The term personal flotation device is a general name for the various types of devices designed to keep a person, or pet afloat in the water. These are commonly referred to as life jackets or life preservers. PFDs are very important life saving devices, and they are required to be onboard all types of boats. In addition, the boat’s owner is required to verify that there is a PFD in the correct size for each person onboard prior to getting underway. To be clear, this includes newborns through giants. PFDs include immersion suits, life preservers, vests, cushions, throw rings, and throw rafts. PFDs are available in five different types, each with its own intended use and flotation characteristics.
Type I PFD - Offshore Life Jackets … A Type I has the most buoyancy among jacket style PFDs. They are good in all waters, and especially good in rough, and hazardous waters. These PFDs will turn most unconscious wearers to a face-up position in the water. The Type I PFD comes in two sizes: Adult size provides at least 22 pounds of buoyancy, the child size provides 11 pounds of buoyancy. If you plan on fishing/cruising in the ocean have these on board.
Type II PFD - Nearshore Buoyant Vests … Type IIs are intended for calmer, inland water where there is a good chance of a quick rescue. This type will turn some unconscious wearers to a face-up position. Type II’s turning action is not as pronounced as Type I offshore life jackets. An adult size provides at least 15.5 pounds buoyancy, a medium child size provides 11 pounds. Infant and small child sizes each provide at least 7 pounds buoyancy. Type IIs are the flat styled life preservers that hang over the back of your neck and strap to the front of your chest. Inflatable vests are Type II PFDs too.
Type III PFD - Flotation Aids … These are also known as ski jackets. They are good for calm, inland water, or wherever there is a good chance of quick rescue. It is important to know that this PFD type will not turn unconscious wearers to a face-up position. The wearer may have to tilt their head back to avoid turning face down. TYPE III has the same minimum buoyancy that a TYPE II PFD has. Float coats, fishing vests, and vests designed for various paddle sports are other examples. Type III vests are light weight and comfortable. Some are inflatables that activate upon entering the water.
Type IV PFD - Throwable Devices … These are intended for calm, inland waters where help from nearby boats is usually present. They can also be used in open waters. Type IVs are designed to be thrown to a person in the water to be grabbed and held by the user until rescued. They are not designed to be worn. Type IV devices include buoyant cushions, life rings, and horseshoe buoys. Throwable devices are the best PFD to use when retrieving a person who has fallen overboard.
Type V PFD - Special Use Devices … Type Vs are intended for use on paddle craft, surfboards, kayaks, or water skis. They work best when only used for their specified purpose. They can be used as deck vests, work vests, and sail boarding vests. A Type V is the least bulky PFD. Some are designed to automatically inflate when entering the water. They contain a small amount of inherent buoyancy plus an inflatable chamber. Type Vs must be worn while underway. Inflatable PFDs must be kept in good condition and armed. If you have an inflatable, test it for leaks often and carry spare CO2 cartridges.
Anti-Exposure Suits - Technically These are Type III PFDs … Anti-exposure suits are one piece, full body PFDs. These coveralls are used during cold weather. They have a foam filled liner that keeps the wearer face up on the surface of the water. While these suits are durable and warm, they are not watertight. Over time, resistance to hyperthermia is limited.
Dry Suits – Cold Water Protection … Dry suits are water tight coveralls that includes a thermal under suit to provide further protection in cold waters. Dry suits are used by divers, and boaters in cold water. These suits are also used by workers in contaminated water. A dry suit protects the whole body, but the head, hands, and feet may require extra protection. In hazmat configuration, all of the body is secured. Dry suits can be equipped with chemical or electric heating.
Immersion Suits - Also Known as Survival Suits … Immersion suits are especially waterproof. They protect the wearer from hypothermia once immersed in very cold water. Typically, an immersion suit is only worn when abandoning a ship that is sinking due to an unforeseen circumstance that occurred while at sea. Most immersion suits feature integral foot, hand, and a head protection. In addition, an integral and inflatable pillow or similar device is included. Once inflated, these devices provide the survivors with enhanced stability and vision. This feature helps a survivor keep his or her head above
water. These inflatable additions also help keep wind and seas from striking the victim’s face. Some immersion suits are manufactured with straps, clips and hooks that allow multiple survivors to stay attached to one another in the water. This practice helps make survivors easier to spot. Some imersion suits are manufactured with built-in hoisting lanyards. This feature allows for hoisting swimmers into vessels with a high seaboard and manual or mechanical hoisting capabilities.