Part 2: Types of Life Jackets

Types of life jackets

The U.S. Coast Guard has two rating systems for PFDs.  In this article we will cover the traditional Performance Type rating system, this article (link) covers the more recent Performance Level system.  You should only buy USCG approved PFDs which will be labeled with”

  1. A Type
  2. An intended use
  3. A Coast Guard Approval Number.


In Part 2 of our introduction series we will cover types of life jackets, their pros and cons and when you should use them.


We will cover how to read life jacket labels in Part 3: “How to Read Life Jacket Labels.”

Pros and Cons of Standard vs Inflatable PFD

There are two main categories of PFDs:


  • Standard or inherently buoyant
  • Inflatable

Standard PFDs


These are the life jackets most people think of when they imagine a life jacket.  for the most part, they are Type III PFDs and are used mainly by kayakers, paddle boarders and canoers.


These PFDs are bulky and filled with a floatation material like foam.   



Standard PFD Pros:


  • They do not require inflation.
  • They are easy to maintain.
  • They can be used for many kinds of water sports from kayaking to waterskiing and wakeboarding.
  • They are warm and can help protect you from hypothermia.
  • Pockets!  Definitely not a feature of inflatable PFDs.

Standard PFD Cons:


  • They are bulky, which can make them uncomfortable.
  • They are hot!  While it is nice to know they can keep you warm if you fall in the water, that means they can get hot while you play in the sun.

Inflatable PFDs


Normally Type III or V, inflatable PFDs are a newer type of PFD that come in vest and waist pack design.  Inflatable life jackets also come in automatic CO2 cartridge inflation and manual inflation types.



Inflatable PFD Pros:


  • They are more comfortable.
  • The offer greater range of motion.
  • They allow you to stay cooler.

Inflatable PFD Cons:


  • They require inflation! If you are unconscious a manual inflating PFD offers no protection.  Conversely, if you are using an automatic PFD and get splashed with water while kayaking or paddle boarding it will inflate automatically.
  • They require regular maintenance and CO2 cartridges must be replaced after every inflation.
  • They are specifically designed for certain sports like water skiing, or white water kayaking, and are only meant for people 16 or older who can swim.

Type I Inherently Buoyant Life Jacket

These PFDs are true life jackets.  They only come in adult sizes, and are not available to the general public.



The Type I is designed for rescue situations in open rough or remote water.


The bulk of a Type I makes restricts freedom of motion and helps keep you warm.



Will turn most unconscious people from a face down position to a vertical and slightly backward position, greatly increasing the chance of survival.



22 lbs.

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