Lifejackets and PFDs


Lifejackets come only in red, orange and yellow so you are much more visible while in water. Currently, there are three Canadian-approved types to choose from:

red solas lifejacket

Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) lifejackets meet very high performance standards and are approved for all vessels. They:

  • will turn you on your back in seconds to keep your face out of the water, even if you are unconscious;
  • come in two sizes: for those over 32 kg (70 lbs.) and those less than 32 kg; and,
  • are available in comfortable and compact inflatable configurations that can be automatically, manually or orally inflated.

red standard lifejacket indicating rating for adult over 40 kilograms


Standard Type lifejackets are approved for all vessels, except SOLAS vessels. They:

  • will turn you on your back to keep your face out of the water, even if you are unconscious; and,
  • come in two sizes: for those less than 40 kg (88 lbs.) and those greater than 40 kg.

small vessel lifejacket in yellow and red

Small Vessel lifejackets are approved for small vessels. They:

  • have less flotation than Standard Type lifejackets;
  • will turn you on your back, but may do so more slowly;
  • come in two models: keyhole and vest; and,
  • come in three sizes.

Future types and designs of lifejackets will improve their wearability and performance.

For more information on selecting lifejackets, check out

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

pfd designed for paddle sports in black and blue

This type of flotation device is approved for pleasure craft only. You can choose from a wide range of approved types, sizes and colours of PFDs. They do not all come in red, orange or yellow; but it is a good idea to choose one of these colours so you are much more visible when in water.

Choose a PFD based on your needs and the activity you will be participating in. If you plan on operating at high speeds, look for a PFD with three or more chest belts for security.

If you will be operating in cold water (water less than 15°C) choose a PFD with some thermal protection. A large selection of devices designed for specific uses are now available for all types of activities such as sailboarding, kayaking and canoeing.

yellow and black pfd with grey chest beltsThere are, however, some pros and cons to choosing a PFD over a lifejacket. A PFD may be more comfortable than a lifejacket because it is designed for constant wear, but PFD usually offer less flotation than SOLAS, Standard Type and Small Vessel lifejackets. Although they have limited turning capability, some PFD provide thermal protection against hypothermia. The choice is yours, but consider your needs carefully before purchasing.

Inflatable PFD are another option but for them to work properly you must understand their operation and maintenance requirements. You should also check which boating activities they are approved for, under the Small Vessel Regulations. For example, people less than 16 years of age or who weigh less than 36.3 kg (80 lbs.), and operators of personal watercraft are prohibited from wearing an inflatable PFD. They come in two styles:

Vest types can be orally, manually (with a CO2 system) or automatically inflated.

red vest type pfd before inflation red vest type pfd after inflation (showing yellow)

Pouch types can be orally inflated, or manually inflated by pulling a toggle to activate a CO2 inflation system.

blue pouch type pfd before inflation blue pouch type pfd after inflation (showing yellow)

Though their inflation time is relatively short, for weak swimmers it can seem like forever. All Canadian approved inflatable PFDs have an oral inflation tube in case the CO2 inflation mechanism fails. If you are struggling to stay afloat, this tube could be a challenge to use.

An emergency is no time to experiment with a new device. Inflatable PFD should come with an owner’s manual. Look for it and read it carefully. Under supervision and before heading out, try the device on and make sure you know how to use it.

child wearing a red lifejacket

Keeping kids afloat

A lifejacket or PFD is no substitute for adult supervision. Kids should be within arm’s reach and should be wearing a proper flotation device at all times.

Before buying a flotation device for your child, make sure the device is Canadian-approved. Find an appropriately sized device and have them try it on. It should fit snugly, not ride up over your child’s chin or ears. If there are more than 7.6 cm (3”) between your child’s shoulders and the device it is too big and could do more harm than good.

Look for these safety features:

  • A large collar for head support
  • Waist ties or elastic gathers in front and backtwo large collar lifejackets in red and yellow, respectively
  • A safety strap that goes between the legs to prevent the device from slipping over your child’s head
  • Buckles on safety straps and reflective tape
  • Consider attaching a non-metallic pealess whistle to the device

Parents who want their kids to wear a lifejacket should set a good example and do the same.


child fastening a yellow lifejacketLook for a lifejacket or PFD with a label that states it has been approved by:

  • Transport Canada;
  • Canadian Coast Guard;
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada; or,
  • any combination of the above.

Foreign visitors to Canada may bring their own flotation device to use as long as it conforms to the laws of their country

Proper care of your flotation device

Treat your flotation device as an investment and take good care of it. Devices that are ripped or in poor condition are not considered approved.

Lifesaving equipment should never be kneeled on, sat on or used as a fender for your boat. Follow these tips:

  • Check its buoyancy regularly in a pool or by wading out to waist-deep water and bending your knees to see how well you float.
  • Ensure that straps, buckles and zippers are clean and in good working order.
  • Tug on straps to ensure they are well attached and there is no sign of wear.
  • Dry your device in open air and avoid direct heat sources.
  • Store it in a dry, well-ventilated, easily accessible place.
  • Do not dry clean. Use mild soap and running water to clean.

It won't work if you don't wear it

child in yellow lifejacket sitting on bow of sailboatIn order to work, proper lifesaving equipment must be worn at all times. Believing that you can locate, don and fasten a PFD in the water is dangerous for many reasons; adverse wind and wave conditions can make this extremely difficult, if not impossible; you could unexpectedly fall into water and the vessel (with the PFD aboard) could be unreachable; and, cold water can severely impede your ability to don and fasten a PFD in the water.

Never underestimate the protection a flotation device can afford you. It is called lifesaving equipment for a reason.

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