I asked Mario, a Coast Guard rescue swimmer to weigh in and for permission to re-post. Thanks, Mario!
â€œNote: The statements that follow are my personal views, and in no way represent official reccomendations from my employer .....I just feel like I should say that. Having said that, I'm ususally right about stuff like this ..
Inflatable or not?
Absolute personal preference. With kayakers, it is almost a forgone conclusion that they wear PFD's, the chances of getting wet are much greater than on larger craft so you guys tend to be a more safety concious lot....however...there are always people who just plain don't like wearing PFDs, usually for reasons of comfort.
Traditional floatation is bulky by design and bulky means warm (or hot) and some people are what I call comfort sissies. "It's too hot...wahh.." For them, inflatable pfd's offer a typically more comfortable choice.
BOTH have advantages and disadvantages (of course):
Traditional PFD's are almost NEVER as bouyant as an inflatable (once inflated of course). The one I wear at work will hold me up, and a 200 lb friend quite easily. Try that with your traditional.
Inflatables have the disadvantages Don spoke of, but saying that a device is inhearently unsafe because it might break (not inflate, leak, etc.) is like saying my car is unreliable because the brakes might fail. True, they might, but my brakes are important so I maintain them. So too my inflatable. Negligence is always dangerous, so if you wear an inflatable...you know...take care of it.
Most of them have dual bladders, so punch a hole in one side, and the other takes over. I have seen plenty of inflatable PFDs in full emergency use, used by people doing a lot harsher work than a day paddle, and I've never seem one fail.
Having said that, I've definitely never seen a traditional one fail either (duh).
So whats the deal? Its all about risk versus gain...no surprise there. I prefer inflatables,(for bouyancy reasons and prior to inflation, I can dive underwater if needed) but I am a very well trained water guy with seriously good gear (that someone else (you) pays for). My daughter has to wear a traditional...thats how I manage that risk.
How you do it is up to you. If you feel comfortable with an inflatable, and you maitain it well, you are just as safe as a person wearing a traditional in my opinion.
"But what if I go unconsious when my head hits a rock on the way ....etc. etc. and the bladder doesn't inflate?...what if it leaks?" Well, then your in a mess. What if flies carried machine guns?
Frogs wouldn't mess with them.â€