Safety First
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P.O. Box HM 180,
Hamilton HM AX, Bermuda
Tel: (441) 295-6575
Fax:(441) 295-5523

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Ministry of Transport


Welcome to the official Bermuda Water Safety Council website


PFD Basics

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 choose the 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.

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Type I

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Type II

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Type III


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Type IV

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Type V

When considering a Type I, II or III - remember that, generally,
the lower the number the better the performance.
(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 fishing another.


Type I
Offshore Life Jacket

Type II
Near-shore Buoyant Vest

Type III
Flotation Aid

Best for open, rough or remote water, where rescue may be slow-coming.

Good for calm or inland water, or where there is a good chance of fast rescue

Good for conscious users in inland water and where there is good chance of fast rescue.


Floats you the best

Turns most unconscious wearers face-up in water

Highly visible color

Turns some unconscious wearers face-up in the water

Less bulky, more comfortable than Type I

Generally the most comfortable type for continuous wear

Designed for general boating or the activity that is marked on the device

Available in many styles, including vests and flotation coats



Not for long hours in rough water

Will not turn some unconscious wearers face-up

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


Inflatables: 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.


Type IV
Throwable Device

Type V
Special Use Device


Can be thrown to someone.

Are good backup to wearable PFDs.

More convenient or useful for specific activities.

Continuous wear prevents being caught without protection. Most accidents happen suddenly and unexpectedly.


Not for unconscious person, non-swimmers or children.

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 seasons.

Some Type Vs are approved only when worn. If marked this way, they are required to be worn to be counted as a regulation PFD.


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 label.

How 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 NEVER be used in place of PFDs.


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