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How To Buy The Right Life Vest

When preparing to head out on the water for a fun-filled day of waterskiing, boating, fishing or other watersport, you must make sure you have a reliable, appropriate personal flotation device (PFD) with you. There are several different types of flotation devices that come with different US Coast Guard (USCG) classifications. In the information outlined below you will learn what types of PFDs are available and which type is appropriate for your watersport.

Life Vests

  • Life vests are a must for all types and levels of watersport activities
  • Life vests are worn like a jacket and usually offer a zipper or buckle closure in the front
  • There are 3 types of flotation products: foam, inflatable and hybrid
    • Foam - considered the most reliable by the USCG; designed for swimmers and non-swimmers
    • Inflatable - most compact; intended for swimmers only
    • Hybrid - considered reliable by the USCG; designed for swimmers and non-swimmers
  • To keep water out of the vest, a bottom drain or mesh drainage is usually provided
  • The size of life vest you buy depends on your weight and size
  • Most manufacturers indicate the recommended weight range for their vest sizes

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Life Vest Definitions

  • Type I PFD - Off-Shore Life Jacket
    • Foam = 22 lbs. of flotation
    • Commercial style, reversible, easy to put on
    • Provides the most buoyancy
    • Effective for all waters - especially where rescue may be delayed
    • Designed to turn most unconscious wearers to a face-up position in the water
  • Type II PFD - Near-Shore Buoyancy Vest
    • Foam = 15.5 lbs. of flotation
    • Inflatable = 33.5 lbs. of flotation
    • Intended for calm, inland water or where a quick rescue is possible
    • Will turn some unconscious wearers to a face-up position in the water (turning is not as definite as with a Type I PFD)
  • Type III PFD - Flotation Aid
    • Foam = 15.5 lbs. of flotation
    • Inflatable = 22.5 lbs. of flotation
    • Both lightweight and comfortable
    • Good for conscious wearers in calm, inland water or where a quick rescue is possible
    • Designed so wearers can place themselves into a face-up position in the water (wearer may have to tilt head back to avoid flipping over)
    • Type III foam vest offers same minimum buoyancy as Type II PFD
    • Type III foam vest comes in many colors and sizes and is most comfortable for continuous wear
  • Type IV PFD - Throwable Device
    • 16 to 20 lbs. of floatation
    • Intended for calm, inland water with heavy boat traffic wear rescue is always possible
    • Designed to be thrown to a conscious person in the water to be held by user until rescued
    • Not to be worn
    • Type IV devices include buoyant cushions, ring buoys and horseshoe buoys
    • Should be used in conjunction with a wearable life jacket
  • Type V PFD - Special Use Device
    • Intended for specific activities
    • Should only be used in accordance with the approval condition(s) on its label

It is important to test a PFD in shallow water or a guarded swimming pool to make sure it fits appropriately and is in proper working order.

Also, be sure to always check the condition of your life jacket(s) before heading out for any watersport activity. When boating, make sure you always have enough life jackets on board for every passenger.

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