*Personal Floatation Devices*
By: Eli
24 OCT 2002

Do you own a boat? Ever gone shopping for a life jacket and not been able to figure out what to get? Whats Type I, II, III, IV & V mean? Well, its time to clear up the confusion. First of all you need to find out what is required for your vessel. Typically marine stores will have the requirements list for sale. You can also contact your local coast guard station and inquire.

If youre not going to be on the salt water, but on a lake, pond or river all of the requirements are governed by the state.

PFDs are designed to keep you afloat while in the water. They may be in the form of a vest, coat, cushion, full body suit, lifering etc. Innertubes, wood and anything that will float you will also do the trick, theyre not acceptable as a PFD, but work in an emergency.

PFDs must comply with Coast Guard specifications and regulations. A useable PFD will have a CG approval # on the label. Typically the # starts with 161.40..

It must be in good serviceable condition and be sized for the user. Putting a 10 year old child in an adult size lifejacket is not acceptable.

Different types of PFDs:

Type I-"Offshore life jacket"

    1. One piece, reversible (it is the only PFD required to be reversible)
    2. Provides an unconscious person the greatest chance of survival.
    3. Come in 2 sizes

Adult- 90lbs and over
At least 20 lbs of buoyancy

Child- less than 90 lbs
At least 11lbs of buoyancy
They are international orange


  • Effective in all waters, especially open, rough or remote where rescue is delayed. The face up position allows wearer to relax and save energy.


  • Bulky and restricts movement
  • Bouyancy restricts wearer from escape from a capsized vessel.
  • Minimum protection from hypothermia


    Donning (putting it on)
    Pull it over your head
    Place body strap around body, clip and adjust
    Tuck in all straps.

    Type II- "Near shore buoyancy vest"

      1. Will turn unconscious victim face up
      2. Come in different colors
      3. Come in 3 sizes

    Adult-greater than 90 lbs
    15.5 lbs of buoyancy

    Child (Medium) 50-90 lbs
    11lbs of buoyancy

    Infant-2 sizes
    Less than 50 lbs
    Less than 30 lbs
    Each has 7lbs of buoyancy


  • More comfortable to wear
  • Preferred for a quick rescue


  • Face up turning potential not as good as Type I

    Same as Type I
    Usually has a chest tie


    Type III- "Floatation Aid" i.e. vest, floatcoat

      1. Worn when freedom of movement is needed and the risk of falling in the water is minimal.
      2. Worn when water temp is greater than 60oF
      3. Not designed to turn wearer face up
      4. Minimum buoyancy of 15.5 lbs
      5. Comes in many colors and sizes


  • Greater comfort and freedom
  • Designed so wearer can place themselves in face up position
  • Used for water skiing, sailing, hunting and other water activities


  • Marginal floatation
  • Not suitable for heavy seas
  • Have a tendency to ride up your back

    Type IV- "Throwing device" must also be CG accepted. It will have approval # on label.
    Life rings and cushions, they are designed to be thrown to a person in the water.
    Life rings must be white or orange
    Cushions may be any color

    Type V- "Special use devices" i.e. Mustang anti-exposure coverall

      1. Intended for specific activities
      2. Can be carried instead of another PFD only if used according to the approved condition of label.


  • Better protection from hypothermia
  • Full body suit
  • If worn properly, it takes water anywhere from 2-3 minutes to enter the suit.
  • Not bulky and is comfortable to wear
  • Typically have a pillow for the head


  • Takes longer to don
  • Not waterproof

    That is the rundown of all types of PFDs. Remember that PFDs should be worn. People have the common misconception that theyll be able to put it on before they need to go in the water. WRONG!!!! If a boat capsizes, takes a wave and washes you overboard, suddenly turns and ejects you, you dont have time to grab and put on a lifejacket.

    Remember, a boat is nothing more than a hole in the water that you throw money into. Leave it at that. Dont throw your life away.

    Semper Paratus

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