket design due to the lesser possibility of going overboard.

Inflatable PFDs and Life Jackets

Inflatable PFDs and life jackets are popular on larger sailing boats and recreational fishing vessels. Most inflatable PFDs are manually activated by pulling a toggle, and therefore consideration should be given to the ability of the user to inflate it during an emergency.

Some inflatable life jackets are activated by a hydrostatic mechanism, which senses the water pressure and assumes the user is in the water. This triggers a carbon dioxide cylinder to inflate the device. Where you are required to wear a life jacket (open ocean or where the local authorities require), an inflatable life jacket is a great solution to provide the highest level of floatation without interfering with free movement. 

The manually inflated PFD is more commonly used because it is frustrating (and unsafe on occasions) when a life jacket inflates unintentionally.

It is worth noting that inflatable life jackets and PFDs usually must be serviced annually or in compliance with your local maritime laws.

What to look for in a PFD and Life Jacket

The best way to select a PFD is to consider the brand and the circumstances for which it was designed. Ultimately, the best PFD to wear is the one that feels the most comfortable, as this factor is likely to increase its usage.

To ensure the most comfortable fit while racing or training on the water, please check out our PFD videos:




After all, a life jacket never ruined a day on the water. For more information, see our range of PFD life jackets on the Vaikobi website.

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