Summer is here and the holidays are coming! This means bucket-loads of time hanging out, in and around our fresh and salt water hot spots all around the Motu. Waterways are busy, much like the State Highway traffic at this time of the year!  It's time to get on the water to have FUN - but be SAFE.

Paddleboarding looks cruisey and is accessible for all, and that's why we love it! However, even the glassiest of days can turn to custard pretty quick. Conditions can, and do, change while you are out. Without knowledge of the wind direction/speed and the tidal movements, this can get you into difficulty. Don't be 'that guy' with the attitude of 'she'll be right!'. Follow the SUP Safe Code.



Paddlers (and any water users) in our opinion, should always be prepared for the worst case scenario, just incase it does happen!  And one of the key pieces of safety equipment you need when paddling is a buoyancy aid. 

How many of you are aware that it is also a legal requirement?

Stuart Whitehouse, Nelson Harbour Master

"Life Jackets do save lives. Nationally, local bylaws may differ slightly, but buoyancy aids are required on the vessel.  In Nelson, it’s a legal requirement to wear a lifejacket on vessels 6 meters and under (SUPs), along with carrying two forms of communication, and remember it needs to be waterproof. Keep communication attached to you (waterproof cell phone cases work well), a whistle works if you stay close to the beach. Other options are PLB’s, VHF handhelds if your venturing further out.  We will be out monitoring over summer and will be both on and off the water offering advice and education, so look out for us. Check local weather and tide conditions, and shipping movements before heading out. Ask questions to those people that know, because conditions can change quickly.”


"Which ones best for me and what do I do??"

Hopefully this blog will give you some important information to better understand the types of buoyancy aids out there so you can make the right choice for your style of paddling.  

'Permanent' Buoyancy Aids

There two types of Permanent Buoyancy Aids, a Life Jacket and a Personal Flotation Device (PFD).

Life Jacket:

A life jacket has the additional flotation collar, designed to keep the wearer's head out of the water, even if unconscious.

Personal Flotation Device (PFD):

A permanent buoyancy vest (or PFD) is very similar to a Life Jacket, just without the flotation collar. It is important to be aware that PFD's of this type will not float you face up, should you be unconscious or incapacitated.

Pros for a Permanent Buoyancy Aid:

  • Excellent flotation.
  • Permanent buoyancy (don't require any action to be buoyant).
  • Reassuring for inexperienced paddlers and/or weak swimmers to wear.
  • The vest provides better comfort for paddling in comparison to the jacket, with more room around the shoulders and the upper body.
  • Often have well positioned pockets for convenience.

 Cons for a Permanent Buoyancy Aid:

  • You can get hot wearing these during a good paddle session.
  • It can create chaffing and discomfort in areas, particularly around your neck if wearing the jacket with the flotation collar.
  • It can get in the way when paddling because of the extra thickness around your body.
  • It can make swimming harder, and getting back onto your board difficult for some.
  • Surprisingly, the permanent buoyancy 'vest' (which leans itself to be the most comfortable of the two) tends to provide the least amount of flotation. 

'Inflatable' Buoyancy Aids

These types of buoyancy aids are called inflatable buoyancy aids because exactly that, they need to be inflated! The wearer has to activate the 'inflation' before they will provide any buoyancy in the water. They also require more work and maintenance than a permanent buoyancy aid. 

These inflatable types of buoyancy aids have CO2 gas canisters that must be activated either manually (often at the pull of a toggle or cord by the wearer) or automatically (once they get wet), which inflates the bladder. Once inflated, the wearer will rapidly turn onto their back. It is important to note that the beltpack style requires a second action; it needs to be placed over the wearer's head after the inflation occurs.  

Have you seen a beltpack being inflated? Check out this video.

Pros for an Inflatable Buoyancy Aid:

  • Much more comfortable to wear than a permanent buoyancy aid.
  • Lightweight and compact. So easier to get back on a board if you fall off.
  • Very well suited to paddleboarding.
  • High Newton Rating (often 150N).
  • Easier to swim with (not on), used as a swim float

Cons for an Inflatable Buoyancy Aid:

  • Requires inflation by the user.
  • More maintenance than permanent buoyancy aids.
  • The horseshoe style can be a little uncomfortable when paddleboarding and can cause chaffing around the neck.

