There are many types and styles of life jackets, also called personal flotation devices (PFD). Be sure to always read the United States Coast Guard label on the inside of the PFD for instructions and allowable use requirements for each type.
Size Does Matter
When selecting a PFD, the proper size is important. Too small may not keep you afloat and too large may come off on impact if you are suddenly thrown into the water. A PFD should be snug around the torso and when lifting on the shoulder straps, should not come past the bottom of the ears. PFDs are sized by weight and chest size and should be tried on before purchasing to assure a proper fit for the person that will be wearing it.
TYPE I (Off-Shore Life Jacket) (22 lbs. buoyancy) — Best for open, rough or remote water, where rescue may be slow in coming. Advantages: Floats you best, turns most unconscious wearers face-up in water and has a highly visible color.
TYPE II (Near-Shore Buoyant Vest) (15.5 ibs. buoyancy) — Good for calm, inland water, or where there is good chance of fast rescue. Advantages: Turns some unconscious wearers face-up in water, is less bulky, more comfortable than Type I PFD. Inexpensive. Disadvantages: Not for long hours in the water and will not turn some unconscious wearers face-up in water.
TYPE III (Flotation Aid) (15.5 lbs buoyancy) — Good for calm, inland water, or where there is a good chance of fast rescue. Advantages: Generally the most comfortable type for continuous wear, freedom of movement for many active water sports and available in many styles. Disadvantages: Wearer may have to tilt head back to avoid going face-down. In rough water, a wearer’s face may often be covered by waves, and it is not for extended survival in rough water.
TYPE IV (Throwable Device) — For calm, inland water with heavy boat traffic, where help is always nearby. Advantages: Can be thrown to someone, good back-up to wearable PFDs and some can be used as a seat cushion.
Disadvantages: Not for unconscious persons, not for non-swimmers or children and not for many hours in rough water.
TYPE V (Hybrid Device) — Required to be worn to be counted as a regulation PFD. Advantages: Least bulky of all Types, high flotation when inflated and good for continuous wear. Disadvantages: May not adequately float some wearers unless partially inflated and requires active use and care of inflation chamber.
Also remember these state rules:
- Children under 13 years of age in or on vessels under 26 feet must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved wearable PFD while underway.
- All vessels under 16 feet (including canoes and kayaks) must be equipped with one Type I, II, III or V for each person on board.
- Vessels 16 feet and longer, in addition to the Type I, II, III or V for each person on board, must have one Type IV throwable device which must be readily accessible. • Canoes and kayaks over 16 feet are exempt from the Type IV requirement.
For more complete information, check the The Water Safety Act.
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