Life Jacket, life vest, life belt, floater coat, PFD, Personal Floatation Device, these are all names for the same thing…or are they???
The truth is, while all the above are designed to help you float on the water, they are not all created equal or for the same purpose. In fact, there are several different types of flotation devices that come with different Coast Guard classifications.
Typically life jackets are worn like a jacket, they usually have a zipper or buckle closure in the front, some have both zipper and buckle closures.
Floatation can vary, it can be foam, inflatable or hybrid floatation. Foam is considered the most reliable floatation by the United States Coast Guard. Foam floatation life vests are designed for people who can swim as well as people who cannot swim. An important distinction.
Inflatable life vests are the easiest to wear, they take up less room and don’t feel bulky to the wearer, unless they are inflated. However, inflatable vests are only intended to be worn by people who can swim.
Hybrid versions of life vests are also considered reliable by the United States Coast Guard, and are suitable for persons who can swim and those who cannot swim.
When you are choosing a life jacket you need to shop according to your weight and body size. Most have recommendations on the vest that indicate the weight ranges they are intended for, as well as differentiating between children and adult.
Type I PFD – Off-Shore Life Jacket are designed to provide the most buoyancy. They are effective in all water types, good for situations where help may take longer to reach you and are designed to turn most unconscious wearers to a face-up position in the water.
Type II PFD – Near-Shore Buoyancy Vest are designed for protected inland waters that are likely to be calm and where rescuers are not far away. They will turn unconscious wearers to the face up position, although they are not as good in this regard as Type I life vests.
Type III PFD – Flotation Aid- The description says it all, this type is a floatation aid, meaning you need to be able to swim. They are good for conscious wearers in protected calm, inland waters. Type III floatation aids are designed so wearers can move themselves into a face up position in the water.
Type IV PFD – Throwable Device are not personal floatation devices in the truest sense, they are not intended to be worn all the time. Instead they are designed to be tossed to a conscious person during a rescue. These are buoyant cushions, ring buoys and horseshoe buoys
Type V PFD – Special Use Device intended to be used for specific activities such as water skiing.
How to buy a life jacket is a little more complicated than I thought. It depends on what you intend to do on the water, who the wearer is, there swimming ability or not, their age and size. Adding to that is that friends show up, we go for a boat ride. How many of us consider if our supply of life jackets will fit the passengers, and are suitable for non-swimmers.
To reiterate the obvious, the things to consider when you think about how to buy a life jacket are the wearer’s age, the intended use of the life vest, the wearer’s ability to swim or not and the nearness of potential rescue should something happen and you end up in the water. Keep that in mind when you buy life jackets, life vests and other personal floatation devices.
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