Lifejacket features and benefits

Lifejacket features and benefits will help you choose a Life jacket for your purpose. Life jackets are your key to safety when in trouble on the water. Having the basic 15.5 lbs flotation of a type III PFD or the additional flotation of a fully blown 63lbs buoyancy of a professional lifejacket help you float and survive.

In the US the Coast Guard specifies Life jackets into 5 designations, Type 1 through V. The Coast Guard specifies that all recreational boats must carry one wearable PFD (Type I, II, III or Type V PFD) for every person aboard.

Life jackets come in two main types. One is the inherent buoyancy type i.e. they have built in solid buoyancy and then there is the Inflatable type; a bladder which is filled with air. Whn we talk about a Lifejacket, Life jacket, Life Vest, Life Preserver, or PFD, we are refer to the same thing.

What are you required to carry onboard your boat?

USCG regulations

Kru Professional life jacket
Kru Professional life jacket

Boats over 16 feet; One approved Type I, II or III PFD for each person on board or being towed on water skis, etc.; and one throwable Type IV device. ( A type V PFD may be used in lieu of any wearable PFD, if approved for the activity in which it is being used. A TYPE V HYBRID MUST be worn to be legal.) A type IV lifejacket is required for all boats over 16ft. This is a Throwable flotation device.

Boats under 16 feet; One approved Type I, II, III or V (must be worn) PFD for each person on board or being towed on water skis, tubes, etc.


A TYPE I PFD, or OFFSHORE LIFE JACKET provides the most buoyancy. Designed for use in all waters, especially open, rough, or remote waters where rescue may be delayed. It is designed to turn most unconscious wearers in the water to a face-up position.

The biggest problem with the Type I shown in the picture is that you are unlikely to wear it, as they restrict your movements. These are often seen at the cruise liners safety practice. For the recreational boater however you are unlikely to wear it. So choose somthing esier to wear.

Type I PFDs come in these versions;

  • Inherently Buoyant Type I PFDs – SOLAS Service
  • Inherently Buoyant Type I PFDs – U.S. Service
  • Inflatable Type I PFDs – SOLAS and Domestic
  • Hybrid Type I PFDs – US Services

TYPE I buoyancy rating;

  • Inherent Buoyant Foam Adult 22 lbs (100N)
  • Inherent Buoyant Foam Child size, 11 lbs (50N)
  • Inflatable 33.0lbs (150N)




A TYPE II PFD, NEAR-SHORE BUOYANT VEST is intended for calm, inland water or where there is a good chance of quick rescue. This type will turn some unconscious wearers to a face-up position.

The turning action is not as pronounced nor as effective as a TYPE I.

An adult size provides at least 15.5 pounds buoyancy, a medium child size provides 11 pounds. Infant and small child sizes each provide at least 7 pounds buoyancy.

Type II PFDs come in these versions;

  • Inherently Buoyant Type II PFDs
  • Inflatable Type II PFDs
  • Hybrid Type II PFDs

TYPE II Buoyancy ratings;

  • Inflatable 33.0 lbs (150N)
  • Buoyant Foam 15.5 lbs (70N)


Stearns Type III
Stearns Type III

A TYPE III PFD, or personal floatation device, is good for calm, inland water, or where there is a good chance of quick rescue. Very popular with small boat sailors, water-skiers, jet boats, fisherman etc.

The PFD’s buoyancy will aid in the case of falling in the water, but will not turn unconscious wearers to a face-up position. TYPE III has the same minimum buoyancy as a TYPE II PFD.

Type III PFDs come in these versions;

  • Inherently Buoyant Type III PFDs
  • Inflatable Type III PFDs
  • Hybrid Type III PFDs

TYPE III Buoyancy Ratings;

  • Inflatable 22.0 lbs (100N)
  • Buoyant Foam 15.5 lbs (70N)




Stearns Throwable cushion
Stearns Throwable cushion

A TYPE IV PFD, or THROWABLE DEVICE is designed to be thrown to a person in the water and grasped and held by the user until rescued. This device can get flotation very quickly to the person in the water or MOB. The most common Type IV is the ring buoy and also includes buoyant cushions and horseshoe buoys.

