As we pursue the sport we love, we often place ourselves in hazardous situations. The Santa Cruz Fly Fishermen Board supports an informative corner to sharpen our be smart and safe behaviors.

The Five Types of PFDs

Once you've decided to purchase a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), the next step is to figure out which one is right for you. PFDs come in a variety of different shapes, colors and materials. Some are made to be more streamlined, while others are made to protect you from hypothermia. No matter which type of PFD you choose, be sure to get the one that's right for you - because the best PFD is the one you will wear!
There are five different types of PFDs available. Here is a brief description of each of them:

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.
Buoyancy: at least 22 lbs
Advantages: Turns most unconscious wearers face-up in the water
Disadvantages: Bulky
These PFDs-or near-shore buoyancy vests-are for calm and open water where a rescue will most likely occur quickly. These are not designed for long periods in rough water, and will turn some-but not all-unconscious wearers face-up in the water. This vest is less bulky than a Type I, and often the least expensive of the PFD types.
Buoyancy: at least 15.5 lbs
Advantages: Turns some unconscious wearers face-up in the water
Disadvantages: Not meant for delayed rescue, or in rough waters
Type III PFDs-or flotation aids-are for calm and open water where a rescue will most likely occur quickly. These PFDs are designed to keep the wearer in a vertical position, but it is the wearers’ responsibility to maneuver themselves into a face-up position. Type III PFDs will keep unconscious wearers face-up just as well as a Type II vest. These types of vests are the most comfortable to wear, and popular for recreational boating and fishing.
Buoyancy: at least 15.5 lbs
Advantages: Available in many styles, generally the most comfortable type for continuous wear
Disadvantages: Not meant for delayed rescue, or in rough waters
These are designed to be thrown to a conscious person in the water. These are not designed to be worn. A few examples of a Type IV PFD are a buoyant cushion, a life ring, or a horseshoe buoy.
Advantages: Can be thrown to someone
Disadvantages: Not appropriate for an unconscious person, or children
These devices are to be worn for specific activities that will be described on the PFD's label. To be effective, Type V PFDs must be worn according to these specifications, and many must be worn at all times in order to qualify as a PFD. A Type V label will also list its performance as Type I, II, or III. A Type V PFD-like a full body survival suit-provides protection from hypothermia, and is best suited for cool climates as they can become quite warm in mild or hot weather.
Advantages: Useful for specific activities, continuous wear prevents being caught without protection
Disadvantages: Less safe if not used according to label specifications, some are only approved if worn

For more information on types of PFDs and safe boating practices, please visit the USCG Boating Safety Resource Center