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Boating Safety – Life Vest And Life Jacket Types

Life Jackets

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Boating is one of the greatest pastimes of our day. There’s something about the water and sun that will fill you with so much joy that it seems like a taste of heaven. Boating is going to give you so many unforgettable experiences. The kinds of experiences that you can’t get anywhere else. This is why if you are considering getting into boating, you should go for it.

When you get into boating, you need to make sure safety is the number one priority. There are several dangerous situations that you might encounter when away from shore. Too many people today end up drowning because they are not prepared. This is why for maximum enjoyment, you must put safety first whenever you get on the water.

Preparation Is Prevention

You should know what to do in dangerous situations so that if they arise, you will be well prepared for them. But safety is more than just knowing what to do, you also need to have safety equipment around. One of the most important things to have onboard any boat is a life vest. Having these flotation devices around is not only required by law, but they can also be the difference between life and death when things go bad. You should never leave shore without bringing one of these for each member of your party, ever.

We’ve all worn life vests at some point in our lives, but you probably never paid much attention to them. It’s only when you have to get one for yourself that you realize that there is no one-size-fits-all device. Instead, there are several types of vests designed for every situation. You shouldn’t grab the first life vest you see, because that may not suit your needs. Instead, you should take the time to study the different types of life vests so you can select the right one.

Today, we’re going to have an in-depth look at life vests and all their different types. We’ll have a look at the different materials, buoyancy levels, uses, and more. With all these in mind, you will know exactly what you are looking for when getting a life vest. So without further adieu, let’s get started.


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How Life Vests Work

We all know what life vests do, but have you ever wondered how they do it? To understand how life vests work, we need to understand first why things float. It’s not weight, otherwise, pebbles would float and large ships would sink. Rather, it is the buoyancy and density of an object that determines whether it will sink or float.

Buoyancy is the force that pushes objects upwards in water. Have you noticed how things weigh so much less when underwater? This is not because gravity is weaker underwater. It’s because another force, buoyancy, is pushing the object up at the same time. Density has to do with how compact a certain object is. You can say that a rock is very dense because it is completely solid, while a sponge isn’t dense because it is full of air.

If gravity pulls downwards and buoyancy pushes upwards, what determines whether an object floats or sinks? It is the density of the object. In liquids, the denser liquid goes down. This is why if you mix oil and water, the oil will always rise to the top since it is less dense than water. The same is true for solids submerged in water. If the object is denser than the water, it will sink. On the flip side, a less dense object will stay afloat.

Human Buoyancy

Humans are very interesting when it comes to buoyancy. Two-thirds of our bodies are made up of water. This is why we have almost exactly the same density as water. This fact makes our floating or sinking depend on other factors. It’s why some of us are strong swimmers, while others will drown if they can’t reach the bottom. This is also why it only takes a little extra buoyancy, around 7-12 pounds, for us to stay above water completely. This is where life vests come in.

Life vests are made of light materials that trap air. Some life vests use foam, while others inflate using air itself. Either way, the air trapped in the life vest makes its density very low. This is why it is very difficult to put a life vest underwater. Submerged, the air trapped in the life vest will meet a strong buoyant force that will give it an upward push. You are going to need something heavy and dense to bring one of these down. This is why when you put on a life vest, it is going to be more than enough to keep you afloat. And as long as you have a life vest on, you can be sure that you won’t sink to the bottom.

That said, it is still very important that you choose the right life vest for the right situation. You might think that since all life vests will keep you afloat, you can use any one of them. But this isn’t true, because floating is not all there is to survive in the water. There are other factors you have to keep in mind when choosing a life vest. This brings us to our next question: what are the different types of life saving devices?

Types of Life Vests

Yes, all life vests are going to keep you afloat. But you don’t want to be wearing a large bulky life vest while doing water sports, do you? In the same way, you don’t want to be wearing a light life vest if you get caught in a storm on the open ocean. The good news is that choosing the right one is not guesswork. There are five types of life vests that cover all your possible needs. Let’s have a look at each one of these types and what exactly they are for.


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Type I: Offshore Life Vests

When you’re traveling over the open ocean, you will want the best and most reliable life vest. You want one that is heavy-duty. One that will keep you above the water no matter how rough the sea gets. One that will keep you alive even though help may take a long time to arrive. If you are looking for the most buoyant life vest you can get, you should get a type 1 life vest.

Type 1 life vests, also known as offshore life vests, are very strong and buoyant. They provide you with 22 pounds of flotation, more than most other PFDs. In survival situations, these are the best to have around. Type 1 devices are designed in such a way that it is nearly impossible for your head to go under. It is big and bulky so that your head will be well over the water. But not only that, but it is also designed to flip your face up should you ever lose consciousness in the water. If you put one of these on, you can almost be certain that you won’t drown.

Multiple Protection

It isn’t only drowning that type 1 life vests protect you from though. When you’re in the water for a prolonged amount of time, you are also at risk of hypothermia. Type 1 life vests have a lot of foam and fabric which will keep you warm. This is why when venturing to places where help may take longer to arrive, you should bring along a type 1 life vest.

