A personal flotation device or PFD is most commonly seen in a life jacket you wear when on a watercraft. Whether you are into water skiing or prefer to kayak like I do, there is nothing better than a life jacket accessory. These are attachments that increase the capacity of your life vest to do the thing it does best–save your life.
Find out what I recommend you can use to make your water sports-ready life jacket better fitted to meet your needs and lifestyle.
1. Safety Check With a Tiny Round Signal Mirror
According to Wayne Spivak, National Press Corps, United States Coast Guard Auxiliary for the American Boating Association (ABA), a signal mirror should be safely attached to a life jacket. This is one of the first accessories you want to sew onto your jacket or attach with a cord or lanyard. The purpose of a life jacket is to save a life, and a signal mirror increases the ability of a rescue worker to see you from afar.
The signal mirror looks like a credit card and has a small round area used for aiming or directing a light signal. Just hold the mirror up and let the sun reflect off of the shiny surface. You can reach more than 100 kilometers with such a mirror.
As the mirror reflects light, it can indicate a body is present from a signal flash in a reflection. This is visible and clear to life-saving teams and individuals who are part of search and rescue units. Buy a life jacket that has a pocket to hold this mirror or sew a pocket into your life jacket that will hold the mirror.
If you use plastic material, such as repurposed plastic from a clear plastic backpack, you can make a pouch with a smaller plastic rectangular window for your life jacket. This is to hold the signal mirror for full visibility and reflection of the mirror–even if you cannot hold it in an emergency. Having a signal mirror attached to your life jacket with a lanyard is another option.
However, keep in mind, the rectangular shape and sharp corners of this mirror are not best suited for hanging off of a life jacket. You may risk cutting yourself with the edges of the mirror or breaking the mirror while swimming or using paddles.
2. Pea-Free Marine Whistle for Making Audible Warnings
In case of an emergency at sea or by lake, you do not want to go down in silence. Grab a set of marine whistles, which come without a pea ball inside to make noise. Since there is no ball to vibrate, these whistles can work even if they get some water in them.
Otherwise, the water would get into the ball and it would not be able to bounce around in a pea-style whistle like your gym coach would toot. These whistles made for marine safety are fairly cheap by the dozen. Typically, marine safety certified whistles also come ready to wear with a lanyard.
Use the lanyard string to wear a whistle around your neck or to tie it onto your life jacket. The purpose of the whistle is to make a loud noise indicating you are in distress. If you know Morse Code, you can call out a distress signal that way.
Otherwise, my recommendation is to blow like heck until someone signals in reply or you give out of air. This will most likely get the attention of someone sitting on shore–or someone trying to fish in peace and quiet. Finally, as a word of wisdom, whistles should actually already be attached to life jackets, according to the United Kingdom.
Over there across the pond, it is a legal requirement that all life vests come pre-equipped with a whistle. If you are traveling or moving to the UK, you can expect to have a whistle on your life jacket. You can also send it to be repaired and replaced as needed during the yearly life jacket service. However, this is not the case in the United States, where whistles on personal flotation devices are not the norm.
3. Strobe Light for Night Sight and to Ward Off in an Attack
A strobe light on a life jacket is not a typical sight you see. In fact, most life vests and personal flotation devices do not have strobe lights. However, if you are going to be out at night or at dusk even, or have plans to go out on the sea alone, consider this as an extra form of security.
A strobe light acts as a visual aid in case you go underwater and are at risk of drowning. These strobe lights are designed to attach securely to a life jacket using one of the tabs on the front and back of a PFD. In the case of an emergency, you should be able to tap the light or otherwise turn it on so that the light is flashing brightly.
The best-quality strobe lights are waterproof and can still work under several feet of water. If you have concerns about the depth of water where you are swimming or your safety, it is best to use strobe lights to protect yourself from being lost at sea or otherwise in deep waters.
4. Now I Can See You So Much Better With a Vest Light
If you are going to be in need of a flashlight when in the water, you want to be prepared. After all, your basic flashlight with batteries is not going to work, and most, especially the Mag-Lite, are far too heavy for water travel. Here is where such an invention as the arc C-Light H20 for water and marine safety is ideal.
