PFD Classifications

PFD Classifications

4 minutes

Once you’ve decided to purchase a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), and that should be an easy decision, the next step is to figure out which one is right for you.

PFDs come in a variety of different shapes, colors and materials. No matter which type of PFD you choose, be sure to get the one that’s right for you – because the best PFD is the one you will wear!



Type I PFDs, or offshore lifejackets, are the most buoyant PFDs and suitable for all water conditions, including rough or isolated water where rescue may be delayed. Although bulky in comparison to Type II and III PFDs, offshore lifejackets will turn most unconscious individuals to the face-up position. They range in sizes from adult to child.

Type II


Type II PFDs – or near-shore buoyant vests – are for calm and inland water where a rescue will most likely occur quickly. These are not designed for long periods in rough water, and will turn some – but not all – unconscious wearers face-up in the water. This vest is less bulky and more comfortable than a Type I, and often the least expensive of the PFD types.


Type III


Type III PFDs – or flotation aids – are for calm and inland water where a rescue will most likely occur quickly. These PFDs are designed to keep the wearer in a vertical position, but it is the wearers’ responsibility to maneuver themselves into a face-up position. These types of PFDs are the most comfortable to wear, and popular for recreational boating and fishing. Type III PFD's can be coats, jackets and vests. Depending on the product, the wearer may have to tilt their head back to avoid being face down in the water. Type III PFDs are not meant for extended survival in rough water, as high waves may cover the wearer's face.


Type IV


These are designed to be thrown to a conscious person in the water. These are not designed to be worn. A few examples of a Type IV PFD are a buoyant cushion, a life ring, or a horseshoe buoy. What is the main advantage of a type IV PFD? Type IV PFD's can save a life, even if someone is in the water without their personal flotation device.



Type V


These special use devices are to be worn for specific activities that will be described on the PFD’s label. To be effective, Type V PFDs must be used according to these specifications, and many must be worn at all times in order to qualify as a PFD. A Type V label will also list its performance as Type I, II, or III.

Back to Resources