How to choose a personal flotation device?

Australia is a water wonderland, and whether you're boating, fishing, jetskiing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, kayaking or stand up paddleboarding, safety has to be the number one priority. Wearing a life jacket or a personal flotation device (PFD) helps keep you and your loved ones safe when you're out on the water, and there's nothing more important than that. This buying guide outlines the key things to consider when weighing up life jackets so choosing the right PFD is easier.

What's the best life jacket or PFD?

We're all different shapes and sizes and want to do different things on the water, so what's best for one person might not suit someone else. The best PFD or life jacket for you depends on:

  • Who'll be using it (are they kids, adults, tall, heavy, broad-chested, strong swimmers?)
  • Where you'll be hitting the water (in hot summer weather or cooler climates?)
  • What kind of water you'll be on (calm, smooth, flat waters or rough, choppy seas?)
  • What you'll be doing (boating, skiing, boarding, fishing, paddling or competing?)
  • How often you'll use it and for how long (rarely or every weekend for years to come?)
  • How long you want it to last (for the summer or for years of summer fun in the sun?)

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Which PFD or life jacket should you buy?

Choosing a life jacket or PFD is easier when you break it down into these five steps:

How To Choose A Personal Flotation Device

1. Type

When it comes to safety, everyone who's out on the water should be wearing either a:

Life Jacket

Life jackets have a collar so anyone who falls into the water face down is automatically turned over so they're face up, which could save their life if they're unconscious.

Personal Flotation Device

PFDs come in varying levels of buoyancy and visibility for different kinds of aquatic activities. Some PFDs are life jackets, but technically speaking, not all PFDs are life jackets.

What life jacket do I need for a boat? What is the best life jacket for a jetski?

Personal Flotation Devices:

  • Are legally required in most states when you're out on open waterways.
  • Need to meet government regulations which differ from state to state so:
    • Only use the information in this buying guide as a general guide.
    • Always check and adhere to your state/territory maritime laws:
      • Queensland's maritime legislation
      • Victoria's maritime legislation
      • New South Wales' maritime legislation
      • Western Australia's maritime legislation
      • Tasmania's maritime legislation
      • Northern Territory's maritime legislation

There are three types of personal flotation devices (with four levels) that refer to:

  • Buoyancy - how well it keeps you afloat in the water.
  • Visibility - how easy it is for others to see you in the water.
  • Use - what kind of aquatic activities it should be used for.

Type 1 PFD

Type 1 PFDs are:

  • The highest possible level of buoyancy (and technically also a life jacket).
  • Made with a built-in neck brace that keeps you floating face up if you fall in the water.
  • More buoyant (and bulky) than Type 2 and 3 PFDs so they keep you afloat for longer.
  • Made in high-visibility materials to help search and rescue teams find you in the water.
  • For heading out offshore into open waters and general boating (including fishing).
  • The minimum required for boating solo, in rough weather or if you could get stranded.
  • Made in a level 100 (with 100 Newtons of buoyancy):
    • Made using traditional foam that's extremely buoyant.
    • Gives you a better chance of staying alive if you hit your head and are knocked out.
  • Made in a level 150 (with 150 Newtons of buoyancy):
    • Inflatable (some inflate manually, others automatically inflate for more safety).
    • The highest level of buoyancy so keeps you afloat for longer than level 100 PFDs.
    • Need to be serviced regularly and according to the manufacturer's instructions.
    • Sometimes made with built-in whistles to make attracting attention easier.

Type 2 PFD

Type 2 PFDs are:

  • A medium-low level of buoyancy (and the same level of buoyancy as Type 3).
  • Less bulky than Type 1 PFDs (so there's more freedom to move while doing water sports).
  • Less buoyant than Type 1 PFDs (so you don't float as well and you have to tread water).
  • More bulky than Type 3 PFDs (so movement is bit trickier).
  • Usually made in high-visibility materials to help others see you while on/in the water.
  • For activities on smoother waters (waterskiing, sailing, kayaking, canoeing, wind surfing).
  • Good for inland or sheltered waters such as around lakes where land is nearby.
  • Shouldn't be used in rough waters because keeping your head above water is difficult.
  • Made in a level 50 (with 50 Newtons of buoyancy).
  • Sometimes have built-in pockets for safety gear and drink bladders.

Type 3 PFD

Type 3 PFDs are:

  • A medium-low level of buoyancy (the same level of buoyancy as Type 2).
  • Made in a level 50S (with 50 Newtons of buoyancy - the S refers to special purpose).
  • For watersport competitions (waterskiing, sailing, kayaking, canoeing).
  • Less bulky than Type 1 and Type 2 PFDs (so you have more freedom to move).
  • Less buoyant than Type 1 PFDs (so you don't float as well and you have to tread water).
  • Made in all different colours (may not be high-vis so it can be hard for others to see you).
  • Sometimes have built-in pockets for safety gear and drink bladders.

