• PPCD

The Lowdown on Life Jackets

So what’s the story? Why should life jackets be worn? When should someone wear a life jacket? And how do you pick the right one?

We are going to dig deep and get you all the answers you need! Part I will explain the basic types and kinds of life jackets. Part II will dig deeper into the many questions parents ask themselves when selecting a life jacket, and will include an interview with an Officer in the USCG.


The United States Coast Guard (USCG) differentiates life jackets by categories:

1) Commercial Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

2) Recreational PFDs,

3) Throwable PFDs


Let's concentrate on recreational & throwable PFDs. These PFDs are further categorized into 3 basic kinds and 5 “types.”


The 3 basic kinds are:

1) Inherently buoyant: These are primarily composed of foam, all sizes of PFDs are available, throwable and wearable types exist in this category.

2) Inflatable: These are the most compact, only recommended for swimmers, NOT for children, use of a CO2 cartridge as mechanism for inflation (manual or automatic activation) and manual oral inflation.

3) Hybrid (foam & Inflatable): for swimmers and non swimmers, all sizes available


The 5 basic types are:

Type I: Offshore life jackets

Will turn MOST unconscious wearers face-up in water.

Type II: Near Shore life jackets

Will turn SOME unconscious wearers face-up in water.

Type III: Flotation Aids

Not designed to turn an unconscious victim face up in water.

Type IV: Throwable PFD

Type V: Special use devices

Below are detailed descriptions of the 5 different types available.

(Pictures & links included to provide clarity, not to endorse any specific product or company)


Type I PFD: Inherently buoyant

Q: What's the intended use?

A: These are offshore life jackets. They are the best for all waters, open ocean, rough seas, or remote water, where rescue may be slow coming. Examples: Cruising, racing and fishing offshore, when boating alone, or in stormy conditions.


Q: Will it turn a victim face up?

A: Will turn MOST unconscious wearers face-up in water.


Q: Pros:

A: The best protection. This jacket does the best job of retaining body heat because of the extra foam and fabric. Keeps the victim's head highest above water.


Q: Cons

A: They are bulky and uncomfortable





Type II: Inherently buoyant

Q: What's the intended use?

A: These are for near-shore use. They are buoyant, and for general boating activities.  They are good for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue. Examples: Inland day cruising, fishing and sailing.


Q: Will it turn a victim face up?

A: Will turn SOME unconscious wearers face-up in water.


Q: Pros?

A: More comfortable than Type I.


Q: Cons?

A: Less buoyant than Type I. Provides far less flotation than a Type I. Not intended for extended survival in rough water. A poor performer in rough water, often requires

victim to tread water in order to keep head above water.


Type II: Inflatable

Q: What's the intended use?

A: For serious inland and near shore cruising.


Q: Will it turn a victim face up?

A: Will turn SOME unconscious wearers face-up in water.


Q: Pros?

A: Very comfortable, more buoyant than Type II Inherently Buoyant jackets (34 lbs of buoyancy compared to 15.5 lbs). May be manual inflation (oral inflation or pull cord CO2) or automatic inflation.


Q: Cons:

A: High price. NOT intended for children under the age of 16! Adults sizes only.




Type III: Inherently Buoyant

Q: What's the intended use?

A: Intended for general boating or the specialized activity that is marked on the device. Good for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue.  Designed so that wearing it will complement your boating activities. Must be accessible in order to meet USCG requirements. Examples: Supervised activities, such as sailing regattas, dinghy races. Other activities such as water skiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and during personal watercraft operation.


Q: Will it turn a victim face up?

A: Not designed to turn an unconscious victim face up in water.


Q: Cons?

A: Provides far less flotation than a Type I. Not suitable for extended survival in rough open water.


Q: Pros?

A: More comfortable to wear than a Type I or a Type II.


Type III: Inflatable

Q: What's the intended use?

A: Same uses as for the Type III Inherently Buoyant, designed for a specialized activity. For boating inshore and near shore when there is a good chance for a fast rescue. Must be accessible in order to meet USCG requirements.