One downside to the type 1 PFDs is that they are bulky. Type 1 life vests were designed to keep you above the water no matter what, this is why they have to be bulky. Unfortunately, this bulkiness makes swimming rather difficult. That said, swimming isn’t going to do you a lot of good if you are in rough seas or open ocean anyway. So this isn’t much of a problem. But the bulkiness does make type 1 devices uncomfortable and somewhat awkward to wear. Plus, there aren’t any inflatable type 1 vests that are coast guard approved yet.

Type II: Near-Shore Life Vests

Type 1 vests are the most reliable life vests out there, but not everybody needs them. For times when you are closer to shore, type 2 PFDs will be more suitable. With 15.5 pounds of buoyancy, type 2 life vests are going to give you all the flotation you need for calmer waters. Although not exactly comfortable, type 2 life vests are a lot better than type 1s in this regard.

There are a few downsides for type 2 vests. One is that they aren’t very effective in rough waters. You have to be a strong swimmer to survive rough waters in a type 2 life vest. They are also not suitable for prolonged amounts of time in the water. Type 2 vests will keep you up, but they won’t be much good if you can’t get help quickly. Type 2 vests can flip an unconscious person face-up, but it is not guaranteed to do this like type 1s are.

One advantage type 2 has over type 1 is that there is an inflatable version. While inflatable type 2s are more expensive, they have plenty of features you can enjoy. One is that this is a lot more buoyant than their foam counterparts. Inflatable type 2 types give you up to 33 pounds of buoyancy; that’s more than a type 1! Inflatable life vests inflate either manually by pulling a cord, or automatically when submerged in water. Either way, they aren’t puffed up all the time, which makes them very comfortable to wear out of the water.


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Type III: Flotation Aid Life Vests

If type 1 gives you the greatest buoyancy but least comfort, type 3 gives you the exact opposite. These are the life vests that you should get if you are into water sports. The comfort and mobility that they give you will be perfect for your activities. Plus, they aren’t that bad at flotation either. Type 3 PFDs give you 15.5 pounds of buoyancy, the same as a type 2.

Like everything else though, there are some downsides to type 3s. Type 1s flip you face up all the time, type 2s flip you face up sometimes, but type 3s don’t flip you face up at all. In fact, you have to lean your head back a little to avoid getting your face underwater. This is why type 3s can’t help an unconscious person in the water. Also, you should never use type 3s in rough or isolated waters. They are great for near-shore activities with people around, but other than that, you shouldn’t use a type 3.

Type 3 life vests also have an inflatable counterpart. This inflatable vest has a buoyancy of 22 pounds, the same as a type 1 but not quite as buoyant as an inflatable type 2. They have the same advantages as inflatable type 2s: more comfort and buoyancy. But they also have the same disadvantages: expensive and needs to be inflated first.

Type IV: Throwable Devices

Type 4 is not a life vest. Rather these are flotation devices that you throw to someone in need. Although these are not life vests, you should know about them because it is required to bring a type 4 PFD on board. Keep in mind though that type 4s cannot be your only PFD. You need to have one of these besides your type 1, 2, or 3 life vest.

Type 4 PFDs such as ring buoys, horseshoe buoys, and flotation cushions are designed to be thrown at someone in trouble. The person can then grab the PFD to stay afloat and be pulled back to safety.

Type V: Special Use Life Vests

Type 5 life vests are special life vests that are only used for specific purposes. They serve a variety of different purposes. Anything specialized, from deck suits to kayaking vests, classifies as a type 5. As for performance, most type 5s will either have a type 2 or type 3 performance. Their buoyancy ranges around 15.5 to 22 pounds. Make sure you check the label to find out its specifications and what exactly it is for.

How to Choose a Life Vest

By now, you should have a good idea of what type of life vest you should get for yourself. You should know if you need a type 1, 2, 3, or 5 life vest. Yet there is more to choosing one than knowing which type to get. There are other pointers you should keep in mind to get the best one.


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One of the most important things to look at when choosing a life vest is the size. You need to find one that fits you perfectly. If you get the wrong size, your life vest isn’t going to be effective. No matter how buoyant it is, it won’t be able to keep you up if it is too big or small. Be sure to try on your life vest before purchasing. You should also perform some paddling motions to ensure that the vest isn’t too tight for you.

Life vests are usually made of either nylon or neoprene, and you may be wondering which one is better. Both materials have their pros and cons. If you’re looking for a life vest that is light, comfortable, and snug-fitting, neoprene is for you. Usually, the type 3’s that are perfect for water sports. If you would rather have a life vest that is more durable and a lot cheaper, nylon life vests are the better choice.

Life Vest Uses

When purchasing a life vest, always keep in mind what you intend to use it for. Check if there is a type 5 specialized vest for that purpose. If there is, then this should be the best vest for you. If not, you can still find a vest that will suit your needs more than others. If you’re going to be paddling and swimming a lot, you should look for a vest with wide cuts around the arms. If you’re going on a fishing trip, you may want a life vest with plenty of pockets and hooks to hang your tools.

It is also very important that you check your local coast guard regulations first. One of the reasons why type 2s are so common is because, in some places, type 3s aren’t allowed for certain boating activities. So make sure you get a life vest that complies with your local regulations.

Lastly, choose a life vest that you like. Yes, life vests are there to save your life. But this doesn’t mean they can’t look great. Choosing a life vest is more than finding one that suits your needs. You should find one that suits your style as well. Life vests come in a variety of colors and designs. So you’re sure to find one that is perfect for you.


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