Inflatable PFDs have been around for quite some time now, and have become fairly popular with the bass fishing crowd, but haven’t really caught on in the saltwater scene. There’s no arguing that they provide an extra element of protection while on the water and despite hearing of a handful of preventable tragedies each season, very few saltwater anglers include them in their repertoire of gear. Adding an inflatable PFD to your gear bag ups your safety game substantially, especially for those running at night or in foul weather.
Many people I’ve talked to argue that there’s no need to spend the money on an inflatable when they already carry the basic orange Type II on their boat.
While that’s a fair point, a PFD won’t do you much good if it’s not readily accessible, or better yet, already being worn.
This is where the inflatables really shine… they’re lightweight, comfortable, and can be worn all day without being a hindrance to the body movements required when fishing (or sailing or paddling).
As these PFDs have been around a while, the technology and fit has gotten much better. So good to the point that you don’t really even notice that you’re wearing one. The manufacturers have also really simplified the buying process, but there are a few decisions you’ll need to make before picking up an inflatable PFD.
There are 2 basic styles – auto inflate, and manual inflate. For skiff fishing,, auto-inflate is the way to go most of the time. If you fall overboard, the “immersion sensor” is triggered, almost instantly inflating the PFD and keeping you on the surface without you having to do a thing.
Auto-inflate is a nice feature in case you hurt yourself while falling overboard and are unable to pull the ripcord yourself.
Auto-inflate styles also have an option to inflate manually in-case the sensor fails to activate. In situations where you’re more likely end up in the water (fishing off a kayak or SUP), a manual-inflating PFD makes more sense as you can choose to only inflate it when you really need assistance.
Another key decision is whether or not you want to go with a Type III or Type V PFD. Not to bore you with USCG classifications, but basically a Type V only counts as a PFD when it’s being worn. In other words, if you’re not wearing it, you still need to have an additional Type III or II on board to meet the USCG safety requirements. A Type III inflatable counts whether it’s being worn or not. *these laws can change, so please check your current local laws.
After that, there are a few features you can choose like attachments for sailing harnesses, and pockets for fishing gear. Onyx offers camo options as well so you can use it during waterfowl hunting season too. The lack of bulk is great since it won’t interfere with shouldering your shotgun. Next time you’re at your local marine store or fishing/outdoors show, take a few minutes to give these a look.
To learn more about inflatable PFDs, check out the manufacturers below.