When thinking about boat safety equipment, the first item you probably purchase is the personal flotation device, also known as the PFD. The PFD is designed to give you buoyancy in the case of an emergency. However, when looking to purchase this piece of boat safety equipment, you might be surprised to learn there are several types to choose from and you need to know the differences.
First and foremost, know that most states require you by law to wear a PFD that has been approved by the United States Coast Guard. The device must be in good condition, properly fit the intended user, and be readily accessible. There are five types and we’ll go through the differences between each kind.
Type I: Offshore Life Jackets. These jackets are intended for use in open, rough or remote waters where it may take longer for rescue. They offer the most buoyancy and turn most unconscious people upright. It is also the most bulky of the jackets.
Type II: Near Shore Vests. This vest is intended for calmer inland waters where rescue will not take long at all. They will turn some unconscious users face up, but not all. They are less bulky than a Type I, but still relatively large.
Type III: Flotation Aids. They are the most comfortable to wear and are good for water sports and other activities. They are excellent for continuous wear and allow a good amount of movement. The flotation aids should be used where rescue will be quick. They will not turn an unconscious person face up.
Type IV: Throwable Devices. These are cushions or rings thrown to people in distress. They are actually a supplement to your life jacket. They should not be used in rough water, for non-swimmers, or people who are unconscious.
Type V: Special Use Devices. Like the name suggests, these devices are specially made for specific activities, such as kayaking, waterskiing, or windsurfing.
For adults, they need to look at their chest size, and not their weight, to determine what size jacket or vest to purchase. Sizing varies by brand, so always look at the sizing charts for that specific brand. A PFD should fit snugly, but still allow you to move freely without chaffing. Women might want to consider purchasing this boat safety equipment catered to them over a unisex jacket. For kids, it’s vital you get the right size. Do not purchase a larger PFD thinking they will grow into it. This is dangerous for their safety. Children’s sizing will depend on weight and not chest size.
A PFD is one type of boat safety gear you cannot afford to get wrong. Choose top quality brands and purchase the right device for your activity. The most important piece advice I can give you is to actually wear the PFD!