PFD  "Personal Floatation Devise", otherwise known as a
"Life Jacket"
Don't Leave the Dock Without One



Life Jackets, Do I Really Need One  ;  OK, you say you can swim, but what if shore is a LOOONG way away and the wind/tide is against you, or you are partly incapacitated? 


Any Personal Floatation Devise is better than none when you need it.   But it needs to be readily accessible (better yet worn) at all times.  This can get to be a bit cumbersome for some types and interfere with the fun for the average boater.  However if something bad is going to happen, more especially in a small boat, it WILL happen so fast that you do not have a chance to do not have a chance to get into one, much less find it.


Therefore it makes sense to the wearing of an inflatable PFD at all times becomes very important.  However you need to inspect them every year.  If would be foolhardy to wear one every time you went out, only to find out that it was inoperative when you do need it.   Sure it may cost you a few bucks for a new re-arm kit for testing, but at this point, you are committed if you have to use it, with no way to fix the problem when you are IN THE WATER.  Listed below is a placard I had made and is placed prominently in view in the cabin of my boat.


One important thing to remember, do not put a coat on over any inflatable PFD.  They need to be worn over all you clothing, including a coat, otherwise if it does inflate your arms may well be bound up inside the coat to where you could not navigate.




This placard is pretty self explanatory


Non-Inflatable PFDs ;  On any recreational boat you are required to have on board a throwable PFD.  These usually boil down to the Type IV, or boat cushion.  Then there are the old style Type 1, regular flotation  life vests, however these are rather bulky so are seldom worn, except at the last minute or in a real stormy seas situation.  These can also be broken down to near-shore and offshore versions, with the offshore having more floatation.   Needless to say, these seem to be stored most of the time.  However if you are boarded by the Coast Guard, they do not tell you, but you have 30 seconds to access AND climb into a PFD to comply with their requirements.   Therefore many boaters/fisherpersons would rather wear the inflatable units.


NOTE - The inflatables do not count as a PFD unless they are worn.


You will also find foam type vests and jackets, however they are a bit more bulky.


Three Different Styles of Inflatables ;  You will find three different styles of the inflatable vests.  (1) Manual operated (2)  Bobbin "Pill" style of self inflatable  (3) Hydrostatic  style of self inflatables   Usually the self inflatables can also be activated manually by pulling the "rip cord".


The manual inflating units are the more foolproof and cheaper to re-arm.  The self inflating can have either a fast dissolving "PILL" "bobbin type or a "Hydrostatic" activated by water pressure activation method.  There are drawbacks to both.  (1) the pill type can get set off by being subject to a lot of water (rain), or by carelessness of throwing the unworn unit into the boat, cracking the pill.  (2) the hydrostatic are more durable but the re-arm kits are considerably more expensive. 


And the word from the Coast Guard is the hydrostatics have an expiration date and are good for five years.   The bottom line here is that when buying a hydrostatic PFD or a replacement activation component be sure to look at the expiration date and make sure it has the maximum 5 years of life remaining - or be sure to get a really good reduction in price.  That in reality also makes it expensive and inadvisable to buy a replacement that is not needed for immediate refit.  However if It still remains being usable as a manual inflate PFD, where does that come in??



The best PFD is the one you wear!

Mustang Survival is continually improving the design and performance of Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) to encourage full-time use of PFDs. The result is a wide choice of PFDs to suit activities, water conditions and lifestyle. This Buyer's Guide provides information on flotation, PFD types, and tips for choosing a PFD, or lifejacket as they're commonly called.

Safety Requirements
The US Coast Guard's Federal Requirements state, "All recreational boats must carry one wearable PFD (Type I, II, II, or Type V) for each person aboard... [and that] any boat 16ft and longer (except canoes and kayaks) must also carry one throwable Type IV PFD."

PFDs should be Coast Guard approved and in good condition. They must also be the proper size for the intended user. State laws vary on PFD use, but units must be readily accessible in case of an emergency. In some states children must wear PFDs in certain sized boats or for specific boating activities. Furthermore, adults accompanying children should also wear PFDs at all times to immediately assist a child in an emergency situation. Federal, State, and local park authorities may also have regulations regarding PFDs in their waters.

