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Buying Guide | Life Vests (PFDs)


Most everyone enjoys a day out on the boat, basking in the sun of a beautiful summer day. No doubt you will be doing some waterskiing, fishing, wakeboarding, tubing, or other form of watersports activity. For this reason, it is imperative that you take the necessary steps to insure you are equipped with a reliable and appropriate personal floatation device (PFD).


Person Floatation Devices (PFDs) come in several different types and United States Coast Guard (USCG) classifications. You should be aware of what each type and classification is so that you may make the proper PFD selection. Outlined below is information that will allow you to learn what types of PFDs are available, and which is appropriate for your watersports activity.


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Life Vests

Type I: Off-Shore PFDs

Type II: Near-Shore Buoyant Vest

Type III: Flotation Aid

Type IV: Throwable Device

Type V: Special Use Devices

Kayaking Personal Flotation Devices



Life Vests


 Regardless of the type of activity or the level at which you perform, life vests are an absolute must for any watersports activity.


 Life vests are worn similar to a regular jacket. They usually provide a zipper or buckle closure system, with some jackets often utilizing both.


Three types of flotation products are present for life vests: foam, inflatable, and hybrid.



• Foam – This is considered to be the most reliable by the USCG. It is designed for both swimmers and non-swimmers.


• Inflatable – Intended for swimmers only, inflatable flotation products are the most compact of the three types.


• Hybrid – A reliable selection by the USCG, it is also designed for both swimmers and non-swimmers.

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Type I: Off-Shore PFDs


• Best for open, rough or remote water, where rescue may be slow coming.


• Provide the best flotation.


• Turns most unconscious wearers face-up in water.


• Foam = 22 lbs. of flotation.


• Easy to put on.



Type II: Near-Shore Buoyant Vest


• Good for calm, inland water, or where there is a good chance of fast rescue.


• Turns some unconscious wearers face-up in water. Not as definite as Type I PFDs.


• Foam = 15.5 lbs. of floatation.


• Inflatable = 33.5 lbs. of flotation.



Type III: Flotation Aid


• Generally the most comfortable type for continuous wear.


• Lightweight and comfortable.


• Good for calm, inland water, or where there is good chance of fast rescue.


• Available in many styles, including vests and flotation jackets.


• Designed so user can put him or herself into a face-up position in the water.

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Type IV: Throwable Device


• Can be thrown to someone in the water.


• Includes approved boat cushions, rings, and horseshoes.


• May be required equipment on some boats.


• Intended for calm, inland waters where boat rescue is always possible.


• Should be used in addition to wearable life vests.



Type V: Special Use Devices


• Special uses or conditions apply.


• PFD label will always specify what the conditions are and what type of PFD the Type V may be substituted for to meet the carriage requirements.


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Kayaking: Personal Flotation Devices


Without question the most important piece of equipment for kayakers. Always, and we mean always, wear a personal flotation device (PFD) when kayaking. A kayak life vest or PFD may not be the most attractive item you will ever wear, but as the saying goes, “better to be safe than sorry.” Below we outline some things to keep in mind when buying a PFD.


Your kayaking PFD should:Kayak Life Jacket (PFD)


• Be a highly visible color, preferably with reflective trim.


• Have a variety of adjustable straps at the waist, shoulders, and arms to provide a proper and comfortable fit.


• Ride comfortably over your sprayskirt and be adjustable to fit snugly over swimsuits, dry suits, or wet suits.


• Feature well-cut neck and armholes for good mobility.


• Have enough pockets and attachment points for all equipment, such as sunscreen, water bottle, compass, etc.


Most kayakers prefer Type III vests because they are considered to be the most comfortable, allow the maximum amount of freedom of movement, and because they are designed specifically for water sports activities such as kayaking. Type V vests are also a common choice among kayakers because they are the least bulky of all vests and are ideal for continual wear.


Female kayakers can also look into gender-specific PFDs, which many PFD manufacturers are now offering. This will ensure the best fit for the body type.

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