Your guide to selecting the right personal flotation gear
Having the right safety equipment on your Whaler is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and your crew. Plus, it’s the law! If you’re the boat operator, you’re responsible for providing this essential gear.
Federal law requires that all boats be equipped with one wearable life jacket, or personal flotation device (PFD), for every passenger onboard. Wearable jackets fit into three different classifications and include four types, identified below.
These days, PFDs come in a rainbow of shapes, sizes and colors — including ones made specifically for your pets — and modern designs are more versatile than ever. PFDs should always fit comfortably snug and should not ride up your body.
According to the PFD Manufacturer’s Association, most adults need an extra 22 pounds of buoyancy to keep their heads above water. To test whether a device has the right buoyancy for your weight, put it on and lie on your back in the water in a relaxed position. The PFD should keep your chin well above water. If it doesn’t, you’ll need one with higher buoyancy.
By choosing the correct size and type for your boating activities, you’re helping to ensure a safe experience every time you hit the water. Read on for details about the different life jackets available.
These are the most durable style of life jackets. Primarily made of foam, inherently buoyant jackets are a great bet for longevity and value.
These life jackets tend to be the most comfortable and compact. Some can be inflated manually, whereas some have air chambers that inflate automatically once they hit the water.
This life jacket style combines foam with inflation, for a “best of both worlds” scenario.
TYPE I: Offshore Life Jacket
With over 20 pounds of buoyancy, Type I PFDs are designed to turn an unconscious person face-up. They’re the best choice for offshore cruising and fishing, rough seas, or remote water where rescue may be slow to come. This type is also worn as the “abandon ship” life jacket for commercial vessels.
TYPE II: Near-Shore Buoyant Vests
With a minimum of 15.5 pounds of buoyancy, Type II jackets are best for general boating activities in calm inland waters or where fast rescue is likely. They are generally not suitable for extended survival in rough water.
TYPE III: Flotation Aids
Type III are flotation aids for general boating or specialized activities like water skiing, wakeboarding, canoeing, kayaking or hunting. Similar to Type II, this type is best for calm inland waters or where there’s a good chance for fast rescue.
TYPE IV: Throwables
These are throwable devices, designed to be grasped by persons in distress. Type IV includes ring buoys, horseshoe buoys and some boat seat cushions. They are not designed to be worn and should be supplemented by wearable PFDs. (Think of them as a backup, and keep them close at hand for emergencies.)
TYPE V: Special Use Devices
Used only for special purposes and conditions, Type V life jackets are typically labeled with their limits of use. These are commonly used for kayaking, sailboarding and other activities, and as work vests for commercial vessels. Hybrid inflatables fall into this type.
OTHER: Four-Legged Friends
If your boating crew includes canine or feline companions, a pet life jacket is a wise investment. Even for breeds that are natural swimmers, you want to plan for the unexpected. Pet PFDs are usually made of foam (inherently buoyant) and should fit snugly.
Look for the following features for your dog or cat’s life jacket:
For more on life jacket wear and other safe-boating best practices, visit the National Safe Boating Council.