Life Jacket Types

PFD Life Jackets & Kayak Safety

A personal flotation device—also known as a PFD, life jacket or life vest—is the one piece of gear that no water enthusiast should be without. PFDs have saved many lives by providing buoyancy that allows you to keep your head above water. No matter what device you choose, it will only work if you wear it.

PFD Sizing and Fitting:

When it comes to PFDs, it is important that the one you choose fits well in order to ensure that it functions as expected in the event of an emergency. For adults, PFDs are fitted by chest size rather than weight. As with other clothing items, PFD sizes vary by manufacturer, so it’s important to take several measurements and then try on each vest to ensure a proper fit.

Sizing for Children and Youth

Childrens’ vests should be form fitting as an adult’s however the vest should also indicate the weight limit for the vest to ensure the child will be properly protected

A properly fitting PFD should fit snugly around your chest, not moving much in any direction, yet it should not inhibit your movement. Getting a good fit is not only important for proper function, it will ensure that you are comfortable and don’t experience chafing while wearing it.

While women can wear unisex PFDs, wearing one made specifically for women may provide a more comfortable fit thanks to the princess seams, contoured cups and longer torsos.

Lastly, each PFD will have different placement of the floatation foam pads and how they fit against the body is more about comfort than safety. The more straps a life vest has, the better you can adjust it for comfort.

Once you’ve selected a size, follow these fitting steps.

~Let out all of the adjustment straps, put on the vest and then zip it up.

~Begin at the waist and begin snugging the adjustment straps until the fit feels comfortable.

~Lastly, have someone pull upwards on the shoulders to ensure that the vest is fitting properly and won’t slide up over your head. If the vest moves upward beyond your nose, tighten the straps.

Types of PFDs

There are 5 distinct types of personal floatation devices to choose from however, the most popular at the Type III USCG approved PFD.

Type I: Offshore PFDs. These vests provide superior floatation and are designed to be used be individuals who will be exposed to rough, open waters such as the ocean. They are usually brightly colored in order to make search and rescue efforts easier.

Type II: Near-shore PFDs. These vests are designed to provide floatation in calmer waters where rescue is expected to occur quickly, such as lakes or slow moving rivers. They provide good buoyancy, but are not as rugged as type I vests.

Type III: Flotation Aids. These are suitable for most recreational kayakers and other water sports enthusiasts. They are much less bulky than type I and II vests yet, they provide quality flotation in an emergency situation where there is a high likelihood of a quick rescue.

Type IV: Throwable Devices. These are devices that are not intended to be worn, but to be thrown to individuals in need. They are not designed to be used by people who cannot swim., who are in rough waters, or who are unconscious.

Type V: Special-use Devices. These are not used by recreational water enthusiasts and should be used for the purpose listed on the device.

There are also special types of PFDs such as Rescue Vests that offer added safety features such as a quick release rescue harness, Fishing PFDs that offer a lot of storage options to keep your tackle and tools easily accessible, Inflatable PFDs and even PFDs for your pets!

Flotation Materials

Just as there are many different types of life vests, there are many different materials used to construct them. Your choice should be based on your purpose and the cost of the vest.

Gaia: This is a foam based floatation material that uses an organic nitrile compound. It’s environmentally friendly and is softer and more comfortable than PVC foam. It’s easy to clean and doesn’t break down in the presence of chemicals, petroleum based products and humidity.

Kapok: Kapok is an all natural fluffy fiber that comes from the seeds of Kapok trees. It is buoyant and light, more durable than foam, but highly flammable. It is a tough materials that resists breaking down and the fibers can be composted with the vest is retired.

PVC: This is the most common material used in making life vests and is the most cost effective. It’s durable, buoyant and is strong. It is not recyclable, however, due to containing chlorine and oil.

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