The Story Behind the Float Coat™ Life Jacket

The Story Behind the Float Coat™ Life Jacket

  • Cristina Stavro

Ruffwear products are born out of the constant drive to provide a solution to a need or problem. The story of the Float Coat™ Life Jacket is no exception. It began after Patrick, Ruffwear's Founder, had a near miss while running the Kern River with his dog Otis. He saw an opportunity to design a life jacket for dogs that is reliable, comfortable, and safe.

Below, Patrick shares this experience and his thought process leading to the design of the Float Coat.

Thoughts of heading down to that favorite swimming hole, lake, or the ocean make me appreciate those childhood swimming lessons. Those early experiences opened my eyes to a new world, and life was never the same after that first dip. In and around water is where I choose to spend the majority of my time.

Fast forward to 1996 where whitewater kayaking consumed every spare moment. Of course, Otis, my Australian Cattle Dog, was always by my side – the perfect companion for road trips, camping, and river running.

Our days on the rivers were spent with good friends, paddling our kayaks while Otis would join us by running down the riverside. During more technical drops, he would boulder hop and dive in and out of willows and fragrant lupine. In the flat-water, Otis would swim out and join me on my kayak.

As we both adapted to this whitewater environment, it became apparent that I had a significant safety advantage–helmet, dry top, paddle, and ergonomic lifejacket. Otis seemed content with running the river “naked”, but I started to become concerned for his safety as we upped the ante. So, I outfitted Otis in a canine flotation device from a respected whitewater company.

One of our first trips using his new gear was a 17-mile paddle down a wilderness run on the upper forks of the Kern River in California.

At one point as Otis ran the riverside, the granite walled up and cliffed out, impeding his downriver progress. This required me to ferry him across to the other side, just above a significant drop. As I grabbed a hold of his flotation device to lift him onto the kayak, he slipped out of his lifejacket and into the water. After a few seconds of extreme concern for Otis’s safety, I was able to scoop him up, get him back into his jacket, and ferry him safely across to the other side where we completed the run.

Back at camp, I fitted his jacket again, this time trying to tighten the straps to keep Otis from slipping out. No matter how I adjusted the straps, Otis could easily spill out of the jacket. This experience inspired me to create a better canine Float Coat

My goal was to design and build a Float Coat that would allow Otis to run and swim unencumbered while staying in his coat no matter how I tried to pour him out. With this new Float Coat, we could both continue our waterborne adventures with a renewed level of confidence, safety, and fun.

I invite you to discover the added benefits and fun that can be had by adding Ruffwear gear to your adventure. Take a dip for me and remember, it all starts with a doggy paddle.

The Float Coat Life Jacket was born that day on the Kern River with Patrick and Otis. And over the years, countless hours on the water and learning by doing pushes the design team to keep refining and improving it. Today's Float Coat continues to be the ultimate in canine flotation and water safety for dogs that love to join their humans rafting, kayaking, boating, surfing and paddle boarding.

Built to be buoyant while allowing for unencumbered movement, it's designed for dogs of all shapes and sizes. The new Gaia® foam is PVC-free and softer for a more comfortable fit as dogs run, swim, and play around water. The foam is strategically-placed to  support dogs in the water and promote a natural swimming position.

Other thoughtful details include a strong handle optimally positioned to assist dogs out of the water, reflective screen printing for enhanced visibility in or out of the water, and a tucked away D-ring for leash clip-in when getting to and from the water.

Like Patrick said – adding a piece of gear like the Float Coat to your dog's kit opens a whole new world of potential fun for you and your dog. If you've never tried kayaking, paddle boarding, or any kind of water sport together, it adds a layer of confidence that makes it easier to say, "Let's give it a shot" – and then have a blast doing so.

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  • Dana

    I have to agree with the other poster that these are ugly. The old design was much nicer. Now I wish that I purchased one before this design change.

