Picking the right PFD is your first step to boating safety.
If you plan on spending any time on the water, don’t forget a personal flotation device (PFD). PFDs are potential life-saving devices that are required onboard. When selecting a PFD make sure it is Coast Guard approved and is appropriate for the size and weight of the individual wearer and the conditions it will be used in. Individual countries/states may have different laws regarding PFDs so be sure to check.
There are a myriad selection of PFD designs these days. Most anglers find the inflatable version to be most practical as it allows freedom of movement. These PFDs are either manually deployed when a tab is pulled (much like those found in airplanes) or they auto deploy upon contact with water. There are those that are worn like a belt around one’s waist or in the form of a pouch. The common foam type of PFDs lasts roughly 4 hrs in the water before they start to sink due to water absorption.
Remember, a PFD is only as good when it is actually worn. Even for strong swimmers.
To select a PFD that best suits your needs and on-the-water conditions, please refer to this summary of PFDs available below (courtesy of boatsafe.com).
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. The Type I comes in two sizes: Adult size provides at least 22 pounds of buoyancy, the child size, 11 pounds, minimum.
A Type II PFD, “Near Shore Buoyant Vest” is intended for calm, inland water or where there is a good chance of a quick rescue.
This type of vest will turn some unconscious wearers to a face-up position. The turning action is not as pronounced, or as effective as a Type I style vest. An adult size Type II provides at least 15.5 pounds of buoyancy, a medium child size provides 11 pounds, infant and small child sizes each provide at least 7 pounds of buoyancy.
A Type III PFD, or “Flotation Aid” is good for calm, inland water, or where there is a good chance of quick rescue.
It is designed so that wearers can put themselves in a face-up position in the water. The wearer may have to tilt their head back to avoid turning face down. Type III flotation aid has the same minimum buoyancy as a TYPE II PFD. Float coats, fishing vests, and vests designed for various water sports are good examples of this type of PFD.
Many inflatable suspenders qualify as a Type III PFD, and are an excellent choice for many fishing/outdoor situations as they are compact, cool to wear and are easy to use. Many active, outdoor enthusiasts regularly wear an inflatable vest/suspenders with good results.
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. Most state and local boating laws require a Type IV device on board.
A Type V PFD, is a special use device that is intended for specific activities and may be carried instead of another PFD only if used according to the approval condition on the label.
Some Type V devices also provide hypothermia protection. Varieties include deck suits, work vests, board sailing vests, and Hybrid PFDs. A Type V hybrid inflatable PFD is the least bulky and contains a small amount of inherent buoyancy with an inflatable chamber. It must be worn when underway to be acceptable.