This is a flashlight made for the waterways. It is small and compact enough to fit on one tab or loop on a life jacket. Slide the light into the loop and make it easy to access.
Or, optionally, you can use the looped lanyard on the end of the flashlight to hang the tool from a carabiner on the life jacket. From here is where the magic really happens. The light can be manually turned on or water activated. In an emergency, you want a water-activated flashlight that automatically turns on when it gets wet.
These flashlights from the company arc come in a variety of lamp sizes ranging from 20 to 45-lumen white LED bulbs. This ensures optimal visibility with this flashlight even under water. This light also differs from a strobe light in that the water-activated flashlight stays lit the entire time it is under water.
5. Reflective Tape to Increase Visibility in an Emergency in the Water
Another way to ensure you can be seen while in the water is through the use of reflective tape. This tape is stuck to the front of a life jacket and adds a layer of shimmer to the material. The shimmer works like a beacon in case of an emergency when flashlights are searching for you.
The reflection of their security lights off of your reflective tape applied to a life jacket may be the only way they see you. Reflective tape is cheap and simple to use, and it does not prevent your life jacket from being able to do its job. However, once reflective tape starts to unravel at the ends and becomes an annoyance, cut it loose and apply new tape.
Reflective tape is often sold as repair tape, and you can use this tape for both purposes. If you have a tear in your life jacket, use reflective repair tape to seal the rip and add more security to the personal flotation device.
6. Safety Knife to Cut Rope and Sea Creatures in an Attack
Knives are paramount for tackling paracords when out on the open seas. If you are planning to go out with your life jacket, grab a safety knife and attach it to a tab on your life jacket. It could very well save your life! From cutting cords to trimming back dangling vines, there are a variety of ways a safety knife can come in handy in the water.
Typically, if you are swimming while wearing a life jacket, a safety knife is not ideal, since it can rust. However, you can buy a scuba diving knife that is for survival rescue and water sports. This knife is made with a serrated blade ideally suited for whatever you will tackle in the water.
You can also use it to slice up an apple and a wedge of cheese after a great day swimming while wearing your life jacket. Knives are also great for gutting fish and cleaning them for eating out on the beach after a long day of fishing. Use a carabiner to attach a safety knife close by on the outside of your life jacket, unless you have a special pocket for such a tool.
7. Water Bladders and Hydration Packs for a Watercraft Watercooler
Start with a water bladder that is transparent and soft. This is used to store water or other liquids up to 70 ounces in volume, or more in some cases. The bladder is then stored securely and coolly with a hydration pack.
The hydration pack resembles a small backpack that is worn in the same fashion over the shoulders. Buy a hydration pack and bladder that can be mounted easily on a PFD to be worn while fishing, for example. These allow you to stay within reach of something safe to drink without having to use your hands.
When you are fishing and you get dirty from messing with bait or catching fish, the last thing you want to do is try to open a bottle of water. Instead of putting your hands all over everything, turn to a tube and take a suck as needed.
8. Get a GPS for Life Jackets to Stay on Track in Rivers and on Seas
If you are depending on more than a dog’s tracking abilities to get you to your destination, you might be carrying a GPS unit. You can find two types of GPS units for waterway navigation. Choose from between a watch that you can wear on your wrist and a pocket-sized handheld device.
The watch wearable is a fraction of the price of the handheld device. As for containing a GPS for life jackets, choose a life jacket with cargo pockets that are large enough to support the unit. You might also add a fishing vest to the outside of your life jacket to add more pockets for accessories depending on your needs.
Otherwise, the wristwatch-style GPS can work super well and could easily be attached to the front of a tab or other loop on your life jacket.
9. Snack Pouches Made to Add to a Life Jacket Add Spice to a Watercraft Lifestyle
Grab a life jacket bag, which is also called a ratsack. This is a mesh sack you can see through that has durable seams on the top and bottom. A single metal grommet works to hold the ratsack on the exterior of a life jacket using a carabiner or cord.
Tie the ultralight rodent-proof bag up after you stuff it with some snacks or other lightweight food items. As you empty the ratsack, tuck it inside of a pocket on your life jacket for storage until next use. This is a convenient way to keep a sanitary storage system for food when going on voyages.
