by Art Swanson
This issue will focus on PFD’S, Personal Flotation Devices. For a great history lesson on PFD’s, you can ago on Wikipedia under that heading.
Having moved from offshore (Ocean) boating to Inshore (lake/river) boating has shown me some PFD changes. There are currently five types of PFD’s. Type 1 is Offshore, Type 2 is Near Shore, Type 3 are Flotation Aids, Type 4 are Throwable Devices, and Type 5 are Special Use Devices.
One of the most important decisions for proper PFD selection is the boater’s use. If you are using the boat in oceans and lakes, the Type 1 PFD for everyone on board would be the best choice. Although bigger and bulkier than a Type 2, you would float better for longer periods of time. Also, if boarded by the Coast Guard or Marine Patrol in ocean waters, you would avoid a ticket and/or being returned to port. Having them on a lake or river would just give you a better PFD for that type boating. Type 1’s have the best buoyancy and will keep you afloat the best.
Whenever boating on rivers and lakes, then Type 2 is more than adequate. The Coast Guard has now allowed yellow as well as orange coloring for this type.
Type 3 is usually used for wind surfing, paddle boarding, canoeing and kayaking. These are thin and can be colorful.
Type 4 are throwable devices. Larger boats use a round ring buoy. Smaller boats use a square cushion with two straps or a plastic float. These are not worn by people; usually thrown to people. In the last 20 years, the Coast Guard wants a retrieval rope attached to these devices when used. In the old days, these were considered PFDS’s, but not by today’s standards. The square cushion style should be checked at the beginning of each season for seaworthiness. Take the straps, one in each hand, and pull sharply. If a strap breaks, purchase a new one. The Coast Guard and Marine Patrol use this method for testing the devices. Having them break may get you a ticket. The latest is a plastic float with a line attached in a pouch labeled for safety. In an emergency, simply pull the float and rope out of the pouch and toss it to a person overboard. Tying the other end of the rope to a cleat will make sure the device will get the overboard person back to the boat and you not being pulled overboard, too.
Last, but not least, are the Type 5’s. These are the specialty types; water skiing, animals, etc.
All PFD’s should have a Coast Guard approved label and type listed on them. All of the types that I have listed so far are the solid style ones.
In the last 25 years, a new style has been introduced for boating. These are the inflatable PFD’s. There are two styles, manual and automatic. They are way less bulky when worn, and are offered for Type 2 and Type 3 style PFD’s. They are both usually powered by a CO2 cartridge. A manual one means that you have to pull a cord to get it to inflate. An automatic one will inflate when you hit the water. These are similar to the ones a flight attendant explains when you fly on an airplane. This type of PFD is usually more expensive and has to be maintained. The cartridges are date coded and are only good for three years. Coast Guard and Marine Patrol may ask to check the cartridge for dates.
One last PFD, probably a Type 5, is a flotation coat. It looks like a winter jacket, has long sleeves, and is sold online and in marine stores. It has buoyancy built into it. The USCG has categorized this type of device as an approved Type 3.
All PFD’s are usually categorized by chest size for adults and by weight for children. Having extra PFD’s on board for guests is always a good idea, for both adults and children. They should be easily available, not left in the new plastic wrapper, and all patrols like to see them on when boating. Showing adults and children how to put them on is always a great precaution. Demonstrating how to use the Type 4 is a plus also.
Hopefully, I have shed some light on PFD’s for new and old boaters.
As I close, I spoke with the Coast Guard at the Georgetown, SC show and they informed me that they are changing the type designations for PFD’s. They did not give me any more information, so if anybody knows more, please contact me so I can give all an update.