PFDMA Frequently Asked Questions

What is a PFD?

PFD stands for Personal Flotation Device. PFDs provide the wearer additional buoyancy that will enable them to stay afloat more easily. There are a variety of PFD Types (Type I - V) and styles (Inherently buoyant, Inflatable and Hybrid).

View additional information on the different Types and Styles »
What is an "Inherently Buoyant" PFD?

An inherently buoyant PFD is one that provides buoyancy through the use of closed cell foam. Generally they are rugged and low maintenance. Types I - V are available for both adults and children.

What is an Inflatable PFD?

An inflatable PFD as their name indicates, rely on inflatable chambers that provide buoyancy when inflated. Inflation is achieved by discharging air or gas, usually CO2 from a cylinder, into the chamber and through oral inflation. They are available in Types I - V and in adult sizes only.

More information about Inflatable PDFs»
What is a Hybrid PFD?

Hybrid inflatable PFDs combine closed cell flotation foam with an inflatable chamber. They are available in Types I - V, and in sizes for adults and children.

I weigh 200 pounds and my wife weighs 100 pounds. Do I need amore buoyancy in a PFD to keep me afloat?

Most people will naturally float in water, especially if they fill their lungs with air. Most require only about 11 pounds of extra buoyancy to keep their heads out of water. That is why a PFD with just 15-1/2 pounds of buoyancy can provide flotation for an adult--- even a large person. PFDs with 22 - 34 pounds of buoyancy can provide superior performance in rough, off shore type of conditions.

What is meant by the "Type" of PFD?

Type I PFDs or OFF- SHORE LIFE JACKET provides the most buoyancy. They are effective for all waters, especially open, rough or remote waters where rescue may be delayed. They are designed to turn most unconscious wearers in the water face-up.

Type II, or NEAR-SHORE BUOYANCY VEST is intended for calm inland water or where there is a good chance of quick rescue. Inherently buoyant PFDs of this type will turn some unconscious wearers form to a face up position in the water, but the turning is not as pronounced as a Type I. Inflatable Type II PFDs turn as well as a Type I foam (or Hybrid) PFD.

Type III, or FLOTATION AID is good for conscious users in calm inland water, or where there is a chance of quick rescue. It is designed so wearers can place themselves in a face up position in the water. The wearer may have to tilt their head back to avoid turning face down in the water. The Type III foam vest has the same minimum buoyancy as a Type II PFD. It comes in many styles, colors, and sizes and is generally the most comfortable type for continuous wear. Float coats, fishing vests and vests designed with various features suitable for various sports activities are examples of this type of PFD. This type inflatable turns as well as a Type II foam PFD.

Type IV PFD, or THROWABLE DEVICE is intended for calm, inland water with heavy boat traffic, where help is always present. It is design to be thrown to a person in the water and grasped and helpd by the user until rescued-It is not designed to be worn. Type IV devices include buoyant cushions, ring buoys, and horseshoe buoys. There are no inflatable Type IV devices.

Type V PFD, or SPECIAL USE DEVICE is intended for specific activities and may be carried instead of another PFD only if used according to the approval conditions on its label. A Type V provides performance of either a Type I,II or III PFD (as marked on its label). If the label says the PFD is "approved only when worn" the PFD must be worn, except for persons in enclosed spaces and used in accordance with the approval label, to meet carriage requirements. Some Type V devices provide significant hypothermia protection. Varieties include deck suits, work vests and vests with sailing harnesses.

How long do PFDs last?

There is no set time limit on how long a PFD will last. Caring for any PFD will make it last longer. Some simple things you can do are:

  • Let your PFD dry thoroughly before putting it away. Always store it in a well ventilated place.
  • Don't put heavy objects on your PFD or use it as kneeling pad or boat fender. PFDs loose buoyancy when crushed.
  • Do not leave on board your boat for long periods of time when the boat is not in use.
  • Do not store in direct sunlight. Long term exposure to UV light can weaken the fabric and belts. Fading can be an indication of loss of strength.
  • Never dry your PFD on a radiator, heater or any other direct source of heat.
  • Check your PFD often for rips and tears. Give the belts and tie tapes a quick hard pull to make sure they are secure.
How do inflatables work?

