By Mike Readling
The summer has barely gotten under way and already there have been a couple of
tragic deaths along the Intracoastal Waterway. Deaths that, with the most basic
of precautions, likely could have been avoided.
The United States Coast Guard has very clear rules regarding life jackets and their role on boats.
In Florida, every vessel must have onboard a wearable, USCG-approved personal flotation device for each person. The PFDs
must be of the appropriate size for the intended wearer, be in serviceable
condition, and within easy access. The state urges everyone on board a moving
boat to wear one of these life jackets at all times.
Vessels 16 feet in length or longer must also have at least one USCG-approved throwable
Type IV PFD that is immediately available in case of a fall overboard. And any
child under the age of 6 must wear a USCG-approved Type I, II or III personal
flotation device while onboard a vessel under 26 feet in length while the
vessel is under way.
The Coast Guard has developed a rating system for PFDs, evaluating each device on
its usefulness in certain situations. The most important devices for boaters
are Types-I, II and III. Type-IV are throwable devices such as life rings and
floating cushions that can be thrown to a person in distress. These are for use
in calm waters only.
The top of the list is Type-I devices. These are geared for rough or remote waters
where rescue may take a while. They provide the most buoyancy, are excellent
for flotation, and will turn most unconscious people face-up in the water.
These devices are generally bright orange, very rigid and incorporate
reflectors, whistles and sometimes even water-activated flash beacons.
A good example of a Type-I device is the Type-I Foam Life Jacket. These retail
for around $45 to $50 each. While they are designed to withstand extreme seas
and they won’t get waterlogged, they are not appropriate for continuous wear.
Type-II devices are considered near-shore devices. These vests are good for calm waters
when quick assistance or rescue is likely. Type-II vests will turn some
unconscious wearers face-up in the water, but the turning is not as pronounced
as with a Type-I. These are the orange vests that you see almost any time you
see another boat with life vests. They are not usually as rigid as, and are a
little more lightweight than, the Type-I vests. And they tend to be easy to put
on, simply putting the collar around your neck and buckling a strap in front.
Type-II Near-Shore Buoyant Vests can be bought for between $9 and $25 each. They are
lightweight and perfect for stowing, just in case you pack a few more people
than expected on your boat. Many times, these come in a four-pack that can be
stored neatly as whole.
Revere Supply makes ComfortMax Inflatable Life Vests, which retail for between $180
and $240, depending on if you get the auto-inflate or the manual inflate
The auto-inflatable vests are Type-II rated, while the manual model is rated
Type-III. These are the thin vests that wrap around your neck and then down the
front of your body. They don’t restrict movement and inflate either when you
hit the water, or pull the inflate tab located on the bottom right on the
Type-III are floatation aids. These vests or full-sleeved jackets are good for calm
waters when quick assistance or rescue is likely. They are not for rough waters,
since they will not turn most unconscious persons face-up.
Type-III PFDs are used for water sports, such as water-skiing and wakeboarding. Some
Type-III PFDs are designed to inflate when you enter the water. Generally
speaking, these are what jet skiers are wearing. They look like vests and
usually have three buckles on the front.
The Medalist Vest retails for about $70 and is a prime example of a Type-III
device. It is a vest-type device with wide-cut arms to allow for a wide range
of motion when paddling a kayak or canoe. Three straps keep it snug.