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Five Types of PFD's

Once you’ve decided to purchase a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), the next step is to figure out which one is right for you.

PFDs come in a variety of different shapes, colors and materials. Some are made to be more streamlined, while others are made to protect you from hypothermia. 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!

There are five different types of PFDs available. Here is a brief description of each of them:

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 jackets will turn most unconscious individuals to the face-up position. They range in sizes from adult to child.

Buoyancy: at least 22 lbs

Advantages: Turns most unconscious wearers face-up in the water

Disadvantages: Bulky

Type II

These PFDs – or near-shore buoyancy vests – are for calm and open 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 than a Type I, and often the least expensive of the PFD types.

Buoyancy: at least 15.5 lbs

Advantages: Turns some unconscious wearers face-up in the water

Disadvantages: Not meant for delayed rescue, or in rough waters

Type III

Type III PFDs – or flotation aids – are for calm and open 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. Type III PFDs will keep unconscious wearers face-up just as well as a Type II vest. These types of vests are the most comfortable to wear, and popular for recreational boating and fishing.

Buoyancy: at least 15.5 lbs

Advantages: Available in many styles, generally the most comfortable type for continuous wear

Disadvantages: Not meant for delayed rescue, or in rough waters

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.

Advantages: Can be thrown to someone

Disadvantages: Not appropriate for an unconscious person, or children

Type V

These 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 worn 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. A Type V PFD – like a full body survival suit – provides protection from hypothermia, and is best suited for cool climates as they can become quite warm in mild or hot weather.

Advantages: Useful for specific activities, continuous wear prevents being caught without protection
Disadvantages: Less safe if not used according to label specifications, some are only approved if worn

For more information on types of PFDs and safe boating practices, please visit the USCG Boating Safety Resource Centre (hyperlink to


A Leader In Commercial Marine Safety - America's First And Only Inflatable Work Vest

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), drowning after a fall overboard is the second leading cause of death among all commercial fishermen. There is no question work vests are essential, but what do commercial workers, including fishermen, really know and think about wearing PFDs?

In a study commissioned by NIOSH to find out if commercial fishermen were aware of current PFD options and how wearable these products were in their current work environment, six products, including Mustang Survival’s MD3188 Inflatable Work Vest, were selected and used by 400 Alaskan fishermen to be rated based on usability factors most important while they worked.

Of the six PFDs selected, the MD3188 was the highest rated PFD based on its lightweight design, durability, easy to clean fabric, and hydrostatic activation system that eliminates accidental inflation due to rain and spray. The easy-of-use and comfort made it a favorite on deck and the only PFD in the study to receive a four-star rating. The MD3188 is also the first and only USCG-approved inflatable work vest on the market.

Law Enforcement Buoyancy Research

July 18, 2012

All types of users rely on our equipment in unpredictable environments and for law enforcement officers this is especially true. That’s why we conducted a research study specifically targeting the buoyancy requirements for the law enforcement community.


What Is The Most Visible Color That Can Be Worn When In The Water?

November 28, 2011

A new study entitled On-Water Visibility, conducted by Mustang Survival, and sponsored in part by WorkSafeBC's Research Secretariat program, found that florescent green immersion suits routinely beat standard oranges, reds, and yellows in terms of visual detection in water – particularly in low-light conditions.

Lead researcher Wendell Uglene, Research Manager for Mustang Survival, says he conducted the study "to find which colour was most conspicuous when floating on the water because we simply didn’t know."

WorkSafeBC Research Secretariat director suggests Mustang Survival's study might prove useful in the eventual adoption of international standards for safety equipment.

Author: product_admin - September 1, 2011
Did you know that being submerged in cold water for just 20 minutes can lead to hypothermia, unconsciousness, and even death?


The leading-edge study was conducted in partnership with a well known North American Law Enforcement agency and helped determined if the current approved buoyancy requirement for inflatable PFDs is adequate to protect a fully equipped officer from drowning.

By partnering with the law enforcement agency, we were able to conduct specific tests with an officer and the relevant equipment, something that had not been done before. The findings from this study continue to determine our optimal flotation equipment designs for law enforcement professionals.

Click here to download this paper