What is the difference between Type I, II, III, IV or V life jackets and what are the best used for, lets look into each one of these in more detail. Different Life Jackets for Different Boating Activities: Uses, Buoyancy, and Info. Below is a brief description of each type of life jacket, their intended use and the buoyancy they provide.
Type I PFD – Inherently buoyant recommended uses and features:
Type I PFD is an approved device designed to turn an unconscious person in the water from a face downward position to a vertical or slightly backward position, and to have more than 20 pounds of buoyancy. A TYPE I PFD, or also known as a OFFSHORE LIFE JACKET, provides the most buoyancy. It is effective for all waters, especially open, rough, or remote waters where rescue may be delayed. It is designed to turn most unconscious wearers in the water to a face-up position.
When cruising, racing and fishing offshore , or when boating alone, or in stormy conditions.
22 lbs. for adults. (11 lbs. for child size)
Best for open, rough or remote water where rescue may be slow to arrive. Will turn MOST unconscious wearers face-up in water.
Offers the best protection, but is somewhat bulky and uncomfortable. Does the best job of retaining body heat, as it has additional foam and fabric, and keeps your head higher above water.
On a side note, as of this writing, there aren’t any Coast Guard approved Type I inflatable PFD’s available to the general public.
Type II PFD – Inherently buoyant recommended uses and features:
A Type II PFD is an approved device designed to turn an unconscious person in the water from a face downward position to a vertical or slightly backward position, and to have more than 15.5 pounds of buoyancy. Type II PFD jackets are likewise designed to turn an unconscious person face-up in the water and are typically chosen for nearshore boating excursions.
Inland day cruising, fishing and sailing. Good for boating in light craft.
15.5 lbs. for adult size.
Good for protected, inland water near shore, where chances of immediate rescue is good. Not suitable for extended survival in rough water. Will turn SOME unconscious wearers face-up in water. Poor performer in rough water, often requires you to tread water in order to keep your head above water.
More comfortable but less buoyant than Type I. Provides far less flotation than a Type I.
Type II – Inflatable recommended uses and features:
Type II PFD Inflatable life jackets are designed to be lightweight and low profile, providing you the maximum amount of mobility for your water life. Inflatable life jackets usually use compressed air, or CO2, to fill itself with air and provide 45 percent more buoyancy when inflated, but come also in manual versions. This causes the person to float higher and be more visible when the life jacket is inflated.
For serious inland and near shore cruising.
34 lbs. for adult size.
Not guaranteed to turn unconscious wearer face-up.
Advantages: very comfortable, more buoyant than Type II Inherently Buoyant jackets.
Disadvantages: High price; may be manual or automatic.
There are many Type V (special use) inflatable jackets discussed below that provide Type II performance characteristics. Inflatable PFDs are not meant for children under the age of 16.
Type III – Inherently buoyant recommended uses and features:
A TYPE III PFD, or FLOTATION AID, is good for calm, inland water, or where there is a good chance of quick rescue. This PFD type will not turn unconscious wearers to a face-up position. The wearer may have to tilt their head back to avoid turning face down. TYPE III has the same minimum buoyancy as a TYPE II PFD. Float coat, fishing vests, and vests designed for various water sports are examples. Some Type III PFDs are designed to be inflated upon entering the water.
Supervised activities, such as sailing regattas, dinghy races, water skiing, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and during personal watercraft operation.
15.5 lbs. for adult size.
Good for protected, inland water near shore, where chance of immediate rescue is good.
Not suitable for extended survival in rough water. Not designed to turn unconscious people face up in water.
More comfortable to wear than a Type I or a Type II, but provides far less floatation than a Type I.
Type III – Inflatable recommended uses and features:
Type III PFD Life Jackets are built to be compact, unobtrusive and comfortable for extended wear, Type III inflatable life jackets are great for inshore and offshore boating, sailing, dinghy racing and canoeing. Type III inflatable life vests provide a minimum of 22.5lb. of buoyancy and are more comfortable than Type III inherent while providing more mobility. However, these inflatable life jackets are not guaranteed to turn people face up when unconscious and they are not meant for children 16 and under.
