Lifejackets vs. PFDs - What's the Difference? - The Aqua Life


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Lifejackets vs. PFDs – What’s the Difference?
Why taking swim lessons is a non-negotiable for most parents - The Aqua Life

Written By

by Corina Oaches

Published on

August 08, 2018

According to the Lifesaving Society, “Drowning statistics consistently show that 80% of victims in boating-related drownings were not wearing a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD). Wearing a lifejacket or PFD is the most effective way to reduce boating-related drownings in Canada. Many boaters feel false security because they are strong swimmers or because there is a lifejacket within reach. But trying to put a lifejacket on before you capsize, or while in the water, is like trying to buckle your seatbelt right before your car crashes – it’s impossible.”

In addition to the surprise of accidentally ending up in the water, many physical things can also be happening to your body: water going over your head, anxiety, the shock of being in cold water or clothing inhibiting your ability to swim to shore safely.

Regardless of what that scenario looks like, wearing a lifejacket or PFD will allow you extra time until someone finds you to take you to safety.

So which should you buy – a Lifejacket or a PFD? What is the difference between them?

To help navigate your options, check out this handy chart to size up the difference between the two:




The best for being on a boat for ultimate protection.

Designed for constant wear in and around the water.


Designed to turn you on your back even if unconscious but the type you choose determines the speed at which it flips you over.

Allows mobility in water so you can be active but will not turn you on your back so you can breathe in an emergency.


The only colours approved in Canada for lifejackets are red, orange and yellow.

Comes in all colours but be sure your choice makes it easy to see you in the water!


There are 3 types of Canadian approved lifejackets to choose from:

– Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) – best performance

– Standard – slower performance

– Small Vessel – slowest performance

The performance level is based on how quickly it flips you over in the water.

Numerous types to choose from including inflatable.

Inflatable PFDs are not approved for everyone nor are they approved for all activities or conditions.

Read the manufacturer’s guidelines for using inflatable PFDs and practice using it before you hit the water. An emergency is not the time to try out your new PFD!


There are different sizing options available depending on what lifejacket type you choose:

SOLAS lifejackets come in 2 sizes:

– over 32 kg (70 lbs)

– less than 32 kg (70 lbs)

Standard lifejackets come in 2 sizes:

– over 40 kg (88 lbs)

– less than 40 kg (88 lbs)

Small Vessel lifejackets come in 3 sizes:

– over 41 kg (90 lbs)

– 18 kg (40 lbs) to 41 kg (90 lbs)

– less than 18 kg (40 lbs)

Available in a wide range of sizes.


When making your choice, keep in mind that a lifejacket always offers a higher level of protection than a PFD.

If you put in the effort to find the right lifejacket or PFD for each family member’s size and activity level, make sure they wear them.

As with most things, if you do not use it, it will not work when you need it most!

Want to know how your lifejacket or PFD stacks up against Canadian safety standards? Transport Canada goes into even more detail about approved products to help you with your choice.

Happy swimming!

If you have any questions, suggestions, or are trying to find the way to taking your first dip into the wide world of water, then reach out to,and jump in with us at The Aqua Life Swim Academy!