  • Kathleen Claycomb

    Why did you change the design of the life jackets… these are UGLY! Leave it alone and just raise the price for heavens sake!

  • Deb

    I guess im not understanding the difference between your normal Ruffwear PFD and this Float Coat? Ive been using PFD for years for my SEARCH AND RESCUE K9’s without worry. How is this different?

  • Janet Puskar

    I have a tripod dog that will be needing a life jacket. He is missing his front left leg and I worry about it slipping on him. Could you please give me some guidance,
    Thank you

  • Nicholas Zito

    What size should I buy my Lab puppy? 11 weeks old and chest measure 18 inches . She likes going in the pool with me but can only swim a very short time. Since I live in the North and Summer is almost over should I get a size up? Thanks Nick

  • Ruffwear

    Hi Debbie!

    Thanks for reaching out! We regret that we are completely out of stock in multiple colors and sizes of our Float Coat, and won’t be receiving any more inventory until next Summer. You can check for item availability at a local retailer in your area using our store locator here:

  • Debbie

    as of July 2020, the Ruff wear float coat seems to have been discontinued. I don’t understand since this post was just a month ago. I had owned one purchased 5 years ago that I gave away when my lab passed on. I am now trying to buy 2 for my German Shorthair Pointers and everyone has discontinued them?? Help?

  • Shauna

    Thank you so much for sharing this. This was awesome.

  • Slipknot

    Great But to Bulky My master made me one out of his old dive suit red and it’s also great on motorcycle that he puts ice cubes in and now I ride for hrs on fuel tank (it’s a Hardley so he has a bra that he made to keep me from scratching it up)but it’s the katsass

  • Alisa

    We have had the float coat for 4 summers now and spend nearly every weekend at the beach and on the boat. I can’t say enough about this jacket. Handle on the back has been a lifesaver (literally) in a situation where someone through a ball as a boat was backing up to the beach and our dog bolted straight toward a spinning propeller. I was able to grab the handle on the coat and keep her safe. Durable is the best word for this jacket! The color has faded from red to pink from saltwater but no signs of rips/tears. Thank you, thank you!

  • Jeff Bloeser

    Do you make a float coat large enough to accommodate my 165 pound Saint Bernard Bernie? He likes to go out on the pontoon boat with us and jump off. He doesn’t so much swim as walks in until he becomes buoyant and then bobs around like a cork. Can’t find anything good to fit him. Thanks

  • Barbara Dailey

    My GSD, Ero, and I love this Float Coat Life Jacket. He goes paddleboarding with me and if he were to get off of the board in deep water, I can help him to get back on top of my board with the handle on his jacket. Also, the color of the jacket make my black sable dog more visible in the water. Thanks!

  • Andrea Dorsey

    I bought one for each of our 3 dogs. Our black lab is 13 and I was concerned he’s getting older. We got a puppy Newfoundland last fall and my son moved to live on the water with 2 labs, Daisy and Otis, and Humphrey, the puppy. Thank you for such a wonderful product!!

  • Ruffwear

    Hi Ric!
    The rear loop with the lightbulb symbol on it is our light loop: it’s where you can attach The Beacon™ Safety Light. The light is waterproof, and it’s great for adding another bit of visibility if it’s getting dark out – or if your pup makes a go at crossing the Atlantic :) Happy swimming!

  • Ric

    We have a Ruff Coat Flotation Vest for our Lagotto Romanolo. He will jump into any water (pool,lake, and ocean) and retrieve anything hat is thrown in. He never stops. Our concern is that given the chance, he’d cross the Atlantic. There are two loops on the jacket.; a plastic one under the handle and a sewn one just to the rear with what looks like a light bulb insignia. what is the rear one for?

  • Margaret Goddard-Knop

    This jacket is wonderful my pit bull wore it through the Ozark Scenic Waterways yesterday and did an 8 hour trip on fast water her first time on a boat. We kept her cool in it and she was comfortable and safe in the precarious moments!