Q: Will it turn a victim face up?

A: Not designed to turn an unconscious wearer face-up.


Q: Cons?

A: One manual inflation mechanism only. Provides less buoyancy than Type I Inherently buoyant and Inflatable Type II. Inflatable PFDs are NOT designed for children under the age of 16.


Q: Pros?

A: More comfortable than a Type III Inherently Buoyant jacket.





Type IV: Throwable Device

Q: What's the intended use?

A: Designed to be thrown to a conscious overboard victim or to supplement the buoyancy of a person overboard. It is NOT designed to be worn. Although these devices are often referred to as "seat cushions," you should never use it as such. Sitting on this PFD degrades the foam and reduces the amount of flotation that is provided. These must be IMMEDIATELY AVAILABLE for use!


Q: Will it turn a victim face up?

A: A Type IV is NOT for unconscious persons, non-swimmers or children.


Q: Cons?

A: NOT designed for an unconscious victim, a non-swimmer, or a child.


Q: Pros?

A: These are designed in multiple shapes and sizes.


**Photos illustrate the seat cushion variety and a life ring.



Type V: Special use Life jackets

Q: What's the intended use?

A: Restricted to the special use for which each is designed, for example: sailboard harness, deck suit, paddling vest, commercial white water vest or float coats. MUST be worn to meet USCG regulations. May be inflatable or inherently buoyant.


Q: Will it turn a victim face up?

A: No, they are NOT designed to turn a victim face up. Conscious victim must be able to tilt their own head back.


Q: Cons?

A: Must be worn for the specific use for which it was designed.


Q: Pros?

A: They are more comfortable because they are designed for a specific use.


**Photos are examples of a special use PFD for kayaking with manual inflation capabilities (oral inflation and pull cord for CO2), as well as foam flotation. A"puddle jumper" whose special use is a "flotation device" when worn properly. A "belt" type PFD (manual inflation and CO2 cartridge) for kayaking and SUP use.




Type V: Automatic inflation

Q: What's the intended use?

A: Restricted to the specific use for which it is designed, ex. belt pack, deck suit, float coat. Must be worn to meet USCG regulations. Some models feature a combination of CO2 inflation and built-in foam.


Q: Will it turn a victim face up?

A: Not guaranteed to turn an unconscious wearer face-up. Conscious victim must be able to tilt their own head back.


Q: Cons?

A: Only to be used for specific activity it was designed for.


Q: Pros?

A: Will automatically inflate when submerged a few inches underwater. Can have Type III buoyancy capabilities. Some manufacturers claim Type II capabilities. Adult inflatable Type V PFDs have more buoyancy than adult inherently buoyant Type V PFDs



Type V: Hybrid inflation

Q: What's the intended use?

A: Models recommended for boating activities where rescue is nearby and must be worn when underway. Hybrid inflation refers to combining inflation mechanisms. Read the label carefully to understand how your specific PFD functions.


Q: Will it turn a victim face up?

A: No, it is not designed to turn a victim face up. Conscious victim must be able to tilt their own head back.


Q: Cons?

A: Inadequate for unconscious overboard victims.


Q: Pros?

A: More comfortable to wear than Type I or Type II



Be sure to keep reading Part II (coming shortly) to learn more!


The following websites were used as references:

https://www.dco.uscg.mil/CG-ENG-4/PFD/

http://www.uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/life-jacket-wear-wearing-your-life-jacket.php

https://www.dco.uscg.mil/CG-ENG-4/PFDSel/

https://www.boatus.org/life-jackets/types/

https://www.coleman.com/puddlejumper/

352 views
Contact Us
Connect with us

your child was not designed to drown, they were meant to floaT!

© 2020 by Parents Preventing Childhood Drowning - design assisted by Sarah Savoie

  • Twitter Social Icon
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • YouTube Social  Icon
  • Facebook Social Icon