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This week's Feature Blog

Understanding Life Vests and Floatation Clothing

By: Mark Romanack

In most states kids under 6 years of age must wear a Coast Guard approved PFD at all times. Common sense suggests that kids of all ages should be wearing a PFD while boating or fishing.

According to the US Coast Guard, most drownings that occur in the United States happen because the victim wasn’t wearing a life vest. While it’s the law you have to have a life vest for every person on board the boat, it’s only mandatory that children under 6 years of age actually wear them.

The specific laws governing water safety vary from state to state, but the basic requirements are similar. Everyone should take the time to read and understand water safety laws before venturing out to enjoy a day of boating or fishing.

Life vests or Personal Floatation Devices (PFD for short) are broken down into four categories including Type I, Type II, Type III and Type IV models. A Type I PFD or off shore life vest features 22 pounds of buoyancy and features a design that floats the person upright in the water. Commonly used on commercial boats, a Type I vest is normally produced in a highly visible color and features reflective tape to help in night time search efforts.

Some Type I PFD feature a light/sound beacon that activates when it comes in contact with the water further aiding rescue efforts in the dark or foggy conditions.

A Type II PFD features 15.5 pounds of buoyancy and is generally considered adequate for near shore or inland waters where a rescue is likely to happen quickly. Depending on the model, some Type II PFD will hold the wearer upright in the water even if they are unconscious and others will not.

Type III PFD models feature 15.5 pounds of buoyancy and are considered to be the most comfortable to wear products. Type III PFD include both manual and automatic inflatable models.

Type IV PFD are throwable devices such as a seat cushion or life ring that can be thrown to a person who is struggling in the water. A throwable device should be equipped with a length of rope to help in recovery. Throwable devices are not intended to be used with unconscious victims or for children or individuals who can’t swim.


Of all the different types of PFD’s on the market, the inflatable vests are hands down one of the most popular. The advantage of an inflatable life vest is they are comfortable to wear over the normal clothing worn while boating and fishing. A CO2 cartridge is used to inflate the vest. Some vests must be inflated manually by pulling a cord, while other models automatically inflate when the vest comes in contact with the water.

The down side to inflatable vests is the CO2 cartridge may not fully inflate the vest when exposed to extreme cold conditions. A manual inflation tube is included that allows the wearer to add air as needed to keep the vest fully inflated.

Most inflatable vests are rated for five years of service, before the CO2 cartridge needs to be replaced. The process of replacing the CO2 cartridge only takes a couple minutes.

Inflatable PFD’s such as the one worn here by the author are popular among professional fishermen who are required by tournament rules to be wearing a PFD while the boat is under power. Inflatables are comfortable to wear and come in both manual and automatic deployment models.


Clothing designed to double as floatation is yet another option to consider. Some of these garments are certified by the Coast Guard as PFD’s and others are not.

For example, some ice fishing clothing manufacturers use foam in their suits that have enough buoyancy to float and adult. Most of these garments however are not certified by the Coast Guard as PFD’s.

While ice fishing clothing that floats may not meet Coast Guard standards, these garments when worn in combination with a PFD do provide extra insulation from the cold and extra buoyancy.

Ice suits such as the Striker Predator Suit the author is wearing provide enough floatation to keep an adult on the surface. Unfortunately, these garments are not certified by the Coast Guard as a PFD. Wearing a PFD in combination with ice fishing clothing is advised, especially when fishing in cold weather conditions.


Every boat should also be equipped with the following safety equipment including a fire extinguisher, a whistle, a container for bailing water, a flare kit or electronic beacon, a throwable device and a brightly colored flag for getting the attention of nearby vessels. Other emergency items to consider would be waterproof matches, spare flares, extra batteries for an electronic beacon, a flashlight with spare batteries and a reflective blanket.


Every year dozens of individuals drown while boating or fishing. The vast majority of these fatalities could have been avoided if proper safety equipment was used.


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