Many water-related fatalities could be prevented by simply wearing the single most important safety device you carry onboard – a USCG-approved personal flotation device (PFD), or life jacket.
The ideal PFD depends on the type of boating you do, but the best life jacket is the one you will use. Pick one that you feel comfortable wearing.
A Type I PFD, or offshore life jacket, has the greatest required buoyancy and is designed to turn an unconscious person in the water from a face-down position to a vertical and slightly tilted-back position. This life jacket offers the greatest chance of survival. Type I PFDs are only available in two sizes, adult and child. They’re reversible and bright orange.
A Type II PFD, or near-shore buoyancy vest, is intended for calm, inland water or where there’s a good chance of a quick rescue. The Type II will turn some unconscious wearers to a face-up position in the water. Type II PFDs are available in three sizes – adult, child medium, and child small – and come in a variety of colors.
Like Type II, a Type III PFD, or flotation aid, is designed for conscious users in calm, inland water where there’s a good chance of a quick rescue. It’s designed so people in the water can turn themselves to a face-up position.
A Type IV PFD, one that can be thrown, is intended for calm, inland water with heavy boat traff ic where help is always present. It’s designed to be thrown to a person in the water who grasps and holds onto it until rescued. Type IV PFDs include approved cushions, ring buoys, and horseshoe buoys.
A Type V PFD is a special-use device intended for specific activities. This type of life jacket includes survival suits and some work vests, and they usually have a label marked “approved only when worn” in the jacket.
In Washington, children 12 years old or younger must wear a PFD whenever they are on any vessel 19 feet or less, unless they’re in a completely enclosed area. In Oregon, the law extends to all open-deck or open-cockpit boats when they’re under way (with some exceptions). Likewise, anyone on a personal watercraft or involved in activities like water-skiing is required to wear an approved PFD.
A life jacket doesn’t help much if it’s stowed away somewhere on the boat. All PFDs on your boat should be in good condition – without rips, tears, or rusty straps – and be readily accessible in case of an emergency.
You can learn more about choosing the right life jackets for you and your guests at boat-ed.com (Washington) and the Oregon State Marine Board.