What is the best way to check the buouancy of your PFD?
There’s never a limit to water safety, especially in deep water. By that, I mean deeper than a swimming pool. With that, you’ll be in the market for a new PFD – or, personal floatation device.
I’ll be taking you through steps on what buoyancy is, the 6 types of PFD, and the best way to check the buoyancy of your lifejacket.
What is buoyancy and how does it work?
There are key areas of buoyancy that allow us to understand how PFD’s are categorised and how they work.
Greek Philosopher Archimedes explains buoyancy through displacement of water. An object’s buoyancy is calculated by the looking at the weight of an object sinking and removing the weight of the water it displaces (moves). Buoyancy is an upward force counteracting any downward force.
I suggest looking at who it is you’re providing a life-jacket to. This will determine the size of the PFD and how many pounds’ worth of additional buoyancy is needed. Floatation devices have a system called a ‘PFD rating’. This is a number indicating the pounds of buoyancy provided.
As a rule of thumb; for more buoyancy, choose a higher PFD rating.
Adults need approximately 12 pounds of additional buoyancy to stay above water. This is because our bodies are already 80% water, so regulations state the average person will need a PFD rating of 15 or higher.
Fun fact: most people believe that overweight and obese people are more likely to sink than slimmer individuals due to their weight. However, fat is buoyant, meaning they’ll likely float.
What are the 5 types of life-jacket?
Let’s begin by saying PFD’s have come a long way in recent decades, with new developments being released each year.
My personal favourite: in 2019 a lifejacket manufacturer started making life-jackets that mould to our bodies to make them more comfortable!
Type I – The offshore life-jacket.
• The offshore life-jacket has the highest level of floatation available. It is
designed to withstand a long periods of time in deep, remote, or choppy
• The benefit to the offshore life-jacket is the way it is worn; on the front upper part of the body. This means the wearer will always face the sky and breathe naturally.
• I believe this to be the most important factor in a life-jacket because the
wearer could be unconscious. Always wear a life-jacket in-case you’re boating and then made to walk the plank!
• PFD rating of 22 for adults, 11 for children and 7 for babies.
Type II – The near-shore buoyant vest.
• The near-shore buoyant vest is used for calmer water located – you guessed it – nearer to the shore.
• These are best for times such as being capsized in the middle of a medium lake and your chance of rescue is high and fast.
• PFD rating of 15.5 for adults, 11 for children and 7 for babies.
Type III – The floatation aid.
• This is the PFD you’ll picture when hearing ‘life-jacket’. They are used for beach or lake-side activities such as dinghy races, kayaking or water skiing.
• For good maintenance of your floatation aid, I recommend hand-washing and leaving to hang-dry. They can’t be kept in direct heat or sunlight as this will damage your PFD!
• PFD rating of 15.5 for adults.
Type IV – Throwable devices.
• These are the buoys, floating cushions or rings you may see on the side of a boat.
• These are used when a lifejacket has either not been used or has not been used correctly.
• Throwable devices are thrown into the water for the individual to swim to.
• This PFD is used to supplement a rescue already underway. It provides more time to those rescuing the individual so that safety precautions can be met. Please don’t go jumping off a large boat if you can’t swim.
• PFD rating ranging from 16.5 to 16 depending on the device.
Type V – Special use devices.
• Special use devices are used for employees and those working with water.
• They don’t always look like a life-jacket. Sometimes they are deck suits, belts, harnesses and more.
• Examples of people who may use this device are; professionals, white-water rafters and paddle-boarders.
• They have a specifically designed purpose with special features including being resistant to the exposure of heat or chemicals.
• PFD rating ranging from 15 to 22 depending on the device.
Inflatable PFD’s (I, personally, think they should make this Type VI).
• I don’t mean that blow-up crocodile you bring on holiday. Inflatable PFD’s specially designed life-jackets stored and inflated when needed, such as on an
• These vests have a CO2 cartridge inside that is activated either by pulling a string or by an activator being dissolved in water.
• Safer versions of the inflatables will have dissolving activation, meaning if the wearer is unconscious, they can still be brought to the surface.
• PFD rating ranging from 22 to 33 depending on the device. They must be regularly checked with a consistent change of the activating agent.
What is the best way to check the buoyancy of your PFD?
Aside from the obvious: finding a pool, putting your PFD on and jumping in, there are other considerations for the best way to check the buoyancy of your PFD:
• First, make an initial fitting. Your life-jacket needs to hug you like there’s no tomorrow.
• Secondly, make yourself familiar with the safety bells and whistles so you
remain properly secure.
• Approach shallow water. When submerged, your life-jacket should not move. If it does, go back to step one and try again.
• If your PFD is still secure, test it by leaning back. Your head should be above water with you able to breathe.
• Next is checking your ‘freeboard’. This is the distance between your mouth and the water. The further the better. If your mouth is close to the water, go back and try a higher PFD rating.
• The final step in checking the buoyancy of your PFD is to see how comfortable you are. If you are not comfortable, you will likely wriggle and lose buoyancy. If you’ve completed my check list and you’re happy with your Personal floatation device, then sail away, my friend.
For now, here’s some more fun facts:
• Life-jackets are brightly coloured so you can be spotted by rescuers.
• Your PFD will take the impact of a fall into the water, helping save your life in more ways than one!
• As the life-jacket surrounds the chest and keeps the head dry and above water, it protects against hypothermia
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