Not all life jackets or personal floatation devices(PFDs) are created equal. There are different types designed for different users as well as different uses.
As the open-water season approaches, it is important to inspect life jackets to ensure they are in good repair. Also, it is important to ensure every user has the correct life jacket for their day's adventures.
Proper fit is important, especially for children. When buying a life jacket for children, buying one with a strap between the legs is very important. Because children do not have shoulders wider than their body, a life jacket without this feature can often pop up over their heads and slip off.
Most life jacket manufacturers have a size chart, which is a good place to start when looking for a life jacket. From there, though, Kayak Angler recommends putting the jacket on, zipping it up, if the jacket has that option and then tightening the straps. If another person can pull the life jacket up over the ears of the wearer, the life jacket is too big, or needs to be tightened. If the jacket is to small, it may not provided the needed flotation. An improperly fitting life jacket may be just as bad as no life jacket at all. It is best to have life jackets for all activities that fit each wearer individually.
Types of PFDs
A type I life jacket will provide the most buoyancy. These can be used for impact sports and also when the weather is cold or in stormy conditions. They are designed for use when cruising, racing or fishing offshore.
"Type I will offer the most buoyancy," DNR warden supervisor Dave Walz said. "They will turn an unconscious person face up in the water, almost always. These jackets offer the best protection, but are bulky and uncomfortable.
A Type II is good for inland, protected water where chance of immediate rescue is high. They do perform poorly in rough water and may not turn the wearer face up. They are less buoyant then Type I, but they are more comfortable to wear.
A Type III PFD may be inflatable or inherently buoyant, and it more comfortable to wear than a Type I or II, but provides the wearer with far less floatation than a Type I. It is not suitable for extended time in rough water and will not turn the wearer face up.
A Type IV throwable device is required on motorized boats 16 feet and over, but they are recommended for all boats. Tying this throwable to a rope can be helpful. If a person attempts to throw a floatation cushion out to someone in the water and misses, having a rope tied to the throwable will allow a person to pull it back in and toss it again. In coast guard waters, having a rope tied to the throwable is mandatory.
"One thing we do see out there in non-motorized canoes or skiffs, some people are still under the assumption, and it used to be this way years back," Walz said, "but people are under the impression that just a small throwable cushion is good. But that law changed a long time ago." He said enforcement still runs into this and lets people know a wearable life jacket must be available to everyone in the boat.
Inflatable life jackets are becoming increasingly popular because they are lightweight and much more comfortable to wear. When choosing an inflatable, however, users should be aware that there are two different types. An automatic inflatable has a pill in it that will dissolve and set off a CO2 cartridge, which will inflate the life vest. If a boater is thrown from a boat and knocked unconscious, this life jacket will inflate automatically.
The other type of life jacket is a manual. With this type of inflatable, the wearer must pull the cord and inflate the jacket itself. It is important for a wearer to know which type they are purchasing. Accidents have happened when a wearer assumed a life jacket would inflate automatically and it did not because it was a manual life jacket.
These life jackets are not meant for impact sports. These are a favorite of anglers who are fishing in lakes or rivers. Most of these are rated as a Type III, but some inflatables are considered a Type V. This is important to know. A Type V inflatable PFD, in all state waters, is required to be worn in order to count for a life jacket onboard. A Type III is not. However, in coast guard waters, all inflatable life jackets must be worn in order to count for a life jacket onboard.
Float coats can be another option for cold weather days, but Walz said they must have a cost guard approved rating to be counted as a floatation device. There are also a number of jackets and specialty floatation devices that can be used while snowmobiling across water or ice fishing. Walz recommends snowmobilers and ice anglers look into a float coat for use during those activities. Wearing one of these, which can are as warm as many winter coats, may save a life should someone break through the ice.
If in doubt, when selecting life jackets for different on-the-water activities, speaking with someone a sales person at the local sporting goods store is usually the best option. These people will be able to make suggestions and even help with the fit of the life jacket. Also, regulations should be checked for the bodies of water on which the PDFs will be used as coast guard waters have much different regulations than inland waters.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at bgaskill@lakelandtimes. com.