Paddle board Tips for Big People - 5 Low Profile Lifejackets

Sometimes teaching is a live and learn experience. When we teach SUP classes, we have a certain protocol we start with, then adjust per each student's learning style. On a recent class in tidal rapids north of Seattle, we asked all our students to wear vest style lifejackets, a necessity for any whitewater paddling. Once in the rapids, two students who were around 300lbs couldn't get back on their boards as their vest PFDs were too bulky against their chest to get a good grab-hold of the SUP and to climb on. Essentially, the vests shortened their arm reach thus they couldn't reach the deck handle or get a good grip of the rail. We were able to use the flip rescue to get both back on their boards.  We tried to use my Stirrup method but the water was too chaotic to establish a solid foot-hold in the aerated whitewater.

That evening, I began to research PFDs for a low profile product that would still be safe for use in whitewater or flat water for large folks. Here's what I found..

Type 3 Inflatables- 
Normally I'm not a fan of inflatables especially for beginner paddlers or those that haven't water tested the devices. We've seen beginners panic when they hit the water Without practice they may not pull the handle choosing to nervously tread water or swim to the shore or to their board. But in the experience above the vest style PFDs were too bulky for climbing back on and didn't fit comfortably.

Test Before Use - With a waist style, try on deflated before you get on the water to make sure the removed PFD will extend comfortably from the waist to your shoulders (an extendable strap connects the two sections).  Then on shallow water, pull the handle and learn how to put it on before going in deep water offshore.  Learn to get on your board in shallow water before going offshore.  

Hyde Wingman - Google results for 'minimalist lifejacket' showed this product, a result of a successful Kickstarter campaign is an inflatable but fits on your body like a deflated vest PFD. So it's already there, you don't have to put it on when trying to hold onto your gear in rough water. Like most PFD's there's a manual inflation option if your C02 mechanism fails (or you don't have a cartridge).  The product has been Coast Guard approved (US) and is in pre-order. Retails for $180.  
Hyde Wingman

Downside is that it only comes in one size. They claim its a one size fits all but as us big folks know, that's always the case. Max chest size is 50", belly size not included. I'm 42" in the chest, 46" in the belly (IPAs).  I'm a tall 230lb guy with a belly, other body types or a barrel chested person may not apply here. Possibly the company may consider larger sizes once they get going. I've asked for a sample to test and review.

Yoke Style
Yoke Style Inflatables - More common with boaters than paddlers, these like the Wingman are already on your body and only need to be inflated. The MTI Helios 2.0 is an example of a yoke style. Some fire the cartridge upon entry in the water, but with some paddlers this may be an issue of they're regularly in the water planned or not.  The PFD is CG approved, is low profile and has a 52" chest.  


Waist style C02
Waist Style  - Most common with SUP paddlers are the waist style PFDs which are most minimalist but have to be placed over the shoulders to be effective as a worn PFD. The USCG approves it if worn on the front of your body, but most slide it behind them. Downside here is to properly work, the PFD must be slide to the front, handle pulled (either front or back) or manually inflated and with luck the PFD will fit over your head and/or hat/helmet. An example of this PFD is the MTI Fluid 2.0. 

 Tips for Inflatables - With an inflated PFD, try to swim. While these do a great job of holding your head above water, peripheral vision is limited and the PFD will bounce around your shoulders while swimming.

Care for your C02 PFD 

Repacking your C02 PFD


Type 3 - Non-Inflatable - 

Mocke Racer PFD - This one was recommended by surf ski friends. Also minimalist like the Wingman, this one is not a C02 but has floatation, but isn't approved by the US Coast Guard (from what I can tell).  And it looks like it has a max chest width of 36".  But it is colorful.  

Vaikobi Hi-Vis PFD
Vaikobi Hi-Vis Ocean Racing PFD - A similar design to the Mocke Racer, is high visibility and this one is available in XXL with a max chest width of 55".  But also doesn't appear to be USCG approved but is ISO 12402-5 Approved.

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Read More: 
Big People Tips for Climbing Back on your Board

The Flip Rescue - Helping others get back on their board

How to Safely Fall and Climb Back on a SUP

 Any questions give me a holler: salmonbaypaddle@gmail.com / 206.465.7167
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