A PFD – a Personal Flotation Device – is an equipment which serves to prevent an individual from drowning by keeping him or her afloat. Simply speaking, it’s what is generally known as a life jacket or a life vest. PFDs are an essential item that needs to be taken at all times when engaging in water-related activities at sea, or farther out in lakes – this includes kayaking, canoeing, boating, etc.
PFD life jackets are divided on the basis of how they are inflated – as self inflating life jackets and manually inflated life jackets. As the terms suggest, the former is automatically inflated without manual intervention (by reacting to water pressure or to water itself, for example), whilst the latter requires manual operation to inflate the jacket (by pulling a cord, blowing into tubes, etc.) Besides this classification, life jackets have also been divided on the basis of the time that rescue efforts will take in case of an emergency, during which time the life jacket has to support the individual in the water and prevent him or her from drowning:
• Offshore Life Jackets/ Type I PFDs – these are built for conditions where the waters are rough or remote, thereby making rescue efforts take a considerable time. As such, they are bulky, but very buoyant – enough to keep even an unconscious person face-up in the waters. They are also built with very bright colours, so that the person may be easily located. These type of PFDs are required when boating activities take place far out in the seas, lakes, or oceans, or when waters are rough.
• Near-shore Life Jackets/ Type II PFDs – these are built for calm waters, which are not too far off from a shore and where rescue will come relatively quickly. They are less bulky than type I PFDs, but also less buoyant. Only some types will keep an individual face up regardless of his status. They are ideal for boating and other water activities which take place in relatively shallow waters.
• Flotation Aids/ Type III PFDs – these are built for shallow waters, where rescue will come very quickly. They are aids – not body suits – and do not restrict movement as much as types I and II. However, they are not very buoyant: they will keep a person above the water, but will require his efforts to remain face-up in the water.
• Throwable Devices/ Type IV PFDs – these are meant only to aid rescue efforts, that is, they are not meant to be singly used by the drowning individual. They are either rings or cushions which are thrown by the rescuers to further help the individual – as such, they require the individual’s efforts to keep him afloat.
• Special Use Devices/ Type V PFDs – certain water activities such as canoeing, kayaking and the like have poor compatibility with types I and II life jackets, either because they are bulky and restrict movements, or because they are not buoyant enough. PFDs especially created for specific water activities fall within this last category – they are to be used only for the related activity though.