Types of PFD Flotation
PFD flotation can be divided into two main categories. Inherently buoyant PFDs and Inflatable PFDs.

Inherently buoyant PFDs
These device's buoyancy is a result of the materials used, often foam panels. These PFDs come in all sizes and are for both swimmers and non-swimmers. Inherently buoyant PFDs were the mainstay for years for water sports and recreational boating. Improvements in design and features have made these PFDs more comfortable to wear.

Inflatable PFDs
Inflatable PFDs can be seen as the new generation of lifejackets. It must be worn to qualify as a PFD. These devices come in automatic or manual inflating models. Manual models are inflated by pulling a tab. They can also be blown up with an included tube if for some reason the tab doesn't operate properly. Automatic models are inflated via a C02 cartridge.

Inflation is generally triggered by a dissolving bobbin when it is immersed in water. They also can be activated manually by pulling the tab. Inflatables are less bulky than inherently buoyant PFDs because they are only inflated when an individual is in the water. A version with integrated sailing harness is also available.

Inflatable PFDs require minor maintenance to keep them ready for inflation when needed, and it is recommended to keep a spare C02 cylinder (and bobbin for automatic models) to re-arm your inflatable after use.

Five Types of PFDs

  • Type I PFDs, or offshore lifejackets, are the most buoyant PFDs and suitable for all water conditions, including rough or isolated water where rescue may be delayed. Although bulky in comparison to Type II and III PFDs, offshore jackets will turn most unconscious individuals to the face-up position. They range in sizes from adult to child.

  • Type II kids vest is designed for comfort. Type II PFDs, or near-shore buoyancy vests, are for calm and open water where a rescue will occur quickly. They are not designed for long periods in rough water. These vests will turn some, but not all, unconscious wearers face-up in the water. Some inflatable Type II models will turn wearers to the face-up position as well as a Type I PFD. This vest is less bulky than a Type I and often the least expensive of the PFD types. Type II PFDs are available in a variety of sizes.

  • Type III Water Sport Vest with impact rating of 100MPH. Type III PFDs, or flotation aids, are for calm and open water where a rescue will likely occur quickly. These PFDs are designed to keep the wearer in a vertical position. It is the wearer's responsibility to maneuver themselves into a face-up position, usually accomplished by tilting their head back. Type III inflatable models will keep unconscious wearers face-up as well as a Type II inherently buoyant vest. This PFD is not recommended for rough water conditions. These PFDs are the most comfortable to wear and popular for recreation boating and fishing. Type III PFDs come in various sizes from adult to child.

  • Type IV PFDs, or throwable devices, are for calm conditions where rescue will happen quickly. Not designed to be worn, these PFDs are tossed to a conscious person who can hold onto it for flotation until rescued. A square buoyant cushion, a life ring, or a horseshoe buoy, are some Type IV examples.

  • Type V Pouch PFD Type V PFDs are also referred to as special use devices. These devices are to be worn for specific activities as described on the unit's label. To be effective Type V PFDs must be used in accordance with the label's specifications. Many must be worn at all times in order to qualify as a PFD. A Type V's label will also list its performance as a Type I, II, or III PFD. A Type V PFD, like a full body survival suit, provides protection from hypothermia; however, these suits are best suited for cool climates as they can become quite warm in mild or hot weather.

  • The Inflatable Pouch (or Belt-Pack) PFD provides 35 lbs of buoyancy and is ideal for calm water. This product does require donning (passing your head through the collar once inflated) and is classified as a Type V PFD. The OCX Jacket with Inflatable LIFT PFD is classified as a Type V PFD special device. The integrated PFD was designed to provide extra safety and protection in extreme conditions. It provided 3 times the Freeboard (distance between the water and the users mouth) of a typical life jacket and radically reduces mouth immersions in higher wave conditions. This jacket is ideal for offshore power boating, fishing and sailing.
Selecting a PFD for Your Needs
"The best PFD is the one you wear," is a common water safety phrase. Begin selecting your PFD by reading the label and ensuring the device is U.S. Coast Guard approved for: your size and weight; the type of activities you'll be doing, and; the water you'll encounter. For some, this may mean having various PFDs for different situations. For example, an angler may have a Type III PFD for small inland lakes, and a Type I for larger water bodies.

