What kind of PFD do I need?
PFDs come in a variety of shapes,
colors, and materials. The most
important thing to remember is to
right one for you.
Consider what kinds of boating you
may be doing. You may need more than
one PFD. Try on your selection and
have everyone who boats with you try
on theirs. Is it comfortable? Can
you adjust it for a snug fit? Will
the color be visible when you are in
the water? (Your best choice is a
bright color, or at least a PFD with
reflecting tapes. These are easiest
for rescuers to spot against dark
blue or green water.)
PFDs are categorized by Type, i.e. Type I, II,
III, IV or V. Types I, II and III are commonly
worn by recreational boaters, while Type IVs are
throwable devices such as life rings and buoyant
cushions. Type Vs are for special uses, as will
be discussed later.
When considering a Type I, II or III -
remember that, generally,
the lower the number the better the
(A Type I is better than a Type II.)
Types I, II or III may be inherently
buoyant, that is, they will float without
action by the wearer, or they may be
inflatable (oral and manual inflation at a
minimum), or a combination of both (hybrid).
Select a PFD based upon your planned
activities and the water conditions you
expect to encounter.
Read the PFD label to be sure it is
made for people of your size and
weight and it is made for the type
of boating you plan to do. Labels
may show recommended use but
manufacturers are not required to
state categorically a specific use
for a particular PFD. If a PFD is
labeled with an "Impact Class"
("Effective on impact at speeds up
to [XX] MPH") you know
that it has been tested by water
impact for strength at the speed
stated. This, however, does not mean
it will give you personal
protection. It only means the PFD
will withstand that impact.
Never select a PFD based solely on
fashion or price -- never choose one
in a hurry. The question is which
one is the right one for you? The
one you will actually
wear while on board
may be the best answer. You may,
however, want to choose more than
one type of PFD if you use your boat
for a variety of purposes, such as
on Paradise Lake one day and deep sea
Offshore Life Jacket
Near-shore Buoyant Vest
Best for open, rough or remote
water, where rescue may be
Good for calm or inland water, or
where there is a good chance of fast
Good for conscious users in inland
water and where there is good chance
of fast rescue.
Floats you the best
wearers face-up in water
Highly visible color
wearers face-up in the water
Less bulky, more comfortable than
Generally the most comfortable type
for continuous wear
Designed for general boating or the
activity that is marked on the
Available in many styles, including
vests and flotation coats
Not for long hours in rough water
Will not turn some unconscious
Wearer may have to tilt head back to
avoid going face down
Not for extended survival in rough
water; a wearer's face may often be
covered by waves
All wearers need to try it in water
prior to going boating
Although standards are in place for
their approval, there are no USCG
Approved inflatable Type I or II
PFDs at present.
Type III Inflatables:
Will keep many unconscious wearers
face-up after inflation, but must be
regularly inspected and re-armed to
be reliable. Inflatables are not for
non-swimmers, or for long hours in
rough water. Inflatables are not for
use where high speed impact is
likely to occur.
Special Use Device
Can be thrown to someone.
Are good backup to wearable PFDs.
More convenient or useful for specific
Continuous wear prevents being caught
without protection. Most accidents
happen suddenly and unexpectedly.
Not for unconscious person, non-swimmers
Not for many hours in rough water.
Less safe than other Types if not used
according to label conditions.
May be better suited to cool climates or
Some Type Vs are approved only when
worn. If marked this way, they are
required to be worn to be counted as a
Kinds: Cushions, rings and horseshoe
buoys. Hold to chest and put arms
through opposite straps.
Performance: Equal to either Type I, II
or III performance as noted on the
to choose a PFD for your child
Just as you should yourself, have
your child try on a PFD before
buying it. To work right, it must
fit snugly. Check the fit by picking
the child up by the shoulders of the
PFD. If the fit is correct, the
child's chin and ears will not slip
through. Children are apt to panic
when they fall in the water
suddenly. They move their arms and
legs violently and make it hard to
float safely, even in a PFD. Because
their body weight is distributed
differently, children float
differently from adults. A PFD will
keep a child afloat, but may not
keep a struggling child face-up.
That's why it is important to have
the child try on his or her own PFD
and to explain the reasons for
wearing a PFD. Take your child to a
pool or shallow water and let them
become comfortable and used to
wearing a PFD in the water.
Children should always wear a PFD
when onboard and underway.
CAUTION: PFDs are NOT baby-sitters!
A parent should always be alert when
the child is on or near the water.
Parents, remember too, inflatable
toys, surf rafts and other
non-approved devices are not
dependable and should
be used in place of PFDs.