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Things To Hang Off Your PFD

This post has been rattling round my head for the last few months as I have debated on whether to put it out. A conversation with a couple of fellow paddlers has prompted me to make the post.

Things To Hang Off Your PFD
Things To Hang Off Your PFD

First things first the risk of being snagged or caught up in a strainer or similar is something that all paddlers need to think about and although the risk is minimal the risk still exists. Any kit that you wear has the potential of being snagged and all steps should be made to keep loops of tape, laces etc tucked away and out of danger. However I sometimes find that it is necessary or advantageous to have some pieces of kit on the outside of my PFD rather than in a pocket.

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Firstly a whistle on the shoulder of my PFD. This is always a Fox whistle and always a super bright colour if at all possible. Fox whistles are simply superb. No moving parts, super loud and don’t seem to break.

Secondly a watch, again on the shoulder of my PFD. Whistle on the right and watch on the left. This is my choice and is at my own risk.

Things To Hang Off Your PFD
Things To Hang Off Your PFD

Some paddlers like to carry a knife fastened to the outside of their PFD. I found whilst working as a raft guide that wearing a knife on the front of my PFD made climbing back into the raft from the water difficult at times, so I carry mine in an easily accessible pocket. However I do see the logic in carrying a knife on the PFD rather than in it.

There is great deal to consider when deciding to have something attached to your PFD. I would be very interested to hear other paddlers thoughts on this topic.




    Interesting topic, good to open up some discussion and share some ideas.
    Out of curiosity, why do you wear your watch on your PFD? Mine fits on my wrist whether under the outer seal and over the latex seal of my dry suit, over the neoprene and latex seals of my dry cag or just on my wrist when in a shortie.

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    My main dry top – Sweet Shadrach has fixed neoprene gaskets on top of the latex ones There is no easy was of either putting a watch on or checking the time etc underneath the gasket. My paddling watch stays fixed to my PFD at all times, although when wearing a shortie I leave my normal everyday watch on.

  3. David

    I carry the same three things on the outside…in the same places.

  4. Nick Mackin

    If you want to wear a watch on your wrist but it won’t fit over your wrist seals, look in dive shops. You can get watch strap extenders for only a few quid

  5. Robbie

    personally i keep nothing on the outside. watch and whistle in the top pockets and knife attached to the inside of the main pocket. i do a lot of work with kids so having a knife outside is not ideal…

  6. Tristan

    The only thing I leave on the outside is my knife. Whistle and watch are both on short cordage in the front pocket of my green jacket. I figure if I want to check the time I’ve probably got the time to pull it out.
    Whistle on the outside could be good but it needs to be attached with cordage and I don’t like having any cord on the outside of PFD.

    • Rob M

      My whistle is Attached with a metal keyring split ring, it’s on my shoulder strap so I can easily manoeuvre my head to put it in my mouth and blow it without having to use my hands. so no long cord to flail about and it’s easy to remove if i get a new BA. I think anytime you are having to use a whistle to get peoples attention you want as little faff to get it out as possible because you may well be clinging on to all that’s keeping you upright.

  7. Tim McDonald

    As a 24 year professional river guide/instructor, I keep my whistle tucked in an open top pocket, and knife secured in a front pocket, as I too have had my knife get hooked on perimeter lines. My whistle is attached to cordage, but stashed away for easy access. I also wear a rescue pfd, as I’m swift water rescue certified, but keep all straps tight and tucked. Basically same set up as in the post. Very cautious of anything external on pfd that may get snagged.

  8. Ben

    The only thing I would add is that sometimes people tie whistles and things on with p-cord in a double fishermans or something like that and people don’t realize that stuff is rated to very high strength ratings so if you are going to tie things on you’re better off doing it with string that will break before you drown because you’re stuck to a tree by your whistle.

  9. Daz

    Never have stuff on the outside, never ever.