All inflatables have the following:

  • An air holding chamber
  • A source of compressed gas, usually CO2
  • An inflation mechanism to discharge the gas from the cylinder into the chamber

Gas is released into the chamber by activating the mechanism to puncture the CO2 cylinder. The gas expands to fill the chamber to full size, which provides the buoyancy. There are some mechanisms that will actuate automatically when submerged in water, while others require the wearer to manually actuate the mechanism by pulling on the "Jerk to Inflate " ripcord. It is important to remember that each time you discharge a CO2 cylinder, you must replace it with a new cylinder and re-arm the mechanism.

What are the minimum requirements for PFDs on my boat?

The United States Coast Guard says that you must have one wearable Type I or II or III of the correct size for each person on board. A Type V may be used, that provides performance of either a Type I or II or III, as marked on the label, and must be used according to the conditions on the label. In addition, any boat 16 feet and longer, except canoes and kayaks, must have one Throwable Type IV device. Some additional regulations are:

  • The PFDs on board must be in good and serviceable condition.
  • They must be of the appropriate size for the intended wearer.
  • They must be readily accessible and not stored in plastic bags, in locked or closed compartments or have other gear stored on top of them.

Coast Guard recommends and some states require wearing PFDs for the following:

  • For water skiing and other towed activities (use a PFD marked for Water Skiing)
  • While operating personal watercraft (use a PFD marked for Personal Watercraft or Water Skiing)
  • During white water boating activities
  • Children under a specific age

Contact your state boating safety officials for specifics for your state.

Read the PFD label carefully. Some PFDs are not approved for personal watercraft, water skiing and similar towed uses.

How do I test my PFD?

It is a good idea to try your life jacket on under controlled conditions so that you can become familiar with its use and to be sure it works for you. The best way is to put the jacket on and get into shallow water (just deep enough that you can stand with your head above water). The PFD should float you on your back or just slightly back of vertical. Verify that your mouth is well above the water surface. If you are trying an inflatable, try inflating and deflating to various levels to become familiar with the effects of partial inflation.

What kind a vest should I get for water skiing?

SOME LIFE JACKETS ARE NOT APPROVED FOR USE ON PERSONAL WATERCRAFT, FOR WATER SKIING, OR SIMILAR TOWED USES. BE SURE TO READ THE LABEL. For activities such as water skiing, tubing , riding personal water craft and other activities where there is a good chance of hitting the water at high speed, you need to have a vest with multiple closures around the torso that allow you to adjust the vest to a snug fit. Inflatables are not suitable for use on PWCs or when water skiing.

Do all PFDs turn me face up?

No. Not all life jackets will turn the wearer face up. A Type I will have the greatest potential to turn the wearer. Type II's will turn some people face up. Type III's are considered buoyancy aids and require the effort of the wearer to put themselves on their back . Inflatables tend to have a greater potential to turn than inherently buoyant products. In any case, if you are concerned about turning face up, you should try your life jacket to see if it works for you.

Why do some PFDs have to be worn to meet the carriage requirement?

The Coast Guard requires that some Type V PFDs must be worn in order to meet the carriage requirements. By definition, a Type V PFD has some feature not found on other PFD type, that require special user knowledge about how to use the PFD. By requiring it to be worn, it is more likely that the user is more aware of the special features and knows how to use the PFD properly. Be sure to read the label so that you understand what the special features of that device are and know how to use it. In addition, wearing a PFD greatly increases your safety because you have it on when you need it.

Do kids need wear PFDs at all times?

In many states, there are laws that require children under a specific age to wear a PFD while boating. Check your local boating law administrator for the requirements in your area. Check out NASBLA.org to learn more. It is very important that the lifejacket fits your child snugly. Do not buy one that your child will "grow into"!

Where can I buy a PFD?

PFDs are widely available through a number of sources, from mass merchants, to sporting goods stores to marine and boating supply stores, as well as marine and sporting goods catalog companies.

What is the cost of a good PFD?

A good PFD is one that meets your needs. PFDs can cost anywhere from $20 to over $100.00. The most important factor is that you will wear it, so be sure to buy one that is comfortable, that fits you well, and that is suitable for your sport or activity.