How to Put on a Co2 Waist Lifejacket

Many get into SUP for the sense of minimalism – just a board and a paddle. Some turned down kayaking as there’s more gear and possibly additional instruction to learn how to do it safely. Leading this trend is the choice of a small waist mounted C02 lifejacket versus a vest style foam filled lifejacket most commonly worn by paddlers of all types.

The waist PFD comes in a velcro closed pouch that looks like a fanny pack. The idea is that if you need a lifejacket, then you pull the handle and the C02 cartridge inflates a pillow or yoke style lifejacket to give you floatation. Once inflated, you place the PFD over your head, then swim to shore or to your board.

The problem is, most who use these waist PFDs have never pulled the handle and know what happens if/when the cartridge fires.  In some cases that I’ve seen, paddlers who have been wearing one for a few years, then found out there wasn’t a cartridge attached. Or that if there is one, the paddler doesn’t know the procedure for firing then putting the PFD on.

With practice, it’s easy, but without practice and under stress in rough water after your leash-less board has drifted away, it’s a different story. A few folks have drowned in the US from wearing but not pulling or knowing how to pull the handle.

Legally, the waist PFD should be placed on your front side, but many rotate it to set just above their butt. Downside here is that after deflation, it must be rotated with two hands to your front side to place over your head.  This requires letting go of your paddle and board (wear a leash to help).  Note the C02 is a Type 3 Lifejacket and CG approved in the USA. 

Benefits of a Waist C02 PFD:

Small size makes it more comfortable for racing, surfing or in hot temperatures. Larger people may find that a vest PFD makes their chest even bigger, thus making it difficult to climb on a board or swim.

Cons of a Waist C02 PFD:

  • If the paddler is unconscious or can’t reach the pull handle, the C02 cartridge won’t fill the pouch.
  • A failed or spent cartridge means blowing up manually while under stress or in cold water temps.
  • Not having practiced pulling the handle and placing over head may lead to confusion for actual use.
  • Not recommended for those that can’t swim.  Note: C02 cartridges don’t fit on every pfd model. 


Tips for Best Usage:

  • Buy two cartridges. In chest deep water without help from your board, pull the handle and learn how to put the PFD on. After the cartridge has fired, deflate the PFD then learn how to inflate using the manual inflation tube (by blowing).
  • Figure how to contain your paddle and board while firing off the PFD.  A leash prevents your board from floating away. Your paddle can be stuffed in tie-downs (bungies, etc) on your board.
  • In case your gear gets away from you, swim with the inflated PFD on.  Then try to get on your board.
  • Install the unspent cartridge and re-pack the deflated PFD after doing the above tasks.

2 Types of C02 PFD Pouches:

  • Yoke style – Your head fits through a yoke style hole, then two strings secure the two halves together. Note: Not everyone’s head fits in the opening. Doesn’t work with a hat on.
  • Pouch style – Just a big bag (see below) that fits over your head with a strap. Easiest to get on.


Yoke style inflated from rear


Yoke style inflated from rear


Yoke style inflated from rear – must be shifted to front side (Note wrangling of paddle)


Paddler inflating pouch style from front


Paddler inflating pouch style from front


Paddler placing pouch style over head


Paddler swimming with pouch style


Paddler getting on board with pouch style (we recommend kicking to raise body to surface)

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Photos by John Patzer

Boards Used – Imagine Icon 10-2 and Starboard. Accent Paddles (top)


Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips