Personal Flotation Devices (PFD's)
How Many PFDs Do You Need?

The United States Coast Guard* says you must have USCG approved Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) on your recreational boat. How many and what type PFDs you'll need depends on the number of people on board, the size of your boat, and the kind of boating you do.

*U.S. Coast Guard Regulation Title 33, Chapter I, Part 175, Subpart B.

Boats 16 Feet or Longer

If your boat is 16 feet or longer, you must have one of any of these wearable PFDs for each person on board:
For example, if there are four people on your 16-foot boat, you must have at least five PFDs - four wearable PFDs and one throwable Device.

Boats under 16 Feet Long

If your boat is less than 16 feet long or is a canoe or kayak, of any length, you may choose either wearable or throwable PFDs. But you must still have one PFD for each person on board.

The Right PFD For You

PFDs come in a variety of shapes, colors, and materials. Some are made to be more rugged and last longer. Some are made to protect you from cold water. But no matter which PFD you choose, be sure to get one that's right for you and the water conditions you expect to encounter. Remember, spending a little time now can save you a lifetime later. Always look for the United States Coast Guard approval number on any PFD you buy.

Choose The Right Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

Off-Shore Life Jacket (Type I PFD)

Best for open, rough or remote water, where rescue may be slow coming.


  • Floats you the best.
  • Turns most unconscious wearers face-up in water.
  • Highly visible color.
  • Bulky.
  • Two sizes to fit most children and adults.

Near-Shore Buoyant Vest (Type II PFD)

Good for calm, inland water, or where there is good chance for fast rescue.


  • Turns some unconscious wearers face-up in water.
  • Less bulky, more comfortable than Off-Shore Life Jacket (Type I PFD).
  • Compromise between Type I PFD performance and wearer comfort.
  • May be uncomfortable wearing for extended periods.
  • Will not turn as many people face-up as a Type I PFD will.
  • In rough water, a wearer's face may often be covered by waves.
  • Not for extended survival in rough water.
  • Infant, child-small, child-medium, and adult.
*** Please Read Important Message For Infant Devices ***

Flotation Aid (Type III PFD)

Good for calm, inland water, or where there is good chance of fast rescue.


  • Generally the most comfortable type for continuous wear.
  • Freedom of movement for water skiing, small boat sailing, fishing, etc.
  • Available in many styles, including vests and flotation coats.
  • Not for rough water.
  • Wearer may have to tilt head back to avoid face-down position in water.
  • Many individual sizes from Child-Small through Adult.

Throwable Device (Type IV PFD)

For calm, inland water with heavy boat traffic, where help is always nearby.


  • Can be thrown to someone.
  • Good back-up to wearable PFDs.
  • Some can be used as seat cushions.
  • Not for unconscious persons.
  • Not for nonswimmers or children.
  • Not for many hours in rough water.
  • Cushions, rings, and horseshoe buoys.

Special Use Devices (Type V PFD)

  • Only for special uses or conditions.
  • See label for limits of use.
  • Varieties include boardsailing vests, deck suits, work vests, hybrid PFDs, and others.
  • Made for specific activities.

Type V Hybrid Inflatable 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.
  • 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 the label.

Beat the Odds - Wear Your PFD

Most drownings occur way out at sea, right? Wrong! Fact is, 9 out 0f 10 drownings occur in inland waters, most within a few feet of safety. Most of the victims owned PFDs, but they died without them. A wearable PFD can save your life, if you wear it.

If you haven't been wearing your PFD because of the way it makes you look or feel, there's good news. Today's PFDs fit better, look better, and are easy to move around in.

One more thing. Before you shove off, make sure all on board are wearing PFDs. To work best, PFDs must be worn with all straps, zippers, and ties fastened. Tuck in any loose strap ends to avoid getting hung-up.

When you don't wear your PFD, the odds are against you. You're taking a chance on your life.

Staying on Top

Most adults only need an extra seven to 12 pounds of buoyancy to keep their heads above water. A PFD can give that "extra lift," and it's made to keep you floating until help comes. But a PFD is a PERSONAL flotation device and it's important to get the right one for you.

Your weight isn't the only factor in finding out how much "extra lift" you need in water. Body fat, lung size, clothing, and whether the water is rough or calm, all play a part.

Read the label on your PFD to be sure it's made for people your weight and size. Test it as shown in the next section. Then in an emergency, don't panic. Relax, put your head back and let your PFD help you come out on top.



Try on your PFD to see if it fits comfortably snug. Then test it in shallow water to see how it handles.

To check the buoyancy of your PFD in the water, relax your body and let your head tilt back. Make sure your PFD keeps your chin above water and you can breathe easily.

Be aware; your PFD may not act the same in swift or rough water as in calm water. The clothes you wear and the items in your pockets may also change the way your PFD works.

If your mouth is not well above the water, get a new PFD or one with more buoyancy.

A PFD is designed not to ride-up on the body when in the water. But, when a wearer's stomach is larger than the chest, ride-up may occur. Before use, test this PFD in the water to establish that excessive ride-up does not impair PFD performance.

Caring for Your PFD

Follow these points to be sure your PFD stays in good condition:

  1. Don't alter your PFD. If yours doesn't fit, get one that does. Play it safe. An altered PFD may not save your life.
  2. Don't put heavy objects on your PFD or use it for a kneeling pad or boat fender. PFDs lose buoyancy when crushed.
  3. Let your PFD drip dry thoroughly before putting it away. Always stow it in a well-ventilated place.
  4. Don't leave your PFD on board for long periods when the boat is not in use.
  5. Never dry your PFD on a radiator, heater, or any other direct heat source.
  6. Put your name on your PFD if you're the only wearer.
  7. Practice throwing your Type IV PFD. Cushions throw best underhand.

Checking Your PFD

Check your PFD often for rips, tears, and holes, and to see that seams, fabric straps, and hardware are okay. There should be no signs of waterlogging, mildew odor, or shrinkage of the buoyant materials.

If your PFD uses bags of kapok (a naturally buoyant material), gently squeeze the bag to check for air leaks. If it leaks, it should be thrown away. When kapok gets wet, it can get stiff or waterlogged and can lose some of its buoyancy.

Don't forget to test each PFD at the start of each season. Remember, the lay says your PFDs must be in good shape before you use your boat. Ones that are not in good shape should be cut up and thrown away.

Teach Your Children Well

Children panic when they fall into the water suddenly. This causes them to move their arms and legs violently, making it hard to float safely in a PFD. A PFD will keep a child afloat, but may not keep a struggling child face-up. That's why it's so important to teach children how to put on a PFD and to help them get used to wearing one in the water.

To work right, a PFD must fit snugly on a child. to check for a good fit, pick the child up by the shoulders of the PFD. If the PFD fits right, the child's chin and ears will not slip through.

PFDs are not babysitters. Even though a child wears a PFD when on or near the water, an adult should always be there, too. Parents should remember that inflatable toys and rafts should not be used in place of PFDs.

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