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Life Jacket and PFD worn on people

The Pumped Up SUP Guide To Personal Flotation Devices (PFD's)

A personal flotation device (PFD) is an essential paddling accessory that you will need to have on board whenever you go out on your SUP. On most public bodies of water, local rules or US Coast Guard regulations will require you to either have a traditional life jacket on board or to wear an inflatable PFD.

Having emergency flotation on your board is very important for personal safety.  It’s very much like wearing a seat belt in your car - You don’t go out expecting to need it, but you do it anyway in case the unexpected happens.

There are all too many stories of paddlers who ventured out on flat water in calm weather and found themselves in an emergency situation when the weather turned on them unexpectedly.

If you are new to stand up paddleboarding, you will need to get familiar with the distinct PFD options that you can choose from. At Pumped Up SUP, we offer each of the main types of PFD that we discuss below. Read on for a quick description of each of the main four PFD types for SUP usage: 

Belt Pack Inflatable PFD: On-Demand Flotation With Zero Restriction Of Movement

A belt pack PFD is the least obtrusive type of flotation device you can wear while paddling. It is worn around the waist like a waist pack. It should always be worn facing forward even though you will see it pictured and worn by paddlers on the water wearing it at their back. It contains an inflatable bladder with a pull string that triggers a CO2 cylinder that blows it up when needed in an emergency.  

The model we offer as an add-on with board purchase is the NRS Zephyr Self-Inflating PFD.  It is a compact unit which provides 15.5 lbs of flotation to meet US Coast Guard requirements as a Type III PFD when it is worn on your body. It comes with a 16 gram CO2 cartridge which you screw on initially to arm the PFD. 

There is also a mouth valve that lets you inflate the bladder manually in case anything goes wrong with CO2 cylinder.

The entire PFD weighs only 1.1 lb, has a belt that adjusts from 27” to 50” waist circumference to fit literally everybody. We do not recommend this type of PFD for children, but is a great option for adults looking for an easy-to-wear non-restrictive alternative to traditional life jackets. 

NRS Zephyr Belt Pack PFD Fitting on a person

The belt pack Zephyr PFD clips around your waist and allows your arms and torso uninhibited movement. 

All Purpose Universal PFD: Affordable Always-On Protection For Casual Paddlers and Families

An inherently buoyant PFD, commonly referred to as a lifejacket, is the safest option for “always on” flotation that does not require conscious activation.  The NRS Crew Universal PFD is a basic and affordable lifejacket for use on flat water, with a truly universal fit for paddlers of all sizes and body types.  

The vest covers the wearer’s chest and abdomen and wraps over the shoulders.  The widely distributed coverage allows it to provide the required 15.5 lbs of flotation in a vest with minimal foam thickness. 

Compared to a thicker PFD designed for kayaking and advanced paddling, a thin vest makes it easier to pull yourself onto the board from the water, as there is very little bulk.  For this reason, we recommend this type of lifejacket for beginning paddlers who want the security of full time flotation.

The NRS Crew PFD also comes in adult, youth and child sizes, so there is a vest for anybody you will be taking out on the water.

Standard Lifejacket fitting a person

The Crew Lifejacket is worn over the chest and tightened by straps at the side and a belt clip in the front.

Low Profile Life Jacket: Inherently Buoyant Life Jacket For Paddlers, With Maximum Freedom Of Arm Movement

Designed specifically to maximize freedom of movement for paddle sports, low profile life jackets pack all of the buoyancy into a relatively small area around the abdomen, leaving a lot of space for the arms and shoulder to maneuver without the PFD getting in the way or restricting the range of motion.  The NRS Ninja Low Profile PFD is a popular and moderately priced low profile life jacket which is popular among experienced paddlers and widely used in whitewater settings.

The Ninja provides 16.5 lbs of flotation and is US Coast Guard Certified as a type III PFD.  While it does not have a dedicated attachment point for a quick release leash, the side straps provide a convenient and easily reachable spot to attach the carabiner end of a quick release leash mechanism, which is highly recommended for use on moving river water. 

A life jacket such as the Ninja is specifically designed to float a paddler face up in an instance where they are knocked unconscious. This why the front floatation area is routinely larger than the back. 


NRS Ninja Lifejacket worn on a person

The Ninja is a great PFD is highly recommended in whitewater or river environments for paddlers of all skill levels.  It's also a great upgrade for the casual paddler that wants to equip a low profile Type III life jacket that gives excellent arm and shoulder freedom.

Rescue PFD: A Serious Full Featured Life Vest For Advanced Paddlers, Guides, and Instructors

A rescue jacket takes the essence of a low profile PFD and adds the features advanced paddlers look for to keep themselves and others safe in challenging river environments. 

The NRS Zen Rescue PFD provides a hefty 17.5 lbs of flotation while offering advanced features including an integrated quick-release rescue belt that can be used to safely attach a leash or tow tether, a strobe attachment, and a lash tab for convenient attachment of a knife sheath or other accessories.

A sectioned off clamshell pocket is large enough to fit a small first aid kit. The outer fabric of the vest is 400 denier ripstop nylon to maximum the durability and physical protection provided to the paddler. 

Zen Rescue Life jacket worn on a person

The Zen is a premium life jacket that is a favorite of river instructors and whitewater enthusiasts. It's based off the Ninja and provides an outstanding professional level upgrade to a paddlers gear kit.



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