The key to survival in cold water immersion is wearing a lifejacket whenever you are on or near the water. The goal is to keep your head and face out of the water while you either try to resuce yourself or wait for rescue to arrive. Here, we'll examine the different types of flotation equipment,what kind of protection each has to offer and also discuss how to maintain and test your devices to keep them in reliable and good condition.

Lifejackets fall into various categories depending on their usage for different levels of activity. Choosing the right one is usually a matter of personal preference, but the thing to remember is that it's best to have a device that will automatically keep your head and face out of the water and floating face up, especially if you become unconscious.

Standard Lifejacket (inherently buoyant)

These come in a variety of styles and colours that range from bright red or yellow to camouflage. If you need to be rescued, you'll need to be spotted and the brighter the colour, the better the visibility, especially from a distance.

Some lifejackets are designed to be comfortable enough to be worn whenever boating and some models are purpose built for specific activities like waterskiing, canoeing or riding personal watercraft (sea doos or jet skis).

Other considerations are pockets or compartments to carry signaling devices and a VHF radio. Legally, your lifejacket should carry Canadian Coast Guard approval and be properly fitted for your size and body weight.

Children should be specially fitted according to their size and weight with a children's lifejacket that has a collar and rescue handle as well as groin straps to keep the device securely in place.

Lifejackets with a 'collar' behind the head are designed to roll an unconscious person over onto their back and keep the head out of the water and face up. If the lifejacket is not equipped with a collar, it is NOT designed to keep an unconscious person on their back, their head out of the water, and face up.

Properly fitted inherently buoyant lifejackets will provide some thermal protection.

Inflatable Lifejackets

Light weight, comfortable and easy to use, the inflatable lifejacket provides a full range of movement and can be worn over other protective clothing. They are available in a manual configuration with a pull cord as well as an automatically activated model which inflates as soon as you enter the water. Inflatable lifejackets are equipped with a 'collar' designed to roll an unconscious person face up and keep the head out of the water. To be legally used, an inflatable lifejacket must be worn while aboard the vessel.

Inflatable lifejackets provide little or no thermal protection.

Floater Coats

Offering good flotation and better thermal protection from cold temperatures, the floater coat provides buoyancy and will help delay the onset of hypothermia. There are also pockets and compartments in which to keep signaling devices or a VHF radio and other survival items.

Floater Coats / Pants / One Piece suits

For the best protection from the cold as well as excellent flotation, the combination of a Floater Coat and Floater Pants or a one piece Survival (Immersion) Suit will offer one of the best solutions for dealing with the effects of Cold Water Immersion. These are designed with plenty of room for emergency equipment such as flares, sound signaling devices, VHF radios or other survival items.


All types of flotation equipment should be checked before and after the activity season for normal wear and tear.


Check all seams and stitching as well as the fabric to make sure there are no tears or worn areas that may fail in an emergency. Make sure that all straps, buckles and clasps are functional.

It's also a good idea to check the buoyancy in a pool at the beginning of the season to make sure that the flotation materials are in good condition. The effects of sun and long periods of storage in adverse conditions can help deteriorate inner foam cores as well as the outer components.


Perform a complete inspection of inflatable lifejackets by first checking the cartridge and activation assembly. Many units will have an indicator that shows "green" when the unit is armed and ready.

Automatic inflatables should be checked in the same manner with the addition of verifying that the dissolvable pellet is intact or replaced if necessary.

It's important to visually inspect the CO2 cylinder on inflatables to ensure that it has not been fired. Using the manual inflation tube, inflate the lifejacket and leave it inflated overnight to ensure its integrity. If it loses air then it should be inspected and repaired or replaced. If it stays inflated, then deflate the lifejacket and repack the unit according to the manufacturer’s instructions


When not in use, store your lifejackets in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.

When in use aboard your boat, the best place to store it...is to wear it!