The coast guard requires that all boaters follow the regulations they’ve devised to keep the highest amount of safety without inhibiting movement or overall userability. Life vests and jackets, also called personal flotation devices (when referred to in a legal speak), must fall in an approved list of PFDs. These regulations vary by state, but roughly boaters must meet the following standards:
- Life jacket must be a type I, II, or III PFD.
- There must be as many PFD as souls occupying the boat. Seven people = seven PFDs.
- All PFDs must fit each individual properly. E.g. all adult sized jackets but there is one kid on board would mean one child does not have a proper PFD.
- A boat over 16 feet or more must have a type IV PFD on board in addition to total number of PFDs per person.
- Children under the age of 13 must wear approved PFD at all times, or be below deck in an enclosed cabin
- Adult sized life jackets must be used for adults, fitting snugly; child sized PFDs must be worn by children, only.
- Life vests should be in serviceable condition; annually tested and maintained for consistent buoyancy. Waterlogged PFD should be discarded and replaced post haste.
- Jackets must be properly stowed, yet readily available.
- Racing canoes, racing kayaks, racing shells, rowing sculls, sailboats
- United States constructed vessels used by foreign companies during or practicing for racing, as long as said boat is following country’s foreign flotation device regulations or laws.
Type I: To be used in offshore or in rough waters in an environment where rescue is delayed; able to turn an unconscious individual onto his/her back. These types of PFD are available in both buoyant and inflatable, 22-34lbs of buoyancy.
Type II: For activities near the short where rescue will be quick and efficient, with many designs and types available for both adults and kids. They are also offered in an already buoyant design or inflatable type. These types of jackets are 7, 11, and 15.5lbs of buoyancy.
Type III: Like a type II, this type of vest is to be used with people who will be rescued quickly, and is suitable for many different boating activities, offered as n inherently buoyant, inflatable, or hybrid flotation device. It comes in 9, 10, 11, 15.5 and 22.5 lbs of fixed buoyancy.
Type IV: Throwable PFD to be used on boats 16 feet or longer can be found in a life ring or cushion type, offering 16.5, 20, and 32 lbs of fixed buoyancy.
Type V: The last type of PDF required, available in work suits, work vests, hybrid, with an internal flotation system for additional buoyancy, in both inflatable, inherent buoyancy, or hybrid types. These type V PFDs offer 7.5, 11, 15.5, 22, and 34lbs of buoyancy.
What Type of Vest to Use When?
Casual boating: Out on the open sea with a nice snack, lines thrown in while you wait for the bite? Not too far offshore, but pretty laid back. Try a type three flotation aid, good for casual waters and a quick rescue. They are considered the most comfortable type of life aid, so you can eat and fish comfortably.
Water Sports: Typically water sport related activities are conducted close to shore, so the best types of jackets for intense water sports is a colorful, type three or five life preserver. These kinds of jacket turn the wearer face-up if they become unconscious, faster than other traditional vests.
Far, Far away: Far out, away from shore: Turbulent or calm water. In this case, you want a jacket that will keep you afloat for a long time. It really doesn’t matter the condition of the water, the fact of rescue does not change; it will most likely take a long time. Try a type I life jacket, with over 22 pounds of buoyancy.
Pets: Animals even have life jackets available for purchase! Though there aren’t any regulations or laws (currently, or to my knowledge) you’ll keep Fido nice and safe if something does happen (knock on wood).
Lastly, choose a jacket that fits you properly. To test to see if it fits like it should, raise your arms above your head like a referee signaling a touchdown. Another person should grasp the top of the arm openings and pull up. If there is excessive room in the arm openings, causing the jacket to ride up into the chin, this is not a good fit. A snug, semi-tight fit is a “good” fit.