Buoyancy aid (BA) or Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) come in all shapes and sizes, if you are new to the sport of coasteering and looking to invest in your equipment, I hope this blog might give you some good pointers.
This blog is based on my personal experience as a coasteering instructor and Adventure centre owner. I welcome any comments and decussations people might have on this subject.
BA’s are used for a wide range of water sports such as, sailing, rafting, wakeboarding, kayaking, etc or generally keeping people safe around water. Most Ba’s used in these activities are going to be fine to use when coasteering, but it’s always good to check with the manufacturer first.
The one big difference with coasteering is that you’re physically in water swimming around. With other activities you might find yourself unexpectedly in the water, but with coasteering the intention is to be in open water for prolonged periods of time, move in and out of swell, jumping off cliff ledges and so on.
Ba’s are not typically made with coasteering in mind where longer periods of swimming in open water are required, they can be bulky, limit movement, and create drag when swimming. When you are sat in a kayak for 3-4 hours at a time, the Ba needs to be comfortable and practical, added pockets and clips mean particular items of equipment can be accessed quickly and easily. The process of an activity taking place on the water, like sailing, as opposed to in the water like coasteering, favours design practicality over the efficiency of movement through the water.
Coasteering as an activity borrows a lot of equipment from other water sports, Ropes (climbing) throw lines (rafting/kayaking) Helmets (climbing, kayaking) shoes (canyoning) and so on. Many of these items cross over brilliantly for coasteering, but I’ve often found the only, and maybe the most important one with room for improvement in the application of coasteering is the Buoyancy Aid.
So, before buying the best new shiny BA for coasteering, think about these things first.
A BA is an investment, it might last you anywhere between 5-10 years. And if you are going into the outdoor industry you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. Cheap Ba’s can be made from less quality materials and have a lower floating density. Also, coasteering can be extremely hard wearing on equipment so paying that little extra can go a long way.
Bulk and size
This can be difficult to properly determine when ordering online, viewing in person is always the best options. Some Ba’s have big pockets on the front panel to store things like carabiners, a toe line, knife etc. Most of which are very important for a kayaker, sailor or rafter to have at their disposal. I personally favour a more slender front panel, this makes me move quicker through the water, creating less drag and allowing me to use less energy. Some Ba’s have pockets in the back, sometimes used for storing water on long journeys, I’ve personally never used it for this when coasteering but from time to time I might put a small item a client has given me to carry in it.
I’m not really loyal to any particular brands. I currently use a Yak Xipe N60, which has been going 3 years strong. The list I have compiled below are just a few companies that produce Ba’s to research. Yak, PeakUK, Palm, CrewSaver, Nookie, Astral, NRS, Kokatat.
Coasteering locations are always going to involve the coastline and water, conditions change massively depending on the geographical location. Some coasteering is undertaken in protected bays or coves, others at the base of exposed cliffs open to the full force of the sea. Knowing the environment you’ll be working in is a great thing to think about before you buy.
As I’ve said previously, most Ba’s are not primarily designed with a coasteer guide in mind. Knowing which equipment you’ll need to carry when coasteering is a really important thing to think about before buying. I personally keep the items I carry in my BA to the essentials, (knife, whistle, goggles) everything else goes in a carry bag. I avoid BA’s with a big single zip pocket on the front panel, once this has equipment in it can become bulky.
It’s important to remember that BA’s used for paddle sports may need to be removed quickly for a number of reasons and many are designed with quick release straps and buckles. Personally, I’ve never needed to remove my BA quickly for whatever reason, that’s not to say you might I never would as unexpected things can happen. This just shouldn’t be a priority when shopping for one when coasteering is your mean intention. This may vary massively from person to person so, it’s just based on my experience as a coasteering instructor.
Coasteering is a completely unique activity with many different features defining it. Functionality and size should be the biggest consideration when buying a Ba with the primary intention to coasteer.
Personally, I’d welcome a company that steps up and creates a BA exclusively for coasteering guides, maybe there is and I just haven’t found it yet. The industry as a whole is lacking with regards to equipment exclusively designed for the sport, buoyancy aids are an example of this. But what is out there will get the job done perfectly.