What are the best types of PFDs for whitewater?

Did you know that Personal Floatation Devices come in five types? 

Type III and Type V PFDs are best for private Whitewater and River users.

The US Coast Guard has established five PFD designations:

Type  Best For
I

All waters, open ocean, rough seas, or remote water, where rescue may be slow coming.

II

General boating activities. Good for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue.

III

The specialized activity that is marked on the device such as kayaking, canoeing, rafting, and others. Great for whitewater paddlers.

IV

Throwable Devices, often required to have on board by law. Since a Type IV is not designed to be worn, it is neither for rough waters or for anyone who is unable to hold on to it.

V

Only for special uses or conditions, including whitewater/swiftwater rescue. Great for experienced whitewater paddlers.


A Type III PFD is generally a panel-construction vest that wraps flotation around all parts of your core. There is no head-support float on most Type III PFDs, as it would get in the way during some aggressive swimming positions.

Type III’s intended for whitewater have a high level of buoyancy to keep you floating in aerated water. Our favorite Type III PFDs include:

The other type of PFD you’ll see on the water is the Type V. For whitewater Type V PFDs, the vest has a releasable quick-release rescue belt that is integrated into the vest. This is a feature used in rescue situations as well as in pin extractions. This belt allows you to be tethered to another rescuer on shore with a rope, and allows you to safely release yourself from that rope if needed. 

PRO TIP: Certain Type III’s, like the Astral Bluejacket can be converted to a Type V by adding the optional accessory rescue belt

Grand Canyon lifejackets

If it weren’t for the rescue belt, a Type V PFD would become a Type III. Rescue Vests also tend to be burlier and have more storage/pockets. Our favorite Type V PFDs include

Pro Tip: Take Swiftwater rescue if you plan to wear a Type V every time you paddle. There isn’t much point to having that feature on your PFD if you don’t know how to use it!

Rescue PFD Gore Canyon Safety

Ultimately the best PFD for you is going to come down to comfort and preference. CKS Online sells a variety of PFDs, including lifejackets for youth, canines and for flatwater SUPers

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