TYPE IV Buoyancy rating ;

  • Ring Buoys 16.5 lbs (75N)
  • Boat Cushions 18 lbs (82N)




Mustang Survival Type V & Inflatable belt type V
Mustang Survival Type V & Inflatable belt type V

A TYPE V PFD, or SPECIAL USE DEVICE is intended for specific activities and may be carried instead of another PFD only if used according to the approval condition on the label. Some Type V devices provide hypothermia protection. Varieties include deck suits, work vests, board sailing vests, and Hybrid PFDs.

A TYPE V HYBRID INFLATABLE PFD is the least bulky. It contains a small amount of inherent buoyancy and an inflatable chamber and must be worn when underway to be acceptable. This type is designed to automatically inflate upon entering the water. Type V inflatables do not count toward the 1 lifejacket per person regulation.

Type V buoyancy ratings;

  • Inflatable 22.0 to 34.0 lbs (100 to 155N)
  • Buoyant Foam 15.5 to 22.0 lbs (70- 100 N)



Inflatable life jackets


Inflatables are very popular as they can be worn without the bulk of an inherent foam lifejacket. The wearer dons the Inflatable and pulls the straps to fit the body.

When you fall in the water the inflatable will inflate automatically. They can also be blown up manually in case of malfunction.

These are highly visible when inflated and turn most wearers and unconscious users face-up faster than traditional PFD’s. Many inflatables have more buoyancy than foam types.

Inflatables have additional options like leg straps, spray hood, strobe light etc

Non USCG approved lifejackets


There are several European Life jackets and inflatables that are very good, but do not have USCG approval. The approval process is expensive for many. However this does not mean you should ignore them

Offshore racing sailboat crews like the Spinlock deckware inflatable

The Deckvest is a light PFD auto inflate with rip away zippered enclosure with built in high intensity signal light, a harness made by Petzl of rock-climbing fame. Reflective strips are on the 150N inflated bladder plus a spray hood with see through face panel.



This lifejacket is EU certified.

ISP Challenger
ISP Challenger

The ISP Challenger series offers the highest flotation that are worn by professionals’

This inflatable is used on offshore oil rigs, Harbour and marine construction companies, Port management companies, and Workboat operators. Wokers wear heavy clothing so need extra buoyancy.


  • Buoyancy 66lbs (300N)
  • Lightweight, comfortable and unrestrictive when working.
  • Patented interlocking lobe design bladder
  • High visibility, neon bladder fabric
  • Wide range of options and spares available (including PVC, nylon or Panotex covers)


Child life jackets

Mustang Lil’ Legends
Mustang Lil’ Legends

Infants and small children are hard to keep floating in a face-up position, and sometimes don’t like wearing a PFD.

Child lifejackets should have a means of pulling the child from the water by the lifejacket. The straps to pull them from the water should be easily accessible and pull the child vertical upward.

The Mustang Lil’ Legends have been popular, since they are well made in high-visibility colors. Having bright colors and designs make it more acceptable to the child to wear.


Lifejacket FAQs  
Which has more buoyancy foam or inflatable Generally inflatables do; see USCG regs
Inherent buoyancy or inflatable See types of Lifejacket below
If you think just donning a lifejacket will save your life think again MAIB report of the sinking of Ouzo
Auto inflate lifejacket can inflate if it gets wet. This can be true, see auto inflator types below
How much buoyancy do I need. See Keep your chin above the water below
Can I carry an inflatable through airport security See TSA & Airline regulations below
Do I need a USCG approved lifejacket No, as long as the boat has the required 1 lifejacket per person aboard, your personal PFD can be anything you prefer.
Should I use an auto inflate for dinghy sailing or watersports No, the auto inflate may go off when least needed.
Can Kids wear auto inflates Kids under 16 must wear a foam lifejacket



How much buoyancy do you need?


Keep your chin above the water. The minimum required to turn an unconscious person on their back and head up is 34lbs, (150N) .

  Lifejacket use manufacturers
275N=63lbs Commercial auto inflate for workers wearing heavy clothing ISP Challenger
150N=34lbs The most popular size Mustang & Coastal West Marine

This distance from the water to your mouth is called freeboard. If knocked unconscious in the water, the added freeboard offered by Type I PFDs may save your life by keeping your airway unobstructed. Type II and Type III PFDs lack the flotation and righting force to keep wearers face up with an unobstructed airway.

USCG approved Type III inflatables have to average 3″ of freeboard and Type II must average 3.75″.

What’s the “Best” life jacket for me

The one you’re willing to wear!

