Rafting 101: How to Wear Life Jackets

If you’re going Vail rafting with Timberline Tours, getting outfitted with essential rafting safety gear is part of the process. Before going out on the river, our expert guides will make sure that you have the gear you need, including a personal floatation device that meets rafting safety standards. A safety talk that covers rafting safety and common paddling commands will also be a part of your pre-trip training.

Upper Colorado River Rafting

Wearing a personal floatation device, otherwise known as a PFD or a life jacket, is an important part of rafting safety. If you fall from the raft into the water, a PFD can assist in your active rescue. However, it cannot replace your swimming and self-rescue effort, which will help you avoid prolonged exposure to cold water and, depending on trip type, other natural dangers such as rocks, trees, or violent rapids.

Listen to your guide for instructions during the rafting safety talk, and listen carefully for commands when on the river, especially in a rescue situation. Having a properly fit and adjusted life jacket is an important first safety step, so here’s what you need to know before you get in the raft and begin paddling down the river.

Adjusting a Life Jacket

Adjusting a life jacket takes just a few steps. First, unbuckle and loosen all straps, and then put on the life jacket as you would put on a button-up shirt, with the opening in the front.

Buckle all buckles down the front of the life jacket. Don’t forget to buckle the bottom buckle, as it’s the most important one—but can be easily overlooked. The bottom buckle is like a belt in reverse: It helps keep the life jacket from riding up or from coming off over your head.

If your life jacket includes a back floatation flap, make sure that it is not tucked into the back of the life jacket. Pull it out so that it will do its job of creating an air pocket around your head in a rope rescue situation.

Wear Life Jackets

Now it’s time to tighten down all straps. Begin by tightening each strap individually below the arms on both sides. Tighten straps so that the jacket feels tight, maybe even a bit uncomfortably snug at the beginning of the trip, but not so tight that it constricts your ability to breathe. Next, tighten straps across the front of the jacket.

Finally, tighten or loosen shoulder straps to adjust position of the life jacket on the front of your body. Optimal placement of the life jacket will allow full movement of arms while being snug-fitting enough that it won’t ride up.

Rafting safety allows us to enjoy the beauty and thrill of Colorado’s rivers season after season. If you have questions about your personal floatation device or about how to adjust it properly, please see your guide before going out on the river.


Timberline Tours is the Vail-area’s premier whitewater rafting and backcountry jeep tours outfitter, also offering stand up paddle board (SUP) and duckie river trips on Colorado’s Eagle, Colorado, and Arkansas Rivers. All of our guided trips are open to Vail, Colorado visitors, locals, families, and corporate groups.

To book your Vail, Colorado adventure, call Timberline Tours at (970) 476-1414, or email us at info@timberlinetours.com.