LIFE JACKET TYPES: A BEGINNER'S GUIDE
If you've never seen a single life jacket in your life, then it's either one of two things: (1) You've never experienced summer vacations, or (2) You're Michael Phelps and you never needed it anyway. If you didn't identify as either (1) or (2) and you really just don't know what it is or what it's for, then you really need to read this. It might just save your life.
Why is it important?
A Life Jacket, or properly termed as a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), is literally a jacket worn for the purpose of preserving life. It keeps its wearer afloat and is usually worn to assist lifesavers and passengers alike. Life Jackets are designed to offer survivability and safety to its wearers while they are in the water. Designs and specifications differ for casual activities such as recreational boating and for aircraft or commercial vessel crew and passengers. The most commonly seen PFDs are the orange vests which are mandatory on any mass/private transportation traveling over a body of water. Depending on the type and design, a life jacket may also offer you different levels of safety and survivability so it is also important to know its different types.
Types of Life Jackets
A life jacket isn't a one-size-fits-all type of equipment. Aside from learning to wear it properly, several factors need to be considered when choosing which life jacket should be used. There are 5 types of Personal Flotation Devices that are coast-guard-approved and 4 of these come in the form of vests or jackets.
TYPE I: Offshore Life Jacket
This type of life jacket is one that many people know of. These are the common orange vests that are legally required in planes and ships. They are used as a safety measure in case of accidents and offer the greatest survivability in rough and open waters where rescue may take a long time. This is also one of the reasons for its bright orange color as this makes it easier for rescuers to spot a survivor. This type of jacket is made to fit most adults and children. Its design also allows it to turn unconscious wearers the right-side-up to prevent them from drowning. Its bulky appearance may make most wearers uncomfortable but it's an easy price to pay for a saved life.
TYPE II: Near-shore Buoyant Vests
These life jackets are usually encountered in vacation spots with water activities in calm waters. They are designed with the thought that rescue is readily available and would not require people to stay a long time in the water. Unlike offshore jackets, these don't have the capability to turn unconscious wearers face-up so it would be good to stay within a rescuer's sight when wearing these vests.
TYPE III: Flotation Aid
Basically the same as a Buoyant Vest but with more priority given to the comfort and freedom of the wearer. It comes in multiple sizes to be able to accommodate a number of body types. Due to the comfort and freedom that it gives, this type is generally used in water sports. It should be made a habit to double-check a Type III's label before putting it on as there are variations that are designed for different activities, as well.
TYPE IV: Throwable Device
The only type that doesn't come in the form of a life jacket. These are usually donut-shaped and are generally thrown to people in trouble for immediate rescue. Lifesavers always have a Throwable PFD easily accessible in case of an emergency. Throwable Devices are the least recommended for rough waters and non-swimmers since they are not designed for survivability.
TYPE V: Special Use Device
Type V PFDs are mostly hybrids of the other types with a safety level that is equal to either that of Type I, II, or III. They are only worn for very specific activities or conditions and require the approval of a safety officer. Some examples are boardsailing vests, windsurfing vests, and deck suits. Although it is the most comfortable out of the five and can be worn for a long period of time, it is also the one that requires the utmost care as Type V PFDs are usually inflatable and may become dangerous to wear when damaged.