Types of Flotation Devices and When to Use Them

A huge number of drownings in the U.S. are a result of ignorance. Ignorance in terms of not wearing lifesaving jackets. According to the United States Coast Guard, 9 out of 10 deaths occur on inland waters. That translates to 90% of drownings happening just on the edge of safety.

Even shocking is the fact that the victims owned a personal flotation device, but they didn’t wear them. The U.S. Coast Guard requires all owners to equip their vessels with life-saving jackets approved by the Coast Guard. However, the type of jacket and the number will depend on the number of people on board the vessel and the type of vessel as well.

But before you walk into a store to buy life jackets, you have to know which type of life jacket you’ll require and what time to wear it.

Personal Flotation Devices

These devices are commonly known as PFDs and can also be called vests or life jackets. These life-saving devices are common in boating, cruise ships and watersport activities and are also used for worker protection on bridges, ship repair, docks and oil rigs located offshore.

PFDs use the principle of buoyancy to help a person keep their head above the water if the person cannot do that themselves. In that regard, there are various ratings for various PFDs. The ratings will depend on the type of buoyancy needed and the application required.

For that, there are 5 types of PFDs approved and required by the USCG and other law enforcement agencies.

·         Type 1: 22lbs

·         Type 2: 15.5lbs for near shore buoyancy

·         Type 3: 15.5lbs which is a flotation aid

·         Type 4: 16.5lbs

·         Type 5: this ranges from 15.5 to 22lbs

Adults will need an additional 22lbs of buoyancy compared to the weight of their body. that is according to the Personal Flotation Device Manufacturer’s Association.

The following is a list of the different types of PFDs and when the USCG recommends their use.

The Offshore Life Jackets

These jackets fall in type 1 PFDs and are the best regardless of the situation or waters. Whether remote water, rough seas or open ocean. Also, these jackets can be used on vessels hired by passengers and commercial vessels.

Near Shore Vests

These vests fall in type 2 PFDs and are used on waters near the shore where rescue is fast-coming. In addition, these jackets will turn the wearers face up while in the water. The jackets can be used for other boating activities.

Flotation Aids

These aids fall in type 3 PFDs and will be used for activities listed on the device. They include:

·         Hunting

·         Kayaking

·         Canoeing

·         Water skiing

As you can see, these devices are built for watersports and some will inflate once you hit the water. Besides that, the USCG recommends that the devices be used on calm inland waters where rescue is fast-coming.

Throwable Devices

These are type 4 PFDs and as the name suggests, these devices are thrown to people in distress. Some of these devices include horseshoe buoys, ring buoys and seat cushions. Note that these devices are not wearables and therefore shouldn’t be worn by persons.

Special Use Devices

These devices fall in type 5 PFDs and are meant for special conditions and uses. Some of the uses include water skiing, kayaking and windsurfing. Some of the PFDs in this category include hybrid PFDs, deck suits and vests among others.

They work like the inflatable vests which will inflate once you hit the water.


Now you understand the need for flotation devices on boats or any other vessel for that matter. You also understand the different types of PFDs and when to use them. The next time you engage in water activities, make sure you have one of these PFDs with you to save lives.

For more on safety, you can visit aceboater.com and enroll for a boating license.

Ted Thomas

Hi there, I'm Ted Thomas, an ardent adventure writer. I write for readers with a genuine interest in enjoying the great outdoors. By sharing my experiences camping, hunting and fishing, I hope to inspire others to fully explore the depths of their passion.

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