PFD Types

PFD Types

by Conrad & Judy Kreuter

Q: Dear Boat Talk: Please explain the different types of life vests and where they are required. GH, Merrick NY.

A: Dear GH: The Coast Guard sets minimum safety standard for recreational boats and associated safety equipment. To meet these standards some of the equipment must be Coast Guard approved. “Coast Guard Approved Equipment” meets Coast Guard specifications and regulations relating to performance, construction or materials.

All recreational boats must carry one wearable PFD (Type I, II, III, or V). Any boat sixteen feet or longer (except canoes and kayaks) must also carry one throwable PFD (Type IV).

Personal flotation devices (PFD) must be Coast Guard approved, in good and serviceable condition and the appropriate size for the intended user. Wearable PFD’s must be readily accessible. You must be able to put them on in a reasonable of time in an emergency. They should not be stowed in plastic bags, in locked or closed compartments, or have other gear stowed on top of them.

There are five types of PFD’s:

  • A Type I PFD or offshore life jacket provides the most buoyancy. It is effective for all waters, especially open, rough or remote waters where rescue may be delayed. It is designed to turn most unconscious wearers in the water to a face up position.
  • A Type II PFD or a near-shore buoyancy vest is intended for calm in land water, or where there is a good chance of quick rescue. Inherent buoyant PFD’s of this type will turn some unconscious wearers to a face up position in the water, but the turning is not as pronounced as a Type I PFD.
  • A Type III PFD or floation aid is good for conscious users in calm, inland water, or where there is a good chance of quick rescue. It is designed so wearers can place themselves in a face up position in the water. The wearer may have to tilt their head back to avoid turning face down in the water. The Type III foam vest has the same minimum buoyancy as the Type II PFD and is generally the most comfortable type for continuous wear.
  • A Type IV PFD or throwable device is intended for calm inland water with heavy boat traffic, where help is always present. It is designed to be thrown to a person in the water and grasped and held by the user until rescued. It is not designed to be worn, Type IV devices include buoyant cushions, ring buoys and horseshoe buoys.
  • A Type V PFD or special use device in intended for specific activities and may be carried instead of another PFD only if used according to the approval conditions on its label. A Type V PFD provides performance of either a Type I, II, or III PFD. Some Type V devices provide significant hypothermia protection.

New York State requires every pleasure vessel to carry at least one Coast Guard approved Type I, II, or III PFD for each person on board. All PFD’s on board your vessel must be:

  • Serviceable- free of rot, tears, punctures, water logging and straps functional
  • Readily accessible- quickly reachable in an emergency situation, never kept in plastic bags or under lock and key
  • Appropriate size for the intended wearer- check the US Coast Guard approval label for information on the intended user for a particular PFD.

In New York, children under the age of twelve must wear a Type I, II or III on board a vessel unless they are in a fully enclosed cabin. Child PFD approvals are based upon the child’s weight. Check the “user weight” on the label. They can be marked less than 30, 30 to 50, or 50 to 90 pounds.

The Coast Guard recommends and many states require wearing PFD’s for:

  • Water skiing or other towed activities
  • While operating personal watercraft
  • During white water boating activities
  • While sail boarding

Remember that PFD’s will keep you from sinking, but not necessarily from drowning. The best PFD is the one you wear.