You also have minimal packing that has to be dealt with when it is empty. If you are planning to swim after traveling with your life jacket on, you can easily tuck this food sack away without a hassle or added garbage.
10. Getting a Life Jacket Outfitted With a Tool Box Isn’t So Tough
In preparation for any excursion or adventure, tools are often needed. If you are someone who regularly has everyday carry (EDC) items, this is even more of a necessity. Yet putting tools on your life jacket is quite a challenge.
No matter whether you have extra cord, a compass, eating utensils, or a tomahawk, there is a way to add that securely to your life jacket. Start with the use of a carabiner to attach smaller, lightweight items that come on a ring system. This allows you to snap the ring onto the carabiner and hook it to your life jacket.
Here is a good example of such a product. This is a thermometer and compass that comes ready to clip onto your life jacket using a carabiner or a ring. In fact, the more items you can find already affixed to a carabiner, the easier your job of accessorizing your life jacket.
11. How to Attach First Aid Items to Life Jackets
A life jacket is a personal flotation device used for keeping people and animals alive. First aid is also the best thing happening in personal safety. So how can we combine these two items to make for a more safe and secure water experience? I present you with two viable options that can keep you safe and healthy even in an emergency involving blood loss or potential for infection.
This is a mini first aid kit that actually contains quite a lot. You get more than 100 items that range from bandaids to a foil blanket. Everything fits snuggly and safely in a waterproof pouch that zips up and has a small hook attached.
This hook allows you to connect the mini first aid kit directly to a life jacket vest. It weighs hardly anything and can easily be removed for use in an emergency or if you need to take it off to swim more easily. If you have an emergency and need to stop blood or protect a wound, this small bag can be quite the lifesaver.
At the same time, if it gets used or falls off when you are swimming, you can easily replace a mini first aid kit back on dry land. Secondly, you have the more popular lifeguard first aid kit that comes in a fanny pack. This hip pack holds a lot of items, including a CPR mouth-to-mouth resuscitation kit and first aid supplies.
You can wear this while also sporting a life vest and have everything you need without using your hands to carry it. Keep in mind, this is not a first aid kit that is attached directly to a life jacket. Instead, you wear it to supplement your life jacket as a way to protect you in a personal health emergency. This may not be suitable for those interested in an accessory for a life jacket, per say.
12. Sunscreen and Suntan Lotion Stored and Ready to Spread
Another essential item to have on hand when playing or working on water is sunscreen and suntan lotion. Here you can also add these small tubes or bottles to your life jacket with ease. The use of a carabiner pre-attached to a bottle of sunscreen allows you to simply slip the metal hook onto the lifejacket’s tabs.
This way, you always have sunscreen to protect against burns and overexposure in the sunlight, as well as skin cancer. I am also an advocate of getting a tan, and let’s be clear here about how to best do that. If you are trying to tan your skin, add a tube of suntanning lotion with mild sunblock to your carabiner loop on your life jacket.
This is a great cream to spread on your arms and legs where you are less likely to burn and maybe want to be more tan. The use of sunscreen on your shoulders and face coupled with suntan lotion on the rest of your body can give you a more even–and comfortable–tan overall.
13. Fishing Equipment
A suggestion for those of you wearing a life jacket and going fishing is to try wearing a fishing life jacket. These are made by the same companies like Stohlquist that have been making life vests for decades. Here you have a life vest that fits snugly around the chest and shoulders thanks to adjustable shoulder straps.
A zippered front and four zippered pockets around the front allow you to store anything you need for fishing while kayaking or on a stand-up paddle board (SUP). The other way to handle fishing equipment when wearing a life jacket is to purchase items with a steel wire coiled lanyard. This is a spring-like wire that connects the accessory to a hook.
The purpose is for easy access and to withstand the rigors of watersports and survival. You hook these items to your life jacket and rest assured that the wire is not going to get torn or ripped. You also need to have a cutting tool and scissors or a knife when you are working with fish.
This is where the hook remover is super helpful in getting a hook dislodged from the mouth of a fish without harming the animal or losing the hook. Having these tools attached to your life jacket helps you make the most of any fishing adventure. Plus, you don’t have to go searching for everything when packing up for a fishing trip. Have a certain number of items already hooked to your life vest and ready to use.