Fitting Tips
The next important step in choosing a PFD is ensuring it fits properly and is comfortable. Try on several models with different amounts of clothing to gauge how the PFD will feel when worn at various times throughout the year. Adjustable straps will help you alter the fit for the amount of clothing you'll wear. Note that a PFD should fit snug; if it is too loose it will not provide proper flotation in the water. A common fitting procedure is to put on the PFD, and tighten all straps and close zippers. Next, raise your arms above your head and have someone try and lift the PFD up by the shoulders. The unit is not a proper fit if it is too loose. Signs of this are if the device freely moves and almost comes off, or if the main zipper touches your nose.

Choosing a Child PFD
Like sizing an adult PFD, the procedure is similar for a child. The vest should fit snug. To test the fit, tighten all straps and close zippers and then lift the child by holding the PFD's shoulders. The child's ears and neck should not slip though the head opening. It is also advisable that a child wear, at minimum, a Type II PFD.

Testing your PFD
Adult and child PFDs should also be water tested after purchase to ensure they're a proper fit. The advantage to testing a child's PFD is not only to ensure proper fit and flotation. It's an opportunity for your child to become comfortable with the device on in the water. Help your child get comfortable in the water and explain why they need to wear a PFD. This will help them remain calm in an emergency. It is also recommended to test your Inflatable PFD.  Experience how it inflates when in the water and get familiar with re-arming it.  Test for leaks yearly.

BE AWARE: Your PFD may not act the same in swift water or heavy seas as it does in calm water.

PFD Features
Features to look for in a PFD include brightly colored material as well as reflective tape so you can be easily seen on, and in, the water. Most PFDs today are made out of durable, water resistant materials, such as 200 or 400 denier nylon. Older models were often made of cotton or other slow-drying fabrics, resulting in mildew growing on damp PFDs. Some recent models have padded, fleece or neoprene-lined collars to provide extra comfort.

Large buckles and snaps make removing vests easier in damp or cool weather. Corrosion resistant and oversized zippers are also good features in a PFD. Pockets are also important. Handwarmer side pockets can help take the chill out of cold fingers, while chest, cargo, mesh or internal pockets are great to carry personal and functional items. Finally, a D-ring is added to attach a kill switch, or clip-on accessories, like a whistle or fishing line cutters.

The best practice is to regularly wear your PFD at all times when on or near water. This Buyer's Guide has provided some details on the types of PFDs available and selection tips, but the ultimate responsibility rests with you to properly select a PFD for your intended use. Safe boating!

Information above Courtesy of Mustang Survival Corp.



Yearly Testing  ;  OK, you have your new unit and have worn it for a year or more, maybe it is time to test it.  It would be rather embarrassing AND possibly deadly if it did not function, more especially the inflatable ones. 


Usually the manufacturer recommends that you test them annually.  OK the regular (non inflatable) units are pretty easy to look over, are there any rips, or tears, partly missing straps or buckles?  


But what about the inflatable ones, do you simply pull the rip cord handle every spring?   Yes, you can do that, however units all that I have been exposed to also have a mouth piece tube that you can inflate manually  by blowing into this tube.  This is cheaper for testing and serves the same purpose.   Does it inflate and hold air?   The regular near-shore inflatables usually have a lesser amount of buoyancy and in testing mine I get about 12 good deep blows to get them to maximum inflation.  Let it set overnight and then look to see if it is still inflated.   Is So, you are good to go and can deflate it, by pushing down on the check valve in the mouthpiece as you squeeze the bags.  Once the bags are completely deflated, fold it back and snap the Velcro strips ready for another year of use.


