Guide to Choosing Life Jackets or PFDs for your Boat

Not only is it common sense to have life jackets or personal flotation devices (PFDs) onboard your boat, but it's also the law! 

Lifejackets and personal flotation devices

Federal law requires having at least one life jacket or PFD for each person onboard your boat at any given time. Your state’s laws may also impose additional requirements, but basically the law requires you to have adequate survival gear on board. All life jackets or PFDs must be US Coast Guard-approved and in serviceable condition. In other words, every personal flotation device has to  ... well, float! Each wearable PFD must also be size-appropriate for every person on board.

Life vest all sizes family

It’s very simple: If you have four people on your boat, you must have four life jackets or PFDs on board. Each wearable PFD must fit the person it’s assigned to, and must be in good condition and approved by the USCG (either on a label or printed directly on the device). Whenever you’re ready to stock up your boat for safety and survival, you’ll need to know the various types of life jackets or PFDs available.

Personal flotation devices boat

Types of PFDs

There are five types of personal flotation devices you need to know about:

Type I PFDs

Offshore devices that provide maximum buoyancy and are designed to turn most wearers face-up when unconscious in the water.

Type II PFDs

Near-shore devices that provide medium buoyancy and are designed to turn some wearers face-up when unconscious in the water.

Personal flotation device ring

Type III PFDs

Inshore and inland devices that provide less buoyancy, and won’t turn wearers face-up when unconscious in the water.

Type IV PFDs

Throwable devices such as rings and cushions that are not worn, but act as additional buoyancy aids to a person in water.

Type V PFDs: Specialized devices only used when engaging in a specific activity such as waterskiing or wakeboarding. They provide less buoyancy and won’t turn wearers face-up when unconscious in the water.

Type 5 life vest wakeboarding

Which Personal Flotation Device Types You Need

In accordance with the law, you must carry at least one Type I, Type II or Type III personal flotation device on board for each person. However, the type of life jackets or PFDs you should have onboard depends on the type of boating you do.

Type I PFDs

Are considered suitable for all waters, including rough seas and open ocean where a quick rescue is unlikely. However, they can be bulky and uncomfortable to wear. Unless you take your boat several miles offshore, you probably won’t need Type I life jackets.

Type I PFD life jacket

Type II PFD life jackets

Type I Personal Flotation Device

Type II Personal Flotation Device

Type II PFDs

Are considered suitable for calm, near-shore coastal waters where a quick rescue is likely. Inflatable Type II PFDs are less bulky and can be worn at all times, but they’re more expensive. On the other hand, foam Type II PFDs are bulkier and less comfortable, but also much less expensive.

Consider getting Type II life jackets if you regularly take your boat a mile or two offshore.

Type III PFDs

Are considered suitable for calm waters within sight of the shore or on inland waters where a very quick rescue is likely. They are the least bulky, most comfortable, and suitable for wear at all times.The Type III life vest is probably the most suitable for the majority of recreational boaters.

Type 3 PFD life vest

Type 5 personal flotation device

Type III Personal Flotation Device

Type V Personal Flotation Device

Type IV PFDs

Are an additional safety measure to the life jackets or PFDs required on board by law. Type IV cushions provide more buoyancy than Type IV rings, and conveniently double as cushions for seating purposes. Type IV PFDs must be available for immediate use, and shouldn't be stored away.

Cal-June lifesaver ring Type 4

Type 4 life preserver cushion

Type IV Personal Flotation Device

Type IV Personal Flotation Device

Type V PFDs

Show a specific use on their label for activities such as waterskiing, or wakeboarding, and must be worn when engaging in that specified activity. Because Type V PFDs are only for special activities, you must still carry either Type I, Type II or Type III PFDs on your boat to satisfy USCG requirements.

Guide to choosing lifejackets and PFDs

Whenever you need to stock up your boat with life-saving devices, check out the large selection of lifejackets and PFDs and life rings and buoys Boats.net has to offer!

 

 

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