Specialist/Rescue Buoyancy Aids

Specialist buoyancy aids come in many forms, depending on the type of paddling you do. Multisport, River Paddling, Racing...

Kokatat Hustle R Rescue PFD

Check out this video - 'Whitewater SUP looks something like this'.

Pros for a Specialist/Rescue Buoyancy Aid: 

  • Well designed cut which allow for maximum mobility.
  • Provide plenty of buoyancy without the bulk.
  • They have a tonne more safety features too, equipping you to deal with any situation you may encounter. With extra pockets (often with internal dividers) for storing and organising extra safety equipment, and a quick release chest harness as well. 

Cons for a Specialist/Rescue Buoyancy Aid: 

  • Lots of extra gadgets and safety features that aren't necessary for a flat water paddler.
  • Generally more expensive (but worth every cent)!

Sizing and fitting your buoyancy aid

One size does not fit all!

You need to find a buoyancy aid that is both suited to your body shape, your paddle style, and one that provides you with the correct amount of flotation. Permanent buoyancy aids are harder to share between users, as they really are sized to fit the wearer. Whereas the inflatable buoyancy aids are suitable for different body shapes and sizes.

When choosing a permanent buoyancy aid, it is super important to fit it snug, making sure all zips, buckles, and straps are secured well enough so that if you do end up in the water, it won't move around, making it difficult to float or swim.

Servicing and maintaining your buoyancy aid

Servicing your buoyancy aid at least once a year (or after an inflation) is recommended, and definitely before the Summer season when you will likely be using it the most. More work is required to maintain and service inflatable buoyancy aids versus permanent buoyancy aids.

Permanent buoyancy aids:

Permanent bouyancy aids do not require as much maintenance as the inflatable types of bouyancy aids.

Key Tips:

  • Wash down with fresh cold water after use, especially after use in salt water. Salt and sand will degrade the fabric over time, so keeping it clean will extend it's lifetime.
  • Let it dry completely before stashing it away in a cupboard, you don't want mould and mildew to start growing on it!
  • Avoid keeping it in direct sunlight for long periods of time. This exposure will degrade the fabric over time.

Inflatable buoyancy aids:

If an inflatable buoyancy aid gets wet at any time, it must be taken out of it's pack and washed down with fresh cold water, then left to dry completely before repacking it.

When giving an inflatable buoyancy aid a more thorough service, it is advisable to follow these steps: 

  • Give it an external inspection to check the outside cover is in good condition, the zippers are in working order, the stitching and any webbing are in tact and not fraying, and any buckles are clasping properly.
  • Open out the bladder and check that all attached fittings are in good working order, including the whistle, inflating hoses, reflective tape etc.
  • Check the CO2 canister for any rust/corrosion. If rust or corrosion is visible we recommend changing the canister. Unthread the CO2 canister and ensure that at the base of the thread of the firing mechanism the internal seal is in good working order, and the canister itself has not been pierced.
  • Orally inflate the bladder to make sure the bladder is firm. Once inflated, leave it for 24 hours to make sure it holds it's pressure. It is then able to be deflated, often by using the cap in the reverse position.
  • Repack the bladder following the instructions on the bladder, or inside the external cover.

For more information on how to look after your inflatable buoyancy aid, check out this link or take a look at this video.

Phew!! Who new ay? But as you can see, there are a number of options out there. The key is to find the right one that suits YOU, where and what you paddle. We don't ever want to get into a difficult situation, but if we did, we definitely want the peace of mind knowing that we are wearing the right gear to stay safe.

Check out this link to the wise words of Rob Hewitt, surely a dude that speaks from experience.

From the Team at Moana NZ SUP and Paddle Nelson, we wish you a safe Christmas and New Year holiday! 

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