You should consider purchasing extra recharge kits and have them on hand, as some brands could use hard to find kits which could be a hindrance if you were some distance from a marine dealer or needed it the next day.


Of the three inflatables that I have on my boat, my two manual loaners performed FINE, while the other one (mine) leaked off in about 15 minutes, NOT GOOD.   I blew it up again and immersed it in a cattle watering trough, where I could see air bubbles come steaming out at one seam.    Time to buy a new one.  But I guess that was not bad, as that made 3 of these units that I wore out in 20 years.  YES, I wear mine EVERY TIME I am on a boat.  I retired this one to use for river fishing from the bank, thinking that if I did have to use it, a few minutes would be enough for me to get ashore or at least in water shallow enough to stand in.


It's pretty easy to open up the bobbin and check the condition of the pill.  Tap it on the counter, if it's "chalky" then just replace the pill.  No big deal.  As for the CO2 cartridge, I have not seen an expiration date on them, but have seen a fill date.   They should never try go bad if stored properly, however if left in a vest for many years after being exposed to saltwater, I have seen the cylinders rust badly on the outside.


Try this: Wear the inflatable when testing by setting it off, and then think about what might happen if you were wearing the PFD under raingear or coat (ALWAYS WEAR IT ON TOP OF ALL CLOTHING).   If the inflatable gets wet when fishing, just take it into the house overnight; they dry pretty quickly.

During a training session, a friend's wife had to jump in a pool and then activate her manual inflatable PDF; she described the sensation like she was going to be shot clear out of the water (that did not happen, but it just felt that way).


Unexpected accidental testing trying to get a large ling cod in the boat



Recharging an Inflatable  ;  Well let's say that you either accidently jerked the rip-cord, threw it to hard into the boat and cracked the pill, OR did have to use it and now need to recharge the unit, OR did your yearly testing.   First you need to sure that the bladder is fully deflated.  You will have to release the mouthpiece blow up valve by holding it in with a pencil or similar object.   I then take one side at a time and roll/squeeze as much air as possible out, then do it again.  Get each side of the bladder as compressed as possible, fold them over in the original position and close the outer enclosure, secured by the Velcro snaps.


There are numerous sizes and versions of recharge kits, which range from economical (under $20) to some near $75 depending on the model in question.    You need to use the one designed for your inflatable vest.  The manual vests only require a new CO2 cylinder, while the self inflatable units also need a "pill" that holds the charging arm until the pill dissolves in water.  The newer units also need the CO2 cylinder AND use a Hydrostatic water pressure sensor for the self inflate (why the higher cost).


When I buy any inflatable vest, I try to be sure to get the them to where they all use the same re-charge kit, and purchase a spare at that same purchase time.  There are screw in CO2 cylinders, and also bayonet style, so be sure that the spare kit you purchase fits your unit.  There should also be a label on the inside flap giving the proper recharge kit number.


My OLD self inflatable was an expensive commercial unit that over time, I had a hard time finding re-charge kits after Boaters World went out of business.  I could find the right CO2 cylinder, but the replacement cage for and pill was not compatible.  Finally, I found by a lot of looking and comparing, that IF I bought just the proper CO2 cylinder off another brand vest, used the old pill cage (bobbin), and if I used a 800mg Folic Acid vitamin pill, that it served as an alternate dissolvable pill.  It took a few more seconds to dissolve, but it worked.


Observations/Questions ;  If you are in a full cabin boat and you have a self inflatable PFD, AND the boat goes down with you inside, it could become near impossible to exit a cabin of an overturned boat.  Something to think about?  This is one case where the manual inflatable has it's benefits over the automatic.


Automatics are probably better for most people.  If you have a stroke, heart attack, or slip and strike your head on the gunwale rendering you unconscious before going overboard and are unconscious, the vest will automatically inflate.   A manual unit may help you drown, by inhaling water. 


And if you pick one of the higher air capacity inflatables, these tend to right you with your head above water.

The only RIGHT vest for YOU is the compromise that best fits you, your boat, and your level of risk.   But any vest that is worn is better than none.  AND any PDF needs to be fitted to the person wearing it.   It also needs to be comfortable, otherwise you will find a reason to take it off.  Try them on (if possible) before you buy, as what may fit and please your wife will not be the one you prefer.

