How to Tell if a Life Jacket is Coast Guard Approved

How to Tell if a Life Jacket is Coast Guard Approved
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People who want to engage in water activities like boating and swimming should invest in a US Coast Guard-approved life jacket to use. Some people may wonder how to tell if a life jacket is Coast Guard approved, and the solution is very simple. Determining what kind of jacket is needed for which activity can be more challenging but is clearly outlined by the Coast Guard regulations.

Why Coast Guard Approved?

The US Coast Guard reviews life jackets manufactured from all brands and will only approve the ones they deem as truly lifesaving devices. In the event of a real emergency, life jackets need to be reliable and sturdy. Even the most advanced swimmers may need the assistance of a life jacket in cold water or rapid currents.

Coast Guard-approved life jackets will save someone’s life, and do not just assist swimmers in the water with extra buoyancy. Pool noodles are not an approved Type IV PFD (see below for description), as are not reliable as flotation devices in more strenuous conditions than a swimming pool.

Water wings (flotation devices that wrap around both upper arms and are not connected in the middle) are not Coast Guard approved because they do not support a swimmer in the torso or head, and if in an emergency situation, would not have any real benefit for the swimmer 

How to Tell if a Life Jacket is Coast Guard Approved

However, there are similar types of “water wings” with a flotation portion connecting the two arm bands across the chest. These are Coast Guard approved and are clearly marked as such on the center band. Some life jackets are not Coast Guard approved because of their design, shape or structure.

Many Coast Guard-approved life jackets are designed to turn an unconscious floater face-up in the water. However, this is not the case for all Coast Guard approved jackets, so care should be taken by a boater or swimmer when choosing a jacket.

The type of activity, the strength and age of the wearer and their swimming skills should all be considered when choosing the right Coast Guard-approved life jacket for the activity.

Types of Coast Guard-Approved Jackets

There are five types of US Coast Guard approved life jackets (called PFD’s, or personal flotation devices). These devices are called PFD’s because not all of them are wearable. The types and their purposes are listed below:

Type I

The most buoyant of all life jacket types, these jackets will turn almost every swimmer face up in more strenuous swimming conditions. These jackets are also the bulkiest and significantly limit a person’s mobility.

These jackets are most appropriate for people in boating activities in strong wind conditions or swift currents, for people boating alone, or for boating in remote locations where the length of time for a rescue will be long.

Type II

A buoyant life jacket with less bulk than the Type I, these jackets feature a head cushion that wraps around the back of the neck and thick flotation material attached to the chest by a strap that wraps around the back of the torso. These types  are hugely common on large commercial ships, cruise ships, ferries and large charter boats.

These jackets will flip most people face up in the water if unconscious. They provide more mobility than the Type I’s and are enough for people boating in normal conditions or in more-populated water areas.

Type III

A life jacket with the most mobility out of Types I-III, these jackets are the least buoyant but are very comfortable to wear and provide a wide range of motion for the wearer.

These are the life jackets of choice for many people who do boating activities in small craft, like canoes, kayaks and small sailboats. They are not designed to flip a wearer face-up when unconscious. These jackets are often seen at waterparks and public pools, for younger or weaker swimmers.

Type IV

This is a throwable PFD that provides extra flotation for a conscious swimmer. They are not life jackets, but they are Coast Guard approved.

Type V

An inflatable life jacket that requires the swimmer to be conscious, and to activate a device for the jacket to inflate, these are not recommended for children, as they must be activated to work, and a child in a panic may not react quickly enough.

Many experienced boaters will choose this type of PFD because they are experienced in the water and favor the mobility this PFD provides.

Coast Guard Labelling

All Coast Guard-approved life jackets will have a label clearly visible on the inside of the jacket saying, “Coast Guard approved,”,along with an approval number. If a jacket does not have this, it is not Coast Guard approved.

If a jacket is very old, and the label is no longer clearly visible, a new jacket should be bought to replace the old one. Whenever boaters or swimmers are boating in public water, they must be aware that they could be checked by the Coast Guard for proper equipment and should plan on having the proper life jackets ready for action on their boat.

Final Thoughts

Coast Guard-approved life jackets are the only wearable devices that will be guaranteed to function during an emergency event. There are different types for each kind of water activity and are clearly labeled with a Coast Guard approved-number and label.

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