Wear It!

All About Life Jackets - Personal Flotation Devices

Life Jackets are categorized by 3 different kinds of construction.

  1. Inherently Buoyant which is primarily foam;
  2. Inflatable which uses what is termed an air bladder; and
  3. Hybrid which is a combination of foam and inflation.

It is helpful to understand the term inherently buoyant because not everyone is equally buoyant. Understanding buoyancy will help in choosing the best flotation device for each individual. Generally adults will need an extra 7-12 lbs of buoyancy to keep their heads above water. However weight is not the only consideration. Body fat, lung size, clothing, and water conditions -rough versus calm- all play a part in buoyancy.


Higher Buoyancy Means Higher Lift


Inherently Buoyant

For Swimmers and Non-Swimmers

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from West Marine

Type I:

  • Most buoyant. For offshore use where recovery time can be prolonged.
  • Will float unconscious victim in face-up position.
  • For Adult use only - minimum buoyancy is 22 lbs.


Type I

Type II:

  • For near shore use - Good chance of speedy rescue.
  • PFD is Life Jacket.
  • Will usually turn unconscious victim to face-up position.
  •  Adults - minimum buoyancy 15.5 lbs.
  • Youth - minimum buoyancy 11 lbs.
  • Child and Infant - minimum buoyancy 7 lbs.
Type II Life Jacket

Type III:

  • For Inland water conditions – specific activities such as fishing, kayaking
  • Considered flotation aid – life vest, belts.
  • Holds victim in vertical position rather than face-up.
  • Adult - minimum buoyancy 15.5 lbs.
  • Youth - minimum buoyancy 11 lbs.
Type III

Type IV:

  • Throwable styles of PFD.
  • Ring Buoy will be used by commercial boats and at swimming pools to throw to drowning person. 
  • Cushion flotation devices will be used on recreational motor boats and paddle boats.
  • Ring Buoy - minimum buoyancy is 16.5 lbs and 32 lbs.
  • Cushion - minimum buoyancy is 20 lbs.

Type V:

  • Special use and Hybrid
  • Adult - minimum buoyancy is 15.5 to 22 lbs.
  • Youth - minimum buoyancy is 11 - 15.5 lbs.
Type V



Recommended for swimmers only. Adult sizes only. Very compact.

Type I, II:

  • Minimum buoyancy is 34 lbs.

Type III:

  • Minimum buoyancy is 22.5 lbs.

Type V:

  • Minimum buoyancy is 22.5 to 34 lbs.
Inflatable Life Jacket


Hybrid (Foam and Inflation)

For swimmers and non-swimmers. Wearable styles only.

Type II:

  • Adult - inherent buoyancy is 10 lbs; inflated total buoyancy is 22 lbs.
  • Youth - inherent buoyancy is 9 lbs; inflated total buoyancy is 15 lbs.
  • Child -  inherent buoyancy is7 lbs; inflated total buoyancy is 12 lbs.

Type III:

  • Adult and Youth are the same as Type II.  No child or infant size.

Type V

  • Adult - inherent buoyancy is 7.5 lbs; inflated total buoyancy is 22 lbs.
  • Youth - inherent buoyancy is 7.5 lbs; inflated total buoyancy is 15 lbs.