For a manual to function, you have to be able to yank the lanyard, so if that is what you offer as a loaner on your boat, THAT INFORMATION needs to be fully explained during your pre-trip orientation.


 Here a successful solo salmon fisherman (me) wearing my PFD


The law requires that children under 12 years of age to wear a PFD at all times they are on the water.  If you put them in a inflatable, it may well be to your benefit to inflate it and give them the experience of what to expect.  You would not have to pull the cord on a manual unit, but you could blow it up with the mouthpiece, not exactly the same sensation as if it went POOF, but they could get the idea.  This would even be an option with the self-inflatable units.


Bank Bound Fishers ;  If you are a river fisherperson, rocks can be slippery, you loose your balance or dirt banks may sluff off, making the use of these inflatables worthwhile.


USCG Safety Alert 13-16
September 12, 2016


This safety alert reminds all inflatable life jacket users of the importance of performing periodic maintenance on their equipment.   Instances of fatal accidents where inflatable life jackets failed to properly inflate have been documented.   When a life jacket fails to inflate properly, the results can be life threatening.   Unknown bladder leaks may exist, fabric degradation or an improperly installed CO2 cylinder is all it takes to render an inflatable life jacket ineffective by preventing its inflation or ability to stay inflated.

Various manufacturers of inflatable equipment will likely have different maintenance instructions for their products and directions for the user to service and inspect the devices.   Knowing and following the manufacturer's maintenance instructions are critical.   Proper maintenance service and inspection will ensure all parts of the life jacket including the bladder, inflation mechanism and CO2 cylinder are checked and in good working order.

The Coast Guard highly recommends routine maintenance, service, and inspection in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.   The following inflatable life jacket inspection guidance is for informational purposes only and does not supersede any manufacturer recommendations or instruction:

(1) Each voyage, prior to getting underway:

a. If there is a service indicator check it to ensure it is GREEN.   If the service indicator is RED the mechanism has been fired or is incorrectly fitted.

b. Check for visible signs of wear or damage by ensuring that there are no rips, tears or holes; that the seams are securely sewn; and that the fabric, straps and hardware are still strong.

c. For auto-inflating life jackets, ensure all auto components are armed and not expired.   Following the manufacturer's instructions, reveal the inflation system and oral inflation tube.   Check that the CO2 cylinder is firmly secured. Examine it for rust or corrosion.   If you remove the CO2 cylinder for inspection, be sure to carefully replace it without over-tightening.

d. Repack the lifejacket as per manufacturer's instructions.   Ensure the pull-tab lanyard is accessible and unlikely to be caught when being worn.

(2) Periodic checks as recommended by the manufacturer or when in doubt:

a. Inflate the bladder using the oral tube and leave it overnight in a room with a constant temperature.   If the bladder loses pressure, take the lifejacket to an authorized service center for further tests.   Do not attempt to repair a life jacket yourself.   If there is no obvious loss of pressure, deflate the life jacket by turning the cap of the inflation tube upside down and pressing it into the inflation tube.   Gently squeeze the inflatable life jacket until all air has been expelled.   To avoid damage do not wring or twist the life jacket.

b. Repack the lifejacket as per manufacturer's instructions.   Ensure the pull-tab lanyard is accessible and unlikely to be inadvertently snagged when being worn.

Store your life jacket in a dry, well ventilated location away from dampness and out of direct sunlight.   It's important to rinse your life jacket with fresh water after salt water exposure and dry it thoroughly prior to storage.   If your life jacket is set for auto-inflation, remove the auto-inflation cartridge prior to rinsing.   The life jacket manufacturer may have specific requirements, so read the instructions on the lifejacket.

This safety alert is provided for informational purpose only and does not relieve any domestic or international safety, operational, or material requirements.  

Developed by the Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety and the Office of Investigations and Casualty Analysis.


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Originated 12-14-2010  Revised   01-21-2018