USCG and State Law Enforcement agencies require and/or recommend different Types of PFD's for different applications. Make sure you are aware of the requirements for your state before you select your PFD.
Most adults need an extra 7 to 12 pounds of buoyancy to keep their head above water. For a list of minimum buoyancy for each type of PFD, please download the Facts about Life Jackets brochure.
Offshore life jacket
This PFD is designed for extended survival in rough, open water. It usually will turn an unconscious person face up and has over 22 pounds of buoyancy. This is the best PFD to keep you afloat in remote regions where rescue may be slow in coming.
Near shore buoyant vest
This "classic" PFD comes in several sizes for adults and children and is for calm inland water where there is chance of fast rescue. It is less bulky and less expensive than an offshore and many will turn an unconscious person face-up in the water.
These life jackets are generally considered the most comfortable, with styles for different boating activities and sports. They are for use in calm water where there is good chance of fast rescue since they will generally not turn an unconscious person face-up. Flotation aids come in many sizes and styles.
These are designed to be thrown to a person in the water. Throwable devices include boat cushions, ring buoys, and horseshoe buoys. They are not designed to be worn and must be supplemented by wearable life jacket. It is important to keep these devices immediately available for emergencies, and they should not be used for small children, non-swimmers, or unconscious people.
Special use devices
Special use devices include boardsailing vests, deck suits, pullover vests, work vests, some hybrid life jackets, inflatable life jackets with ISAF/ORC harness and others. They are only appropriate for specific uses or conditions. Some meet the U.S. Coast Guard’s Carriage Regulations only if worn in accordance with the label.
Inflatable Life Jackets
Inflatable life jackets rely on inflatable chambers that provide buoyancy when inflated. Uninflated, inflatable life jackets are less bulky than inherently buoyant life jackets. Inflatables come in a variety of U.S. Coast Guard-defined performance types. The specific type of life jacket is determined by characteristics such as its amount of buoyancy, its in-water performance and its type of inflation mechanism. To understand the details of a life jacket, read the life jacket label and owners manual, and consult your dealer or retailer if necessary. All inflatables contain a backup oral inflation tube (which also serves as the deflation tube).
To learn more about how use these devices properly, visit the National Safe Boating Campaign's video on inflatable life jackets.