  10. Serkan Konya

    i dont need ‘hooks’ on me when i go kayaking. to bring the things out of your pocket takes only two seconds, so…

  11. butch

    Look at a Luminox watch band, we as divers use them due to the fact they are 1 solid strap so if you break the pin you do not loose the watch or the band.

  12. jayjober

    As a white water rafting instructor I’ve lost at least 10 knives from snagging on different parts of the raft during drills, flips, swims, etc., yet I still keep a knife on the outside of my pfd while rafting or kayaking because I feel like fumbling around in a pocket during an emergency (even for 1-2 extra seconds) could be a serious problem. Have any of you who keep your knife in your pocket had any issues retrieving it during an emergency?

    • Rob M

      I used to keep mine attached to the inside of my pocket, via a cord because i thought I’d rather not loose it if my pocket came undone (astral green jacket only has a popper on the main pocket not a zip). but after being in a situation where I quickly wanted it but fumbled with a stupid little clip to release it. I realised that being able to dive my hand in the pocket and retrieve the knife instantly was of greater importance that maybe loosing it if my pocket comes undone and it falling out. (in the 3 years of owning the BA it has never spontainously come undone so no need to worry really)
      I’m not a fan of knives on the outside though as you have pointed out it always snags in annoying situations like bush whacking or climbing up where I’m dragging my body over things.

  13. Matt

    Personally I have my watch on my shoulder strap as I don’t wear watches anymore and haven’t for some years. So its easier I just leave it on my BA and to check it every time beforeI go out. I keep my whistle and knife in pockets out the way

  14. Chris S

    I always keep my whistle on my shoulder strap, along with my watch. I have removed the watch straps and put chord through the holes so that it is that tightly attached to my BA that it could only be snagged by tiny twigs which would snap, however it is also attached with a weak string that would snap under excessive pressure.

    The whistle is on the outside, as if you were pinned at the back of your group, your hands may be keeping you out of the water or tangled in a tree; so having a whistle to mouth without hands is vital. The few seconds it should take your peers to realise you are pinned may be a few seconds, however that grows exponentially by the time they have gotten back up stream to rescue you. It’s always a fox 40 too because they are so good with no moving pars and being 100% plastic they don’t rust.

    my knife stays in a easy access pocket, and is openable with one hand or my teeth (a tag of gaffa tape on the back of the blade does this) I also regularly practice removing it from the pocket and opening it whilst swimming with my eyes shut (in a safe environment) to keep myself ready should I need it. The blade should be serrated with a rounded tip as to ensure that it is always sharp and isn’t going to stab your mate as you cut them from anything.

  15. mantamx

    taking of kayaking, where we dont have to get back in the raft, rendering some earlier points irrelevant.
    instances when knifes need to be used for anything other than breadcutting are very very rare (a few threads on that and anecdotes). when they are needed, it is typically related with being stuck under a tree/branches/in syphons and being unable to reach deck release (suppose it can also be entangled lines although harder to imagine). either of these require fast one hand access. i would like to see one doing it with one hand (open zip, catch the knife before it is washed out, orientate it correctly, open it with one hand, use..) – all while upside down entrapped and beaten up by rushing water and running out of air. so i chose to have my pilot on by bcd even if it might mean risk of losing it one day (and best obcds do have half-protected knife pockets addressing both issues – eg kokotat maximum prime)

  16. Damon

    Watch on shoulder strap – if it snags the pin will pull out & the watch will go. Can’t get it comfortable on/under drysuit cuff. Whistle on a cord on shoulder strap – cord has a plastic “break” point in the middle. Knife on shoulder strap – where I can reach with either hand without having to undo any pockets etc.

  17. Oli Kershaw

    I have my watch on the outside of my BA, so I just glance down and easily check the time. Though this isn’t a necessity, it’s massively more convenient, especially when you’re working. I’m pretty sure it would give way under any great strain, but the risk of entrapment is, in my opinion, very minimal.

    I always have a whistle attached to the shoulder of my BA, I have been in a couple of situations where I needed immediate access to my whistle and had no hands free. Granted these situations are rare, but they happen, and when they do, I’m very glad of all these little overly-anal decisions I’ve made! The whistle is attached by a cable tie so snaps off under any force.