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How To Choose A Personal Flotation Device

2. Use

Ocean Boating & Fishing

Type 1 PFDs are for:

  • Heading out offshore into open waters and general boating (including fishing).
  • Going boating alone, in rough weather or to places you could get stranded.

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Smooth Water Activities

Type 2 PFDs are for:

  • Jetskiing
  • Waterskiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Stand-up paddle boarding
  • Sailing
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Wind surfing
  • Personal watercraft

Watersport Competitions

Type 3 PFDs are for:

  • Skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Kayaking
  • Canoeing

Some Anaconda PDFs are named by the activities they suit (E.g. Fish Hunter PFD, Skimaster PFD).

How To Choose A Personal Flotation Device - PFD 50

3. Size

What size life jacket should I get?

To choose the right PFD, you can go through the selection process by looking at your:

  • Clothing size:
    • If you're small go for a smaller PFD size (XSm-Sm, Small, Sm-Med)
    • If you're average go for a medium PFD size (Sm-Med, Med, Med-Large)
    • If you're above average go for a larger PFD (Med-Large, Large, Large-XL, XL, XL-XXL)
  • Weight - some PFDs specify the person's weight range they're suited to in kilograms.
  • Comfort
    • If you're wearing it boating in hot weather look for a PFD that's breathable.
    • Try on a few at your nearest Anaconda store to ensure they don't rub/chafe.

How should a life jacket fit?

A PFD needs to:

  • Be snug but comfortable when it's zipped up with the straps tightened to suit your size.
  • Give you enough room to be able to move your head and arms.
  • Not ride up towards your head if someone puts their hands under the shoulders of the PFD and pulls it up towards the sky.
How To Choose A Personal Flotation Device - PFD 100

4. Accessories

PFDs are a safety essential on the water, and you can enhance your safety by adding accessories to your PFD (sold separately):

  • Whistles - to attract attention if you're ever lost and need to be rescued.
  • Flares - so search and rescue can see your signal and find you if you're stranded.
  • Safety knife - if you're ever trapped and need to cut yourself free from a tangle.
  • Waterproof phone case - so you've got a phone and can call for help in an emergency.
  • Extra drinking water, water purification tablets and food - if you're stuck at sea/stranded.
  • GPS, compass & waterproof map - to ensure you stay the course and don't get lost.
  • Lights - so you can see where you're going at night or in foggy conditions.
  • Straps - to secure the PFD to different parts of your body.
  • Co2 cylinders - for inflatable PFDs (fast inflation, compact floatation and easy activation).
  • Extra sealing caps - for inflatable PFDs, to keep the mouthpiece inflation tube sealed.

Be Smart, Stay Safe

  • Know your skill level - don't attempt trips or activities that are too difficult for you.
  • Share your plans - Always tell someone where you're going and when you're due back.
  • Log your trip with the relevant authorities - Some national parks have log books to record your journey. Always use these so you can be located quickly if you go missing.
How To Choose A Personal Flotation Device

5. Quality

When it comes to how much you should spend on a personal flotation device:

  • If you're buying PFDs for kids or adults who can't swim, go for a level 100 PFD that has a collar so it keeps them facing up in the water (it could save their life).
  • If it's for paddling or kayak fishing look for a short PFD with more freedom to paddle.
  • If it's for stand-up paddleboarding, an inflatable SUP belt PFD you wear around your waist gives you complete freedom (but you have to be able to inflate it yourself).
  • Cheap PFDs may not last as long as more expensive PFDs, so you get what you pay for.
  • If you'll be wearing it out on the water a lot and want to be comfortable for years to come, it might be worth spending a bit more on a good-quality PFD.
  • Whatever you spend on a PFD is an investment in your safety and the lives of your loved ones - both priceless.

How much are PFDs?

Anaconda has PFDs ranging in price from:

  • $35 to $50 for kids .
  • $60 to $170 for adults.

The quick way to find the right PFD

When you go to the water section on the Anaconda website then click on life jackets, you'll see tick box filters down the left hand side of the page. Using these filters makes working out which PFD to buy easier and faster because you can choose to filter what you see by:

  • Price - so you only see PFDs within your budget on the page.
  • Categories - to just see PFDs for boating, fishing, waterskiing or kids.
  • Size - so you only see the PFDs that are the right size for you and loved ones.
  • Deal - so you only see all the PFDs that are on sale or at clearance prices.
  • Brand - so you can see the PFDs made by a specific brand you know and like.

Other Beach & Surf Essentials

Check out Anaconda's range of Beach & Surf products available online or visit your local store.

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