The Kokatat Maximus Prime PFD – A Product Review By Kyle Smith



  • Review: Kokatat Maximus Prime PFD (M/L)
  • Author/Tester: Kyle Smith
  • Height: 5’9”
  • Weight: 165lbs
  • Sponsors: Mom& Dad, NRS, Swiftwater Safety Institute
  • Paddling Career: I don’t really like to call it a career. That would imply that I work.
  • MSRP: $219
Lohit River, India “beef for breakfast” Paddler-Cooper Lambla. Photo- Kyle Smith


  • This past Spring saw some some amazing swiftwater rescue scenarios initiated by the Swift Water Safety institute, one of which I was fortunate enough to attend. The course gave me an appreciation for a well functioning Rescue PFD and all the thought and enginituity that goes into one in order to help keep us and our friends safe out there on the river. Whether simply using your rescue knife to spread cream cheese or relying on that safety belt to hold strong as you leap into a 15 foot sloping weir to grab a unfortunate individual, it’s imperitive that you can trust your PFD.
  • For those lovers of side entry vests, Kokatat has finally answered the rescue jacket wearers call. Popping in and out of the left side is a snap… Well 4 snaps anyway. And Obviously the 17 lbs of flotation in the PFD is amazing for the mobility that it offers to paddlers. Especially compared with the industry standard 15lbs. A small but reassuring feeling when hovering above New Zealand’s Huka Falls at high flows or Scouting Idaho’s big-water lines. And it comes with eco – friendlier Gaia anti-compression foam as opposed to pro-mutant baby duckling PVC based foam! The rib protection is by far the best I’ve seen on the market. It offers PRIME bullet proofing for those precious intercostal’s. Exactly what your looking for when that random log or undercut granite shelf is eyeballing those baby backs. The trifecta of fast tech buckles holds the pfd securely to the body, with the FixLock rescue belt snapping tightly over the top. As expected, the quick release functions smoothly. I have honestly never felt more at one with a PFD.
  • Another nice feature is the addition of a fixed rescue ring. Sewn webbing keeps boaters rescue leashes from sliding. In the event of a live bait situation, it limits the potential for side loading. If for some reason that slide is a necessity, it’s a quick and easy switch-a-roo.
  • The chest pocket is bomb proof cordura-esque material with a vertical zipper to offer easy one handed access to carabiners, prusiks, snickers, pop tarts, etc.
  • The rescue knife attachment is designed to fit the likes of Gerber/NRS river rescue knives, but it comes with an innovative twist. River knife sheaths can catch and tear off during rope work, rough housing, or raft entries. The Maximus Prime has a fabric housing to prevent that $40 knife replacement fee. Sometimes you can’t afford to lose an essential piece of rescue gear, a lesson learned after having a throw bag liberated from my ownership on a 7 day exploratory run amongst the Himalayas. Tough to replace rescue equipment in the middle of nowhere it turns out.
  • As a firm believer in long kayak carries and heinous portages, I am hugely partial to the over sized neoprene padding on the shoulders, much like the Stohlquest descent. As an 90lb cockpit rim sank into my collar bone while trudging through steep densely forested mountainsides in India this past fall, I was wishing my Green vest had more shoulder padding. Not that it would have made a difference to the cartilage in my knees.
Lohit River, India “Sleepy Scout” paddlers- Zak Sears, Cooper Lambla, Charles King. Photo- Kyle Smith


The quick release attachment for a carabiner on the belt is designed more for a sea tow system than a cow tail. You can use it for a cow tail but the cow tail won’t be flush against the body and is a snag hazard. That is the problem with a traditional cow tail system. It is always a snag hazard if not stowed in some way. There is a river tow tether sleeve on the inside of the front panel. This stows the Kokatat river tow tether or a cow tail out of the way. It provides immediate access to the tow tether, and it is out of the way so it isn’t a snag hazard. The Kokatat River Tow Tether is the best use for this application because it stows 5’ of flat webbing in a pouch that is designed specifically to fit into the tow tether sleeve of the Maximus Prime or the Ronin Pro. The tail length is adjustable so when it is stowed it will sit flat against the body of the PFD to avoid a snag hazard. Also works great with other rescue PFDs for the same reason. The attached images show the stowed tow tether with the orange carabineer sticking out on the left side of the front view image of the PFD and it being deployed in the second front view image.

The biner and tether are in the right side of the PFD – out of the way.
Deploying the tether and biner.
The back of the Maximus Prime.
Close up of the fixed rescue rings.

Wrap Up:

The Maximus Prime is a great candidate for boaters of all levels, simply due to it flotation and storage capacity. Without prior experience or training, the PFD can be stripped of rescue ring, automatically excluding the wearer from rock, paper, scissoring when it comes time to decide who the live bait will be. The over sized zippered vest keeps things easily accessible. The Knife sheath might save you that annual yearly rescue knife replacement fee, and might even detour some Nepali porters sticky fingers. The shoulders are more padded to offer the collar bones a much needed rest during long carries. The rib protection makes me feel just that much better when someone drops into the river hole spin cycle with me on accident. I’m excited to return to the Pacific North West this spring from touring Asia and New Zealand and have the Maximus Prime in my gear bag along for the missions. —

Maruia Falls, NZ paddler- Kyle. Smith Photo- Richard Young

6 thoughts on “The Kokatat Maximus Prime PFD – A Product Review By Kyle Smith

  1. Jordan Yaruss

    This looks excellent, but has one thing that will keep me from choosing it: The emergency pull for the rescue belt is located poorly if you need to pull it with your left hand. Astral’s Green vest has a similar issue.


      Which vest will you be using? just curious…
      thanks for the comments.

      1. Jordan

        I currently use a Stohlquist X-Traxt, which fits me very well and I like a lot. It’s probably on its last season, however. It seems like all the newer rescue vests have the side pull, so I’m not sure what I will get next. Do you know if there’s any functional reason why they’re going this way?


          I think that they are all going that way to increase adjust-ability, and help give a better fit.



  3. Bill Wilson

    Its a great Jacket in many respects I have two the regular Maximus and the Maximus Prime. I have installed a lighter SS Ring at the rear the one provided was way OTT and would pull and sink a battleship.

    I wish the lash tab was exposed so I could utilise it for a variety of other Purposes, its in a good place if you subscribe to the blunt river knife school of thought. I don’t and like many others these days use a Spyderco H1 steel Atlantic Saltas it will cut absolutely anything including filleting pinned kayaks never ever ever rusts and opens with one hand. Doesn’t have the same macho appeal however.

    The tributary pocket is nice but a simpler method of attachment would be better received the introduction of more unnecessary webbing both adds weight and introduces another snag hazard easily modified if you have the inclination to get your kit perfect. I would also like a additional lash tab rear top centre for a strobe or light for Ocean Paddling.

    Its an ideal piece of kit for the larger paddlers amongst us offers good all-round protection, bags of buoyancy, easy to adjust by pulling to the front which makes a nice change.

    An optional Jockstrap would be welcome for Sea Kayakers or for those in exposed open water.

    Kokatat and friends continue to push the boundaries of equipment design.

    Little more attention to detail required to achieve perfection.

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