The PFDs that Audrey and I have been using for the past several years were starting to look a little weather-beaten. Their faded colors, bleached by the Florida sunshine, were our sign that the fabric was probably weakening and the aging flotation foam was losing buoyancy.
In search of replacements, we found our way to Northwest River Supplies (NRS), where we both bought the Odyssey. This Type-III PFD is available in XS/M, L/XL, and XL/XXL to fit chest sizes from 30″ to 56″. Because we prefer bright, easily seen colors, we chose the all-red version; the PFD is also available in black accented with lime green. The Odyssey has 16.5 lbs of foam flotation, a pound over the USCG requirement. The PFD weighs 1.9 lbs, and the fabric is 400-denier ripstop nylon. The two shoulder straps and the four waist straps can be adjusted for a snug and secure fit; a quick-release buckle below the zipper has an adjustable strap that’s cinched to keep the PFD from riding up when the wearer is in the water.
The flotation foam is divided into seven panels, four on the front and three on the back, so the Odyssey can mold comfortably around differently body shapes. The Odyssey was designed for sea-kayak touring, so the arm openings are wide and low to provide an unrestricted range of motion, which works well for sailing and rowing. The full-length foam back has the NRS “Cool Flow System,” four mesh-covered “pillows” along the spine that hold the vest away from the body to increase ventilation.
The large front-entry plastic zipper will not corrode, and its tab is easy to grip with wet fingers. Two large zippered storage pockets can hold small essentials and rescue items or a cell phone in a waterproof bag. The left pocket has a plastic snaphook on a tether to attach car keys or safety gear. Attached to the large pockets are two vertical clamshell pockets, which are a good size for VHF radios; dual zippers allow many options for the antenna to pass through.
All of the pockets have grommets at their bottoms to drain water. There are two plastic D rings above the pockets and two below the smaller pockets. Two small flat pockets on the chest just below each shoulder strap provide a good spot for a whistle and an LED light. There are two lash tabs on the front of the Odyssey where a knife can be clipped, and one tab on the back that’s usually used for a rescue strobe. Six retroreflective straps are placed high on the chest, shoulder, and back, and could be used as attachment loops to secure gear, though we recommend not covering them with accessory items.
The cut of the vest allows a good range of motion, and we find that the back is very comfortable for use with the seat backs on our sit-on-top kayaks. The foam back is also appreciated in our small sailboats and runabout, and the low profile of the neck helps keep it from snagging the sheet during tacks on our Sunfish. In the water, it was easy to float on my back or float vertically with my legs tucked up in the Heat Escape Lessening Position (HELP). The waist strap prevented the Odyssey from riding up around my neck, and the arm openings kept it from interfering with swimming, using either a backstroke or crawl. I was also able to board our sit-on-top kayak from the water without interference from the front pockets and foam panels. In fact, I liked the cushioning provided by the foam.
Audrey “Skipper” Lewis is a costume designer who has extensive experience designing garments and working with fabric. Kent Lewis is a retired Marine Corps Aviator with thousands of hours wearing integrated life-preserver units and survival vests, flying combat missions, and conducting search-and-rescue operations. The fleet at their Florida Panhandle home includes lateen, lug, sprit, sloop, and gaff-rigged sailboats, a canoe, two kayaks, and a 15’ lapstrake runabout; these boats range in length from 10’ to 19’. A diamond-bottom, cross-planked catboat is in the design phase.
Is there a product that might be useful for boatbuilding, cruising, or shore-side camping that you’d like us to review? Please email your suggestions.