Tips for Proper PFD Fitting

Sizing Information:

PFDs for children have weight limits, whereas adult sizes are based on chest measurement and body weight. For kids, make sure the PFD fits your child’s weight. Also, make sure the PFD is comfortable and light so your child will wear it. And don’t forget to have your child try on the PFD before you buy it. It should fit snugly and 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.

When buying a PFD for children, look for these safety features:

  • A large collar for head support
  • Waist ties or elastic gathers in front and back
  • 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

Fitting for your PFD:

For adults, your chest size—not your weight—will determine what size is right. Sizes vary by PFD brand and model, so check for the size info listed. A PFD should be snug and fit like a glove, yet allow you to move freely and not chafe moving. Women should consider women-specific PFDs versus unisex styles. Women's PFDs may offer a better fit. Each PFD will have a different design and foam placement to fit the contours of the body. It doesn't matter where the foam is located safety-wise, but comfort-wise you want it to fit comfortably. The more straps it has, the more adjustments can be made to customize the fit.

Once you've selected the right size PFD, follow these fitting steps:

  • Loosen all the straps, put the PFD on and zip it up
  • Start at the waist and tighten all the straps. If it has shoulder straps, tighten them last. It should feel snug but not uncomfortable
  • Next, have someone pull up on the PFD shoulders. If it moves up past your nose or head, try tightening the straps. If it still moves up, the PFD is too large
  • The right size may seem "thick," but check your movements to make sure it is comfortable and will not chafe anywhere while moving or turning
  • If possible, test your PFD in a pool or shallow water to see how it works. It should not ride up or slip over your chin while floating