A personal flotation device (PFD), or life jacket, is designed to keep you alive should your boat capsize. It won’t do you much good if you’re sitting on it or using it as a back rest instead of wearing it.
The best and only recommended type of PFD for paddlers is a Type III. It’s designed to keep your torso above water and intended for use where water rescues are imminent.
A PFD is to paddlers what climbing ropes are to mountaineers. You want to invest in a good quality PFD because your life may depend on it. Fifteen-dollar horse collar life jackets won’t cut it. You don’t need to purchase an extravagant PFD, but you shouldn’t settle for a cheap one, either. Plan on spending from $50 to $150 on a good PFD. Astral, Extrasport, Kokatat, Stohlquist, NRS, and MTI all make high quality PFDs that will serve you well for many years if properly cared for.
Proper care of your PFD is essential. Don’t stow your PFD wet; allow it to air dry. Don’t use harsh cleaning agents to clean it; use a mild detergent.
I can’t stress this enough: Don’t use your PFD as a seat cushion or backrest. Doing so will flatten the flotation material—typically foam pads—destroying the foam’s flotation properties. Your PFD was designed to go around your chest, not under your butt.