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10.9.2019 Drew Bartek

What are the Different Types of PFDs for the Water

Impact Vestsimage1

These vests are non-coast guard approved and are not meant to be relied upon for flotation. Although they do offer some flotation, they are much thinner and lighter than other life jackets. These vests are popular among Wakeboarders, Water Skiiers, Wake Surfers, Kiteboarders and Kitesurfers. They provide extra protection for your body and are designed in a way to absorb impact on crashes. Athletes looking to perform at their highest potential are choosing to wear impact vests.

Type I PFDstype1

Type I PFDs are known as Life Jackets and are approved for use on all vessels, both recreational and commercial. They are sometimes refereed to as "Commercial" devices, they will rotate unconscious persons from a face-down position in the water, to a face-up position in the water. These are some of the safest jackets out there and are the bright orange color. You will see these PFDs used for any commercial vessels and on passenger carrying ships like a cruise ship.

Type II PFDstype2


Type II PFDs are a very basic version of a life jacket. They are known as near-shore buoyant vests. They are approved for use on recreational boats (ski boats, typical runabouts, canoes, kayaks, etc.), but also approved for use on non-inspected commercial vessels that do not carry passengers for hire. They are not very popular among recreational use as most individuals prefer to wear Type III or Impact Vests. They will rotate some, but typically not all unconscious persons from a face-down position in the water, to a face-up position in the water. 

Type III PFDslife jacket type iii

Type III is a recreational device, known as flotation aids and are approved for use on recreational boats. A common misconception is that Type III vests are designed to rotate an unconscious person to move their face above the water. But this designation is only found in Type I PFDs. Although, many Type III vests will turn you around, they are not tested to do so. They are designed only to hold a conscious wearer upright or slightly back of vertical in the water. Common intended uses for these devices include water skiing, personal water craft, fishing, kayaking, and a variety of other typical boating activities.

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Type IV PFDsType IV PFD

Type IV are throwable devices, such as cushions, horseshoe buoys, and ring buoys. Cushions and horseshoe buoys are only for Recreational use only. Ring buoys intended for Commercial use on international voyages, need to be “SOLAS” Type Approved. If intended for domestic voyages, such as on the great lakes or in US Territorial water, then Commercial “Non-SOLAS” Type Approved is appropriate.

Type V PFDsType V PFD

Type V PFDs are special purpose devices and come in different shapes and sizes. They are intended for restricted activities, or devices with certain benefits that override their limitations. Some types are restricted to Recreational activities, others for Commercial activities, and others for both Recreational and Commercial activities. They include the following types of products: Buoyant Suits, Work Vests,Commercial White Water Vests, Pullover Vests, Ballistic PFDs (Law Enforcement), Restricted Approval Inflatable PFDs (Approved Only When Worn), Harness PFDs, and Restricted Throwable PFDs.

Published by Drew Bartek October 9, 2019
Drew Bartek