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Watercraft Safety - Life Jackets

There's no question that PFD's (Personal Flotation Device), or life jackets, save lives. According to recent Boating statistics* released by the U.S. Coast Guard, almost 75% of all fatal boating accident victims drowned. Approximately 88% of those who drowned were NOT wearing a life jacket.

It's the Law

Federal Requirements require all recreational boats to carry one wearable PFD (Type I, II, III or Type V PFD) for each person aboard. A Type V PFD provides performance of either a Type I, II, or III (as marked on its label), and must be used according to the label requirements. Any boat 16ft and longer (except canoes and kayaks) must also carry one throwable PFD (Type IV PFD).

PFDs must be

  • Coast Guard approved,
  • in good and servicable condition and
  • the appropriate size for the intended user.

When selecting a life jacket, make sure it fits the conditions you will be experiencing. Each type is designed for specific types of water and some will NOT turn a victim face up if unconscious.

TYPE I - Off Shore Life Jacket

Designed for extended survival in rough, open water, this jacket floats the best. It is designed to turn most people who are unconscious in the water face up. This jacket helps the person stay in that position for a long time. It is to be used in open water and oceans.

TYPE II - Near Shore Life Vest

This "classic" PFD is recommended for calm inland water where there is chance of fast rescue. It is less bulky and less expensive than a Type I. It may not always help an unconscious person to float face up. It is comfortable and comes in many sizes.

TYPE III - Flotation Aid

With styles for different boating activities and sports, these are for use in calm water where there is good chance of fast rescue, since they will generally not turn an unconscious person face up.

Rremember: The lower the number, the better the performance.

Type IV - Throwable Device

Intended for calm, inland water with heavy boat traffic where rescue is always possible. These PFD's are designed to be thrown to a conscious person and to be held by them until rescued. These PFD's are NOT to be worn and should be used in conjunction with a wearable life jacket.

Type V - Special Use Device

Special use PFDs include work vests, deck suits and hybrids for specific activities such as whitewater rafting. Some vests contain some internal buoyancy and are inflatable to provide additional flotation.


  • When purchasing a life jacket for a child, remember One Size does NOT Fit All. Be sure to check the "User Weight" on the label They can be marked "less than 30," "30 to 50," "less than 50," or "50 to 90."
  • Always look for the United States Coast Guard approval number before you purchase any life jacket, and make sure you understand the regulations and requirements in your state. Also ensure you properly maintain whatever life jacket you choose.
ANPAC® supports the North American Safe Boating Campaign.

* Statistics taken from the Comdtpub P16754.24 2010 Recreational Boating Statistics, United States Coast Guard. Images courtesy of the United States Coast Guard.