For boating inshore and near shore and for supervised activities such as sailing regattas, dinghy races, canoeing.
22.5 lbs. for adult size.
Not guaranteed to turn unconscious wearer face-up.
Advantages: more comfortable than a Type III Inherently Buoyant jacket.
Disadvantages: one manual inflation mechanism only.
Inflatable PFDs are not meant for children under the age of 16.
Type IV – Throwable Device:
A TYPE IV PFD, or THROWABLE DEVICE, is intended for calm, inland water with heavy boat traffic, where help is always present but can be used in open water as well. It is designed to be thrown to a person in the water and grasped and held by the user until rescued. It is not designed to be worn. Type IV devices include buoyant cushions, ring buoys, and horseshoe buoys.
A Type IV is designed to be thrown to an overboard victim or to supplement the buoyancy of a person overboard. It is not to be worn. Minimum buoyancy: 16.5 lbs. for ring buoy or 18 lbs. for boat cushion.
A Type IV throwable device can be a square style, or a ring buoy or horseshoe buoy mounted on deck.
A Type IV is not for unconscious persons, non-swimmers or children. Although these devices are often referred to as seat cushions, you should never use it as such. This degrades the foam and reduces the amount of floatation that is provided.
NOTE – Type IV devices must be IMMEDIATELY AVAILABLE for use. You must have one at arm’s length to throw over the side in an emergency. Having one in a locker under the driver’s seat isn’t considered “immediately available.”
Type V – Special use life jackets:
TYPE V, special use devices, are intended for special activities (such as windsurfing, kayaking, or waterskiing) and can be used only for the specified conditions. They can be deck suits, work vests, board-sailing vests and others. They are the least bulky. Some are designed to automatically inflate when entering the water. It contains a small amount of inherent buoyancy and an inflatable chamber and must be worn when underway to be acceptable.
Restricted to the special use for which each is designed, for example: sailboard harness, deck suit, paddling vest, commercial white water vest or float coats.
15.5 to 22 lbs. for adult size.
Must be worn when underway to meet minimum US Coast Guard requirements. Simply having a Type V PFD on board will not meet the USCG carriage requirements.
Type V – Automatic inflation models:
Restricted to the one use for which it is designed, ex. belt pack, deck suit, float coat.
22.5 to 34 lbs. depending on style.
Must be worn at all times to meet federal requirements.
Not guaranteed to turn an unconscious wearer face-up. Some manufacturers claim Type II performance. Some models feature a combination of CO2 inflation and built-in foam and provide 15.5 to 22 lbs. of buoyancy.
Type V – Hybrid Inflation and some special notes:
Inflatable life jackets are designed to be lightweight and low profile, providing you the maximum amount of mobility for your water life. Their compact design allows you to easily wear them over your foul weather gear or rash guard all day long. Type V PFDs are considered special-use devices and intended for specific activities. To be acceptable by the USCG, they must be worn at all times.
Models recommended for boating activities where rescue is nearby and must be worn when underway.
Have 7.5 lbs. of built-in foam buoyancy and can be inflated to 22 lbs.
More comfortable to wear than Type I or Type II, but are inadequate for unconscious overboard victims.
When activated, a CO2 cartridge is pierced, releasing gas to inflate the device. Water-activated models inflate automatically when submerged in water.
Manual units are activated by yanking a pull-tab. Both types of inflatables feature blow-tubes to provide a back-up method of inflation. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for checking and maintaining your inflation mechanism.
Make sure all your PFDs are in good condition
Ultraviolet sunlight, rough handling and improper storage make it necessary to ensure that your PFD is in serviceable condition. This is a USCG requirement. Check for rips, tears, and holes and make sure seams, straps, zippers and hardware are okay. Make sure there is no sign of waterlogging, mildew odor, or shrinkage of the buoyant materials. If your PFD is discolored, torn or has torn straps, discard and replace it.
Flip on over to our article – How to clean your Life Jacket in 5 easy steps
Exposure to sunlight and moisture can deteriorate PFDs rapidly. Let your PFD drip dry thoroughly before putting it away. If your PFD has been in salt water, rinse it thoroughly with fresh water. Stow your PFDs in a well-ventilated place.