Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) come in a variety of shapes, colors and materials. Whether you are the captain of your own watercraft, or a guest on someone else’s, the most important thing about a PFD is whether or not it provides each individual with adequate protection for the water conditions you expect to encounter. Here’s a brief overview of the four basic types:
- Off-Shore Life Jackets. These offer the best flotation protection of any type. They are ideal for open, rough or remote water where rescue may be slow coming. They are able to turn most unconscious wearers face-up in the water and generally come in highly visible colors. The on disadvantage of this type of PFD is that they are bulky.
- Near-Shore Buoyant Vests. These are best for calm, inland water, or where there is a good chance of fast rescue. They are capable of turning some unconscious wearers face-up in the water. They are less bulky and more comfortable, but are not designed to withstand long hours in rough water.
- Flotation Aids. Available in many styles, including vests and coats, they are good for calm, inland water, or where there is a high probability of fast rescue. They are the most comfortable type for continuous wear during boating activities. The disadvantages are that the wearer may have to tilt his or her head back to avoid going face-down. In rough water, a wearer’s face may often be covered by waves, and they are not intended for extended survival in rough water.
- Throw-able Devices. These include flotation-rated cushions, ring and horseshoe buoys. They should only be considered as a backup to PFDs.
Many people think that most drownings happen way out at sea. Nine out of ten drowning accidents occur in inland waters, most within a few feet of safety.
Always make sure that everyone on your watercraft is wearing an approved PFD that meets or exceeds official standards. Make sure that all straps, zippers and ties are fastened so that you and everyone on your boat is safe.