    I also carry a knife on my shoulder. I do a lot of work on flat water with kids, so when I’m doing this, I take the knife out the sheath on my shoulder and put it in a second sheath in my BA. (I had a spare from where I lost a knife!) I also carry a spare knife in the bottom of my BA in case I lose the knife on my shoulder (which I have done once with a Lomo diving knife, you need to be very careful of the lock mechanism on these). I think that you should be able to access your knife quickly, with either hand, underwater. My friend once took a beating in a (Grade 5) stopper (in his boat) and whilst surfing upright looked at the person on safety to get a line before he pulled his deck. The person on safety then threw a full 20m bag at him which knocked him over into the stopper and wrapped around his deck. He was very glad he had a knife on his shoulder that day. I know this is a case of stupidity, but you never know when it could happen.

  18. Gavin

    Top Tip!
    Always leash with something weak enough that it can snap it in an instant should you need it too.

  19. Dennis

    Great post. But i was wondering, i just bought a palm Fxr and a nrs pilot knife, what would be the best place to put my kniffe. I want it to be on the outside of my pfd so i can quickly grab it when needed to.


  20. Yew


  21. Las

    I pretty much have the same set up, whistle and watch in the same places. Have had to blow my whistle too many times and seconds mattered, inside is no good for me. My watch, always hit my guide stick, so I keep it on the PFD. Plus, if I need my hands for CPR or something, the watch is a glance away. I keep my knife in my chest pocket, not ideal, but, I have lost too many knifes to the river and yes, they make getting back in the raft, sometimes, impossible. Great post. Glad to see other people’s strategies.

  22. Bill Mattos

    Very good subject to bring up, thanks. I carry all the things you’ve listed, plus rescue sling and karabiner, on my buoyancy aid. But none of them are on the outside and prone to snagging, because the pfd I use (Nookie Rivermonster) has clever sleeves for all these things. So no fumbling in pockets, and no looking like a Xmas tree either. Leaves the front smooth for scrambling onto rafts or boats.

    I would add, as an equipment designer, that the biggest snag dangers you have are your spraydeck and the shoulder straps of your pfd.

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      I would like to see the new River Monster. Nookie is not very well represented up North.

  23. David Priestley

    If that is a picture of you in the Zet, I am more concerned that you go to the expense of buying a top quality Palm BA that has been designed on the ‘clean line’ principle with minimum snag hazards and then clip a karabiner to the webbing.

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      Not me, it does look as if the carabiner is clipped into the webbing. Palm PFDs have split plastic D Rings for clipping carabiners into for storage. Looks like this carabiner is attached to either a cowtail or a piece of rescue tape. Palm make both in yellow.

      All gear used inherently presents a snag hazard, if it can be quick release, all the better. At the end of the day, personal choice vs acceptable risk is key.

  24. Edd

    The watch is a v low priority for me. I’ve never been in an emergency situation when I need my the time so urgently I can’t look under my neoprene cuff.

    Whistle and knife far more important. Getting the latter especially v easily is far more important than my watch. I don’t believe getting it out of a pocket can be done as easily as unsheathing one on the outside. I don’t raft, just kayak and judge snagging risk in that scenario far outweighed by the benefit. I would always go for a fixed blade in a rather than one that needs unfolding, again for speed. It lives in my pocket if I’m on flat water coaching etc..

    Cows tails, slings dangling from under cags area a greater risk to me that’re barely mentioned here. V secure stowage of these in pockets is very important.

  25. Zippy

    I have a Palm PFD with the knife pocket on top centre, I have a short length of cord attached to it and the other end attached to my old Rescue 3 fox whistle which is pushed into the spot where the straps get stowed away, I can pull the whistle out and use it and the knife stops it from getting away, but if anything get snagged the whole thing will pull away, ok I’ll lose my knife and whistle but that’s better than getting snagged on something, that’s my thoughts anyway

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