Regulations dictate the life jackets you need onboard. That however does not man you have to wear them. If you sail on someone else’s boat you may want to bring your own PFD if you have a favorite. Your own PFD means you know it fits; it is working and is comfortable.

How to wear your lifejacket


If you wear a lifejacket you need to tighten the straps. If you do not and end up in the water, the floatation will raise the lifejacket to the surface and you fall out of the lifejacket or have it ride up over your head.

Check Life Jacket Fit; One test to know if your lifejacket fits properly and is synched up properly, is to have someone stand behind you and try and pull the lifejacket over your head. If the lifejacket rides up over your head it’s either too big or the adjusting straps need tightening.

A useful read into practical lifejacket use is found at the Marine Accident Investigation Beureau. The MAIB report is the investigation on the sinking of the 25ft yacht ouzo in the UK. Three of the crew drowned despite wearing lifejackets. The report looks into how the crew could have survived. Below are excerpts from the report. Each member of Ouzos crew had a fully functioning lifejacket. However, none had lights fitted to them. The report further concludes that simply fitting crotch straps to the lifejackets, which are normally sold as a cheap optional extra, would have enabled them to have stayed in the correct donning position.

Conclusion; Lifejackt extras will make a difference. Items like crotch or leg straps stop the life jacket riding up and therefore keep your chin above the water. A spray hood will keep your air way clear. A light or strobe and reflective tape, will help you get spotted. A whistle will also help you get attention.



Inflatable Life jacket

Types of auto inflate mechanism

Halkey Roberts
Halkey Roberts

Principally there are two methods, hydrostatic and water soluble. Hydrostatic models are less likely to go off when they get wet.

The hammer is a hydrostatic device and only goes of after the device is held under water by 100mm or 4 inches. The inflator is not designed to go ff in waves or spray as seen in the video. The Hammar device is USCG approved. Cost of re arm kit around $75.

The Halkey Roberts auto inflator device is water activated by a water soluble powder, which dissolves when wet triggering the device. Cost of re arm kit can be under $20.

Manufacturers like Mustang have models with either the Hammer (MD3183 & MD3184) or Halkey Roberts trigger MD3083 & MD3084.

Service; To maintain the inflation device always have a full cylinder and all status indicators on the inflator must be green. There are 3 categories of status indicators.

1F is used on automatic inflators and has a “single point” which when green indicates

3F is for manual inflators only

6F is for automatic inflators and has a “two point” status indicator one for the capsule and one for cartridge.

Manual backup; When you inflate a manual PFD by pulling the tab hanging from the PFD, a small pin pierces the CO2 cylinder that fills the inflatable bladder to capacity. Oral tubes, are simple valves, which can be inflated by the wearer

Airline carry on regulations

co2 canister TSA carry on regulations use this link & scroll down to;

Disabling Chemicals & Other Dangerous Items Carry-on Checked Small compressed gas cartridges (Up to 2 in life vests and 2 spares. The spares must accompany the life vests and presented as one unit). Carry a copy of the regulations when you fly or check with the airline. These regulations do change.

There are two issues; one getting through security (see TSA rules) and then getting on the plane. For the TSA read and copy the regulations, and for the airline call ahead to check their policy.

Lifejacket procedures/maintenance

It is a U.S. Coast Guard requirement that your lifejacket is in serviceable condition.

  • Make sure you have a lifejackets that fits
  • know where the lifejackets are stowed, and try one on, maybe even mark it.
  • Owners need One lifejacket per person aboard, but what about sizes.
  • Make sure you have the proper sizes for all.
  • Children and non swimmers need to wear at all times.
  • Clean and dry
  • For washing disarm auto inflate by unscrewing arming head
  • Check lifejackets once a year. Check for UV damage, rotting webbing or fabric
  • For auto inflates, Check gas cylinders, (green)
  • Arming devices need inspection windows
  • Check for leaks, inflate with oral tube for 24hrs



USCG labels

Lifejackets that have USCG approval are fitted with this label.

Here you will see that this buoyancy aid is a; Type III Adult 40-44 inch chest.


Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association This resource will help you with all sorts of questions about PFDs.

Extras count; have a light, spray hood, crotch strap, grab handle, SOLAS reflective tapes, integral harness,

USCG specs for lifejackets

Boater exam link with State by State boating regulations

Non USCG inflatables; Other regulators governing life preservers are SOLAS (MCA save out lives at sea), and CE the European governing body.