Encourage Your Teenager to Wear Their Personal Flotation Device (PFD)


By Lauren McFarlane, Salus Marine

Parenting teens can be hard. They’re at an age where they want to assert their independence and identity, but still need guidance. They don’t always realize how fragile life is and can often make decisions that are contrary to what their parents want for them.

You can talk to them all day about water tragedies and show them stories about drownings, but chances are they may not take them seriously or personally. They’ll throw every excuse at you for reasons not to wear a PFD; “I can swim”, “I don’t intend on going in the water”, “PFDs are ugly, hot, and bulky”. Trust me, we’ve heard them all. It’s easy as a parent to feel like you’re in an endless battle with your teens over something as simple (and important) as wearing a PFD when on the water. You shouldn’t have to bribe someone to wear something that could save their life. With some creativity and understanding, you can make wearing a PFD cool and a habit they carry well into adulthood.

A few suggestions to encourage your teen to wear a PFD:

Lead by example: If you’re not wearing your PFD chances are your teen won’t want to wear one either. It is just as important for you as a parent to be wearing your PFD each time you head out on the water.

The ‘cool factor’—selecting the correct style PFD: PFDs have come a long way since the 90s and truth be told, you get what you pay for. If you’re buying an economical PFD it is more likely that it will be uncomfortable. By uncomfortable, we mean bulky, hot, likely to restrict your range of motion and ride up.

Today’s PFD technology has vastly improved and has made wearing a PFD more comfortable than ever. Designs have specific watersports and constant wear in mind.

  • After foam and rounded edges help the PFD provide exceptional comfort and mould to the wearer’s body.
  • Large armholes and better foam distribution make it so the wearer has unrestricted range of motion. No longer will you have the PFD hitting your chin or chafing under your arms.

Encourage them to try on an appropriate PFD for their activity to see how it feels. Chances are they won’t appreciate the value until they have it on and can feel the difference. Plus if you pick one with a pocket large enough to fit a cell phone in a waterproof case, that may be motivation itself.

Purchasing a premium brand product can also make teens feel less ‘dorky’. It’s the same reason they beg you for the $200 sneakers with logos all over instead of the $20 no name brand that does the same job. Your child’s life is worth the investment of buying a quality PFD that is comfortable and that they will wear all day long.


The ‘cool factor’—selecting a colour: Colour, or lack thereof, can play a huge part in why someone does or doesn’t want to wear something. While some teens may want to stand out with bubblegum pink or yellow, others may want to be sleek and have everything be all black. Let them pick the one they will wear. If they’re reaching for the dark navy or black PFD over the bright orange or yellow – let them. There’s no point investing in the bright orange for it to be used as a seat cushion if they want the black or blue to up their cool factor. Though some parents may argue over visibility on the water, a darker colour like navy or black will still keep them afloat if anything should happen.

Enroll them in a course or program: One of the first things they teach you in any boating, paddling, or sailing course is about safety, which includes proper PFD wear. There are a lot of instructors who are teens or young adults themselves. Perhaps learning from someone who is not their parent and is more their age will drive home the importance of wearing a PFD. Finding people they look up to, such as a wakeboard or sailing coach, can be huge for developing proper on-water habits including wearing a PFD.

Attend watersport events: There are likely some events in your area that your teen may be interested in, perhaps a local regatta or canoe race? At these types of events, all participants must wear their PFD. Your teen will see first hand all of the participants wearing PFDs while being able to enjoy the day and sport to the fullest. There may even be some participants the same age as your teen wearing their PFD proudly.

Make PFDs accessible: If your teen has to dig or search for gear, chances are they won’t grab it. All safety gear should be in the same spot as the watercraft to make it part of their routine to grab their equipment before heading out on the water. Make the PFD part of the entire family’s uniform when going out on the water.

Make wearing one a house rule: You might just lay down the law. No PFD means no kayaking, canoeing, SUP, or boat rides. Want to kayak or canoe? PFD must be ON. Want to come out on the pontoon for a sunset cruise? PFD is on. Make it a non-negotiable for anyone wanting to use the watersports equipment that they must be wearing their PFD, friends and neighbours included.

Establish trust and boundaries: Teens don’t want to be policed 24/7 by their parents. If they feel helicoptered they may push back and rebel more, seeking that independence. Give them the permission to take the paddleboard out, remind them to take the necessary safety gear, and then conveniently pop down at a later time to check on them. If they’ve broken the non-negotiable rule and didn’t put on their PFD, then they may lose the privilege of cruising on their paddleboard unsupervised. If they grabbed the PFD, then you’ve done your job and they are safer on the water.

Habits are not created or changed overnight. It may not happen every time you’re out on the water, but with persis-tence and if they see others in PFDs, your teen may start to reach for it without putting up a fight.