Life Jackets-Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)
PFDs must be Coast Guard approved, in good and serviceable condition, and of appropriate size for the intended user. Wearable PFDs must be readily accessible, meaning you must be able to put them on in a reasonable amount of time in an emergency. They should not be stowed in plastic bags or in locked compartments.
Throwable devices must be immediately available for use. Though not required, a PFD should be worn at all times when the vessel is underway. Boats less than 16 feet are required to carry wearable PFDs for each person aboard. If a type V PFD is to be counted toward minimum carriage requirements, it must be worn.
Remember, PFDs will keep you from sinking, but not necessarily from drowning. Care should be given in selecting a properly sized PFD to insure a safe fit. Testing your PFD in shallow water is a good and reassuring practice.
There are five types of personal floatation devices approved for use on recreational boats:
Type I-Off-Shore Life Jacket
This is a vest or yoke-type device generally found on commercial craft. It is designed to turn most unconscious persons from a face downward to a face up position in the water. It is rather bulky, but most effective.
Type II-Near-Shore Buoyant Vest
The buoyancy vest usually looks like a horse collar and is worn like a bib. It has an unconscious turning ability similar to the Type I, but it will not turn as many persons under the same conditions.
Type III-Floatation Aid
These devices are usually foam-filled and come in several colors and styles, including full-sleeved jackets. Type III devices are not designed to turn an unconscious victim, but they do provide protection from immersion hypothermia (exposure to cold water). These are also available in vest style and are popular among recreational boaters. Wearer may have to hold head back to keep face out of water.
Type IV-Throwable Devices
Buoyant Cushion, Ring Buoy or Horseshoe Buoy.
These devises are designed to be thrown to a victim in the water, rather than work. Cushions especially should be checked often to see if they are in serviceable condition.
Type V-Special Use Devices
A Coast Guard approved Type V PFD may be carried in lieu of a Type I-IV PFD, if the Type V device is approved for the activity in which the craft is being used.
Other PFD tips:
- PFDs must be the appropriate size for the intended wearer.
- "Readily accessible" means easy to reach in an emergency. PFDs in plastic bags, locked compartments or under anchors are not accessible.
- "Immediately available" means throwable devices must be easily reached in time of an emergency.
- A Coast Guard approval label must be printed on or attached to the device.
- All life preservers must be in serviceable condition. That means that the PFD must be free of tears, rot, punctures and waterlogging, and that all straps are present and in good shape.
- A Coast Guard approved PFD must be worn by a person being towed on water skis or other device, or carried in the towing watercraft.
- A Coast Guard approved Type V device may be substituted for any other approved device if it meets the same requirements and is so noted on the Type V device.