Life Jackets (PFDs)

Guide to Life Jackets

Regardless of your preferred water sport, a life jacket or Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is the most critical and essential piece of equipment you should have immediately available any time you are engaged in an on-water activity. Advanced designs make wearing PFDs much more comfortable and with a wider range of motion for the particular water activity for which they will be worn.

While PFDs/Jackets vary in styles they are all designed to perform three critical, life-saving functions: 

  1. Be immediately accessible and usable in times of accidents/emergencies
  2. Be of proper fit and adequate buoyancy to keep your head out of the water
  3. Be reliable to provide proper performance when needed.

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New Regulations for Life Jackets & PFDs

A new set of standards have improved the information readily available to help consumers select the proper life jacket/PFD and performance factors for the type of water activity in which it will be worn. The new standardization process includes updated information on applied warning panels, and no longer uses the tradition “TYPE” classification that has been the industry standard.

The new regs’s classify a PFD by the Newton numbering system used in Europe. The higher the number, the higher the buoyancy - A Level 70 devices provides 70 Newtons or about 15 pounds of buoyancy. The old standard Type III life jacket commonly used for paddle sports in the U.S. has 15.5 pounds of buoyancy. The new system also features illustrations indicating the type of water conditions (near dock, inshore, off shore, etc.) for which the PFD is best suited. Another symbol indicates how effective the device is at turning the wearer’s head over when in the water.

Selecting and Fitting a Life Jacket

For a PFD to function properly it must fit properly. Because children of the same age vary so much in size and shape, select the proper PFD according to the wearer’s weight, not age.  Make the child part of the selection process but don’t presume what works/fits another child will work for yours - let them try it on. Select a jacket that fits and adjusts properly for fit and use now rather that something they will “grow into”. A proper-fitting life jacket, when adjusted for the particular wearer, will not ride up past the wearer’s chin or ears when hoisted up by the jacket’s shoulder straps.

Tips for Buying a Life Jacket

Here are a few more tips to remember when buying a life jacket:

  • When ordering PFDs online, buy two overlapping sizes, select best fit, return other
  • Lead by example, teach your children to respect and use their PFDs.
  • Selecting fashionable colors might make a PFD more appealing to wear, but consider its visibility against a watery background in emergency situations, too.
  • A grab loop or opening on the back of a child’s PFD aids in hauling them out of the water
  • Inflatable toys and rafts are not safety flotation devices
  • No matter what the conditions, ALWAYS WEAR YOUR LIFE JACKET

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