Personal Flotation Devices 101

There are a number of precautions to help keep children and families safe during a day of swimming fun. One of the most important safety precautions is using personal flotation devices, also referred to as PFDs. As indicated by the name, personal flotation devices help individual swimmers to stay afloat and avoid the risks of drowning and other swimming safety dangers. Life jackets and life vests are the most common forms. All individuals participating in water activities should wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device. When used correctly, they can literally be a life-or-death consideration.

Types of PFDs

There are five main categories of personal flotation devices (PFDs) that are U.S. Coast Guard approved:

  1. Offshore life jackets are recommended for remote or rough waters where water safety is of the highest concern. These jackets tend to be more bulky, as they have the most buoyancy of the five types. Offshore life jackets are recommended for water activities like boating.
  2. Near-shore vests are less bulky than offshore life jackets, and are therefore intended for use in situations near the shore. This is because rescue from dangerous situations near shores are typically quicker than rescue for offshore emergencies, which may take hours.
  3. Flotation aids are the most common form of personal flotation devices. They offer a comfortable balance of movement and buoyancy so that wearers are less restricted while still receiving critical protection from drowning.
  4. Throwable devices include ring buoys and cushions that are not worn by swimmers. These devices are typically thrown out to individuals who need additional assistance in dangerous situations. However, throwable devices are not recommended for rough waters or non-swimmers.
  5. Special-use devices are designed for particular water-related activities. For example, special-use devices exist for those participating in activities such as waterskiing, kayaking, and windsurfing. These also include deck suits and hybrid vests.

Inflatable PFDs

As indicated by the name, inflatable PFDs feature chambers that can be inflated during an emergency. When uninflated, these personal flotation devices are less bulky than other types of devices that are inherently buoyant. Inflatable PFDs include waist packs and vests, and are primarily considered Type III personal flotation devices.

Inflation Process

Inflatable PFDs inflate on-demand using a CO2 cartridge system which is activated by a pull cord. This system allows for wearers to receive instant buoyancy when an emergency occurs. Inflatable PFDs also feature a breathing tube that allows for additional inflation when needed.