U.S. Coast Guard Life Jacket Ratings | SavvyBoater.com
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U.S. Coast Guard Life Jacket Ratings

Life jackets, or personal flotation devices (PFD’s), are a must for all types and levels of watersport activities. There are many styles of life jackets, but there are only five different US Coast Guard (USCG) classifications. In the information outlined below you will learn what types of PFD’s are available and which ones are appropriate for your particular watersport.

When boating, one wearable life jacket is required for each person on-board a boat and they should be stowed where readily accessible. In addition, one Type IV throwable device, which should be immediately available, is required on every boat 16 feet or larger.

Federal Regulations mandate that states without child life jacket laws (currently there are only 4) require that youths under 13 wear an approved PFD whenever a recreational boat is underway, unless below decks or in a closed cabin. States with existing regulations are not required to alter their status. Make sure you check your state regulations before getting underway with children on-board.

 Use Advantages Disadvantages
 Type I
 Offshore life
 Best used for open, rough or
 remote waters where the
 possibility of rescue may take
 some time.

 Minimum Buoyancy Ratings:
 Adult size = 22 lbs.
 Child size = 11 lbs.
 Floats you the best

 Turns most unconscious wearers
 face-up in water

 Not comfortable for extended
 Type II
 Near shore buoyancy vest
 Intended for calm inland waters
 or where there is a good chance
 of a relatively quick rescue.
 Examples of these vests would
 be the basic orange vests most
 boaters have on-board.

 Minimum Buoyancy Ratings:
 Adult size = 15.5 lbs.
 Child size = 11 lbs.
 Infant size = 7 lbs.
 Turn "some" unconscious
 persons to face up position.

 Less bulky and more
 comfortable to wear than a
 Type I
 Will not turn some unconscious
 wearers face-up

 Not designed for long hours in
 rough water
 Type III
 Flotation Aid
 Ideal for calm, inland water or
 where there is a good chance
 for quick rescue.

 Most common jacket used for
 recreational purposes.

 Minimum Buoyancy Ratings:
 Adult size = 15.5 lbs.
 Child size = 11 lbs.
 Infant size = 7 lbs.
 They are lightweight and
 comfortable for continuous

 Come in many sizes and styles.
 Will not turn an unconscious
 wearer to a face-up position.
 Wearer may have to tilt head
 back to avoid going face down.

 Not intended for survival in
 rough water or the open sea.
 Type IV
 Throwable Device
 Designed to be thrown to a
 person in the water, grasped
 and held by the user until
 rescued. It is intended for calm
 inland waters with heavy boat
 traffic, where help is always

 One Type IV throwable device,
 which should be immediately
 available, is required on every
 boat 16 feet or larger.

 Minimum Buoyancy Ratings:
 18 lbs.
 Good backup to wearable
 flotation devices.

 Can be thrown to anyone
 in the water needing assistance.
 Not for an unconscious person.

 Not intended for non-swimmers
 or children.

 Not intended for survival in
 rough water or the open sea.
 Type V
 Special Use Device
 Designed and approved for
 specific activities as listed on its

 Examples include work vests,
 board sailing vests, and
 commercial whitewater rafting
 and kayaking vests.

 Minimum Buoyancy Ratings:
 15.5 - 22 lbs.
 More convenient or useful for
 specific activities.

 Continuous wear prevents
 being caught without protection.

 Some Type V devices provide
 hypothermia protection, such as
 deck suits. A Type V Hybrid
 Inflatable PFD is the least bulky.
 Less safe than other types if not
 used according to label

 Some Type V's are approved
 only when worn. If marked this
 way, they are required to be
 worn to be counted as a
 regulation PFD.

Make sure your PFDs are in good condition before leaving the dock. Ultraviolet sunlight, rough handling and improper storage make it necessary to ensure that your PFD is in serviceable condition. This is a U.S. Coast Guard requirement.

It is also important to test a PFD in shallow water or a guarded swimming pool to make sure it fits appropriately and is in proper working order.

To learn how to calculate buoyancy, read our article What Does Pounds of Buoyancy Mean?

To shop for a life jacket, see the wide selection in our Life Jackets category.


Disclaimer: Information on this website is provided only as a guideline, and not to be used for any other purpose. While we strive to obtain accurate product information, we cannot guarantee the accuracy, completeness or timeliness of any product information. We recommend that you do not solely rely on the information presented on this website and that you always read labels, warnings, and directions and other information provided with the product before using a product. For additional information about a product, please contact the manufacturer. The buyer is responsible for choice, fit, and use of any life jacket purchased from SavvyBoater.com. By purchasing through this site, the buyer acknowledges this fact and accepts the waiver of any liability against SavvyBoater.com. Please boat safely and always wear your life jacket.

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