Top 60 Boating Tips by Boating Magazine

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I am sure all of you know what a PFD is. The acronym doesn't mean Pretty Far Down, which is where many of us would end up if not for that good old Personal Flotation Device.

PFD's are available in a number of types and sizes. Let's take a look at the list:

Type I PFD's, often called offshore life jackets, are designed for open water use, where rescue will likely be delayed. If you cruise, or travel more than a few miles offshore, a Type I is the PFD of choice. They provide the most buoyancy,(a minimum of 22 lbs.), are best for rough waters, are highly visible, and will turn most unconscious persons face up in the water. Drawbacks are that they are bulky to store, can be uncomfortable for long time wear, and may restrict your movements.

Type II PFD's, often referred to as near-shore buoyant vests, are suitable for near coastal waters, where rescue will likely be rapid. They provide less flotation than a Type I vest, (a minimum of 15.5 lbs.), work well in semi-protected waters, provide good visibility, are less bulky and more comfortable than Type I vests, and will turn many unconscious wearers face up in the water. Drawbacks are they are not designed for long hours in rough waters, and may not provide sufficient flotation to turn an unconscious wearer face up in the water.

Type III PFD's are designed for calm, protected inland waters, such as small lakes and bays, where immediate rescue is likely. They provide a minimum of 15.5 lbs. of buoyancy, are comfortable for extended wear, provide freedom of movement, and are available in many different styles, such as ski vests and float coats. Disadvantages are their unsuitability for rough water, inability to turn an unconscious person face up in the water, along with the potential that conscious wearers may have to hold their head back to avoid being turned face down in the water. Non-standard colors may be difficult to see in the water under some light conditions.

Type IV devices are often referred to as throwable devices, such as cushions, horseshoe buoys and rings. These devices are not designed to be worn, but to be thrown to a person in distress, and provide supplemental buoyancy until help arrives. They are not suitable for unconscious person, non-swimmers or children, or long periods in the water.

Type V devices, or hybrid devices, must be worn at all times to be considered as meeting requirements. Some, called immersion or exposure suits are bulky, but provide protection from hypothermia. Others are less bulky, provide high buoyancy when inflated, and can be worn comfortably for extended periods. Exposure suits are excellent for survival in cold waters, where hypothermia is a great danger, and may well be considered by offshore cruisers venturing into colder climates or waters. Disadvantages are the high cost, regular maintenance required and that the devices may not provide adequate buoyancy for all persons unless inflated.

Finally, there are inflatable devices available that are marketed as life jackets or vests. The Coast Guard did not approve these until 1996, and these are now listed as various Types, including Type I, II, III and Type V PFD’s. However, the Coast Guard requires you must be at least 16 years old and weigh at least 80 pounds to wear one of these Type V inflatables for recreational boating activities. The Coast Guard further takes the position that non-swimmers not wear this type life vest. In addition, any of these vests made prior to 1996 not showing the USCG approval markings are not considered safe for use and should not be placed in service in any event.

You need to choose the right PFD for you and your crew. Be sure the ones you pick are U.S. Coast Guard approved. Choose the right PFD for the waters and conditions you will encounter. Look carefully at the hardware and construction. This is no place to skimp on quality. And, remember, if you don't wear it, even the best PFD may be useless. Keep your devices on deck, protected from the elements, but readily accessible, when you are underway. Be sure all guests try on a PFD and know how to put it on before you leave the dock. Buy the right sizes for adults, and remember that adult size PFD's are not for children. Choose appropriate sizes for children at their present weight and size; don't buy a larger size for them to "grow into."

As of May 1, 1995, (That's 13 years ago..certainly long enough for everyone to know by now?) all boats under 16 feet in length must have aboard a wearable PFD for each person aboard. Those cushions you sit on in your small boats are not acceptable as a personal flotation device.

Finally, as of December 23, 2002, all children under the age of 13 years must wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket at all times while aboard recreational vessels underway unless they are below decks or in an enclosed cabin.

Being in the water without your life jacket can result in a sinking feeling. Your PFD is a life saver. Choose it carefully, and wear it!

Here's a USCG link to selection and fitting of PFD's:

Safe Boating.

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