There are many different types and styles of PFDs. The following list provides a summary of advantages of the many types, and how many you will need, depending on the type of boat and the number of people on board.
Type I (Off-Shore Life Jacket) (22 lbs buoyancy)
- Where: Best for open, rough or remote water, where rescue may be slow in coming.
- Advantages: Floats you best. Turns most unconscious wearers face-up in water. Highly visible color.
- Disadvantages: Bulky
- Sizes: Two sizes to fit most children and adults.
Type II (Near-Shore Buoyant Vest) (15.5 lbs buoyancy)
- Where: Good for calm, inland water, or where there is a good chance of fast rescue.
- Advantages: Will turn many unconscious wearers face-up in water. Less bulky, more comfortable than Type I.
- Disadvantages: Not for long hours in rough water. Will not turn some unconscious wearers face up in water.
- Sizes: Infant, Child-small, Child-medium, Adult
Type III (Flotation Aid) (15.5 lbs buoyancy)
- Where: Good for calm, inland water or where there is a good chance of fast rescue.
- Advantages: Generally the most comfortable for continuous wear. Freedom of movement for water skiing, small boat sailing, fishing, etc. Available in many styles, including vests and flotation coats.
- Disadvantages: Not for rough water. Wearer may have to tilt head back to avoid face down position in water.
- Sizes: Many individual sizes from Child-small to Adult.
Type IV (Throwable Device)
- Where: For calm, inland water with heavy boat traffic, where help is always nearby
- Advantages: Can be thrown to someone. Good back-up to wearable PFD. Some can be used as seat cushions.
- Disadvantages: Not for unconscious persons. Not for non-swimmers or children. Not for many hours in rough water.
- Kinds: Cushions, rings, and horseshoe buoys
Type V (Special Use Device)
- Where: Only for special uses or conditions
- Advantages: Made for specific activity. Varieties include boardsailing vests, deck suits, work vests, hybrid PFDs and others.
- Disadvantages: See label for limited use
Type V (Hybrid Device)
Required to be worn to be counted as a regulation PFD.
- Advantages: Least bulky of all types. High flotation when inflated. Good for continuous wear.
- Disadvantages: May not adequately float some wearers unless partially inflated. Requires active use and care of inflation chamber.
Performance level: Equal to either Type I, II, or III performance as noted on label.