Be smart and wear your life jacket! PFDs come in many styles and built for different purposes. Learn more about PFDs.

Coast Guard regulations require carriage of wearable Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) on recreational vessels. Smart boaters would use PFDs regardless of any rulebook. Boats 16 feet and longer in length must also carry a throwable PFD. Boaters should consider wearing PFDs at all times while aboard a boat, but there are certain activities where you should make it a personal requirement.

Many States expect PFDs be worn for these special activities. These can include things like water skiing, operating or riding on a personal watercraft (PWC), whitewater kayaking or rafting, and sailboarding. Children, less than 13 years of age are required to wear a PFD while onboard a boat.

The U.S. Coast Guard certifies PFDs approved for use in the United States. An approval label can be found on any certified PFD. There are five types of Coast Guard approved PFDs. Each offers a different level of protection and intended use.

life jacket

Type I

Type I or off-shore lifejackets offer the greatest level of protection and floatation. They are designed to roll most unconscious wearers face-up in the water. Type I’s are required on passenger for hire vessels like ferries. They are bulky, uncomfortable to wear and not commonly used as PDFs by recreational boaters.

Type II

Type II or near-shore buoyancy vests are a step down from the type I and intended for use in calmer waters. They will turn some unconscious wearers face-up and designed for waters where there is a chance of quick rescue.

Type III

Type III or floatation aids are the most common PFD used by boaters. The design offers the same floatation as a type II, but no face protection for an unconscious wearer. These PFDs come in the most shapes and varieties. Designs are more comfortable and easily worn.

Type IV

Type IV or throwable devices are ring buoys and floating cushions. Ring buoys are an important water rescue device that should be located your docks. Practice throwing ring buoys at targets in the water, they aren’t as easy to use as might think. Be sure to have about 50 feet of line attached to the buoy to give you a second at hitting your target.

Type V

Type V PFDs are devices intended for special uses. The most common example is the Mustang exposure suit worn by many in Alaska. Many type V devices bear a label that states that they do not qualify as PFDs under Coast Guard regulations unless worn. Many are too hard to don after you are thrown into the water. Be safe and wear your PFD.

There are three floatation systems used in PFD construction. These include foam, inflatable, and hybrid combinations of the first two kinds. Try wearing and using your PFD before having to depend on it. Test your PFD in shallow water or swimming pool to see how well it floats and fits you.

Be safe and wear your PFD!