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Safe at Sea: Personal Flotation Devices — are you missing any?

By Staff | Feb 25, 2020


The last two weeks’ Safe At Sea columns have focused on visual distress signals and sound-producing devices. This will address the U.S. Coast Guard’s requirement for a Type IV Personal Flotation Device.

Type IV PFDs are not meant to be worn. Rather, they are designed to be thrown to someone who has gone overboard and is struggling to swim. In short, they are throwable flotation devices.

Type IV refers to the fourth level of the Coast Guard’s classification for Personal Flotation Devices, of which there are two common types. First, on commercial boats and around swimming pools, there are circular flotation rings. Second, on recreational boats, they may take the form of seat-cushion style devices.

It is important that all boaters know that at least one Type IV PFD should be on any recreational boat longer than 16 feet. When the America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva conducts its free Vessel Safety Checks, a surprising number of boats do not carry a Type IV – and captains find themselves having to head to the store to pick one up.

There are limited choices for a Type IV device, but the most common is the boat seat cushion with two side straps. The person in the water can put their arms through the straps and float on top of the cushion. With or without straps, the person places the PFD under his or her chest, allowing them to kick their legs to move.


Just as with all PFDs on board, Type IVs should be out of their wrapper and easily accessible if needed – not stored under seats or in cabinets. The good news is that Type IV PFDs are relatively inexpensive and last a long time. That said, don’t be cheap about it: your life might depend on it some day.

How to choose the correct Type IV? Follow these guidelines:

– It must be USCG-approved.

– The average adult requires 7-12 pounds of buoyancy to stay afloat with a PFD. (Flotation rings are often 16.5 pounds, and boat cushions are often 18 pounds.)

– A bright-colored PFD is easier to see in an emergency.

Stay Safe at Sea by outfitting your boat with a Type IV Flotation Device.

Helpful hint: Have a line attached to the Type IV, so that – should you need to use that lifeline – you are able to pull the person alongside the boat as fast as possible.

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and the courses it offers, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact “mailto:education@sanibelcaptivasps.org”>education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 612-987-2125.