Know the Difference: Pool Toys, PFDs, and Watercraft

by | Oct 11, 2018 | Lifestyle, Safety is Sexy

If you were anywhere near a pool or swimming area in 2018, you may have seen somebody floating on a white unicorn inflatable with a rainbow mane. This unicorn inflatable was very popular this year, but big floating plastic animals have been a staple of fun on the water for decades.

Anyone who is educated on safety on the water knows that inflatables like this are toys – not PFDs and not watercraft. They are meant for novelty and relaxation. They are not intended to help save your life, and they are not built for serious recreation.

You may be saying, “Obviously a big plastic pegasus isn’t what I am going to reach for if I want to paddle a river”, and you would be right! It’s obvious because the white unicorn’s goofy design gives you no indication that you could get away with using it for a serious float, much less as a PFD.

There are times, however, where the line between proper craft for recreation and toy gets blurred. Inflatables you see at the store often have a design that makes them look secure, and in some cases they may be molded to look like actual watercraft.

Upshot of a pink flamingo floating in the water
If you read our blog about how to start kayaking, you know that buying a cheap kayak leaves you with more of a cheap pool toy. You may have a hard time keeping up, and it will not last. This is just the problem, cheap things fall apart.

When you’re in the open water, you put a lot of faith in your flotation of choice to keep you safe. Riding the pegasus down the river may be fun in theory – but if things get hairy and it gets cut by some debris, you better hope you can swim to shore.

A public service announcement from the National Park Service in 2015 says it all: “Pool Toys are not Watercraft”. You’ll see in this article a picture of an Australian officer holding up an inflatable tube. A young man died using that tube in a river.

You have no idea what can happen out on the open water, even if it’s the laziest river in the USA. If the weather turns or if you confront rough water, you want to be in a craft that stays on top of the water and gives you control. No matter how slick and professional a cheap pool toy looks, it is still flimsy and it will not easily maneuver when you need it to.

Lady in a donut inflatable floating in the water
Yet, we will probably always see people floating down the river on cheap animal-shaped inflatables. A lot of them know they shouldn’t, but they have chosen to risk their safety for the sake of novelty or saving money.

How you enjoy the water within the limits of the law is up to you. What we want to bring home is that very small decisions can make a lot of difference when it comes to water safety. No matter what you choose to do, it’s important to calculate the risks. Educate yourself, read the warning labels, and make sure you are prepared for the unexpected.

Finally, to prove that I don’t have a vendetta against inflatables, here is a picture of me riding a duck inflatable in a swimming pool. Enjoy.

Make contacting your friends and family a part of your preparation.

Email to see if the RaftUp app is tied into your local 911 dispatch.
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