What Are the Different Types of Life Jackets? How to Choose the Right PFD

Whenever you’re on the water, safety is crucial. But how do you determine which life jacket is right for you? And is there a difference between a PFD and a lifejacket? Read on to learn more. 

What Is the Difference Between a PFD and a Life Jacket?

Personal flotation devices (PFDs) provide buoyancy to help you stay afloat while in the water. A life jacket or life vest is a kind of PFD. When going out on the water, you can choose from five types of PFDs, with some being U.S. Coast Guard-approved. Each has a unique purpose:

Type I: Offshore Life Jackets

An offshore life jacket offers the highest degree of protection. It’s designed for emergencies where rescue is not imminent. Because they’re non-inflatable, they’re typically bulkier with extra padding, foam and fabric. They’re most often used for offshore racing or fishing — or if you’re sailing alone during stormy weather. There are currently no Coast Guard-approved inflatable offshore life jackets because you cannot activate the inflatable life jacket if you fall unconscious. 

Type II: Near-Shore Vests

Type II near-shore vests are for situations where a speedy rescue is more realistic — near the shore. They’re comfortable and versatile, making them excellent for long days on the water, whether fishing, sailing or doing any other forms of calm water cruising. Near-shore vests can be inflatable or non-inflatable. Inflatable near-shore life jackets are not suitable for children under 16.

Type III: Flotation Aids

A type III flotation aid is typically what water sports enthusiasts like kayakers, canoers or personal watercraft (PWC) users wear. They’re excellent for any supervised water sports or activities near shores or inland bodies of water. They’re reasonably versatile, too — they come in inflatable and non-inflatable varieties. They can also boast features like drop-down pockets for fishing, reflection tape for enhanced nighttime visibility or ventilation for cooling. 

Type IV: Throwable Devices

Throwable devices — or “boat cushions” — are mandatory boat emergency flotation devices. They aren’t wearable. Instead, they sit near a boat’s edge within arm’s reach to throw to someone if the person has fallen overboard. 

Type V: Special-Use Devices

A type V special-use device attaches to sailboard harnesses, deck or wet suits, paddling vests and more. Depending on the user’s age and preferences, these devices come in CO2, water or pull-tab activation options. They’re often light and comfortable, even during long days in the sun. 

Know Which PFD Type You Need for Your Next Water Adventure

The PFD or life jacket types you need for your next adventure depend on your activity, age and size. But no matter what, always ensure you wear a PFD. Safety comes first. 

Learn more about water safety or check out some of our PWC docking products for safe, easy waterfront loading and unloading. 

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