Allow me to preface this piece by saying that I am very much of the opinion that the most important piece of kit that any kayak angler can carry and use is their personal floatation device. A PFD will keep you afloat and at the surface should the worst happen. Any other safety gear that you carry is useless to you if you sink before you can use it. A PFD can be very much the difference between life and death on the water. I would urge any kayak angler not to leave shore without one.
For the last few months I have been using the Kaikoura PFD from Palm. The first thing that occurred to me when I saw it was the amount of pockets and ‘D’ rings. From an angling point of view, there is plenty of storage space for small items that are always useful to have close to hand; leader material, snips, packets of spare hooks and other similar items. The ample pocket space ensures that these items are nearby and the ‘D’ rings are great for hanging small items like unhooking forceps from. The ‘D’ rings also feature a clever bit of design where they are not fully formed. Although rigid, a bit of pressure can split them to facilitate quick removal from or easier fastening of items to them.
The next item on the front to grab my attention was the zipper. A YKK zipper should stand up to the test of time and a thoughtful inclusion with this system is a large tab added to the zip itself. No matter how cold your fingers get you should be able to manage opening or closing this PFD with ease. At the bottom of the zipper system is another large tab sewn into the bottom of the PFD which provides tension to facilitate easier use of the zip. Two simple yet often overlooked ideas.
Staying with the front side, there are a couple of knife/accessory attachment points higher up the jacket over the main pockets. The main pockets themselves are spacious enough with one of them concealing an emergency whistle. A very clever feature of the main pockets is the double zip. This enables you to keep a portable VHF unit safely within the pocket but regardless of the design of the radio, the zips can be positioned to allow the aerial only to poke through. Another simple yet effective idea. In behind the main pockets are a couple of ‘handwarmer’ pockets, lined with fleece. These have been very much appreciated on chillier days as I have sat waiting for a bite.
At the base of the PFD there is a webbing belt that fastens with a solid plastic buckle that helps keep the PFD from riding up too far once you go into the water. Also adorning the front are four different patches of SOLAS (Safety Of Lives At Sea) reflective material. ‘Solas’ is also the word for ‘light’ in the Irish language and these strips are a very useful safety addition in terms of being able to find you in the dark, reflecting the slightest bit of light. The shoulder straps that come over the back can be fine tuned to ensure a snug fit as can the straps that are found either side of the torso. They all tighten up smoothly to ensure a very good fit.
When we move to the rear of the PFD we find what is possibly my favourite feature of this item; the large rear pocket. This could be used for storage but it is also compatible with a hydration pack which is exactly what I use it for. It is of utmost importance to keep hydrated, especially on long fishing trips during warm weather. Another brilliant but simple idea from the product development team.
The real test of a PFD is how well it sits on the torso and how comfortable it is to wear. The ‘Flex Fit’ foam that Palm have used to line the insides of the PFD, wrap right around your torso for a fit and feel that really is comfortable. I have worn this PFD all day and not felt the slightest discomfort from it. The lined underarm ensures a comfortable paddle all day and the shoulder and side webbing straps can be finely adjusted to suit any body size or shape. I can’t say enough good things about the comfort of this PFD.
The most important aspect of any PFD though is its ‘floatability’. Saltwater is denser than freshwater and will be slightly harder to sink in. Logic dictated that the only way to test this PFD was to fling myself off a wooden jetty into a local lake. With this PFD on I hit the water and instantly started bobbing on the surface like a discarded cork from a wine bottle. Absolutely no issues with buoyancy in this piece of kit.
In terms of build quality, design thought, comfort and functionality, I would have no hesitation at all in recommending the Kaikoura PFD as a perfect item for the kayak angler. Available in red, saffron or blue it would make an excellent purchase for anybody that seriously considers their comfort and safety when on the water.
By Gary Robinson