I think we need to go back a step or two before we get too carried away with what we carry or donít carry in our pfd.
On one of those days when the weather is the sort that you would rather not be paddling in gather up all your normal paddling stuff jump in the car leave the boat at home and go find a nice sandy beach where the wind is blowing onshore, take a few friends along as well.
Gear up, put everything in your pfd, dress normally for the conditions put on your spray deck and then take a running dive into the water.
When you come to surface start swimming against the wind and the waves. See just how far you can comfortably swim. Does the pfd hinder your progress. That shoreline which you thought you can safely swim to may just be out of reach if you have to bat against the elements in a real life bailout. Being able to swim a 1000 metres in the pool doesnít mean much when your swimming encumbered with your gear and the wind, waves and currents are against you.
Next just stop and bob up and down for a while. Does your pfd sit correctly does it ride up every time you get hit by a breaking wave do you float high enough in the water. Does your pfd ride up around your ears. Trying putting your arms in the air as if signalling or as if someone was offering to pull you out of the water, where is your pfd do you stay firmly inside it or does it start to slip off.
Next try reaching for your safety gear can you access your knife, are you able to dial a friend on your cell phone do a radio check with your local rescue service if this is possible on your vhf radio. Access your flares etc. Try signalling your friends on the beach with your mirror or laser.
When youíre out on a paddle you need to be aware of your environment. If you do bail and lose your boat and you make it to shore what next, do you know which way to start walking to find assistance do you have footwear on that allows you to walk over the terrain. If you donít make it to shore is your pfd going to provide you with enough flotation and stay on. Can you access whatever safety gear you have with you are you starting to feel very cold.
Make sure the pfd you own or are about to purchase works for you. Yes they all meet the required standards for your area but do they work for you. I changed my pfd a while back. The old one seemed to fit well it didnít hinder my paddling had some little pockets to put my do dads in and I thought was pretty good. Then we did some rescue training on a day that was just a little bumpy. The pfd was not up to the job whenever my wife tried to grab my jacket and assist me in getting on board I just fell through it I tried tightening up all the adjustments but it didnít help much. When I got back to shore we went and bought 2 new ones of a different design. The next day we tested them and kept them.
Just some thoughts