Type 1: Life Jacket
Type I flotation devices are a full jacket, wearable design. They are designed with added buoyancy in the front to float high in the water while ensuring that unconscious wearers will remain face up and able to breathe. The Type I design is the most buoyant and is approved for use in all vessels.
Type II: Buoyant Vest
Type II flotation devices are slipped on over one's head, with a strap that goes around the body but no fabric or flotation capability on the back side. Though they are approved for any vessel, they are recommended for use close to shore and in calm water.
Type III: Flotation Aid
Type III flotation devices are a comfortable option for strong swimmers. They are a full jacket design but use less material than a Type I. The design decreases buoyancy slightly and allows the user to swim efficiently, making it a good choice for avid water-skiers, rafters or kayakers who at times may find that they need to swim toward their boats.
Type IV: Throwable Device
Type IV flotation devices are throwable, such as buoy rings or cushions. One Type IV device per boat is required on vessels longer than 16 feet in Colorado. This requirement is in addition to each passenger carrying a personal flotation device of Type I, II or III. This requirement does not apply to whitewater rafts. Type IV devices must be held on to and therefore are not appropriate for unconscious swimmers.
Type V: Special Use
Type V devices need to be inflated to provide full buoyancy. They are approved for rescue purposes, but not for use on privately owned boats.
The Bottom Line
Bring one Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device Type I, II or III for each member of your boating party. The Coast Guard approval will be cited on the tag of the flotation device next to the type in big letters. Make sure the device is approved for Coast Guard use, not just for recreational use, and that it is the right size. If the device moves more than an inch away from the body when pulled at after all straps have been tightened, it is too big.
Article Written By Caroline Schley
Based in New York City, Caroline Schley has been writing articles on fitness, social interaction and politics since 2008. Her articles have appeared in "The Tahoe Weekly," "Second Line News" and websites, including Eatthestate.org. Schley graduated from CU Boulder in 2005 with a degree in environmental science.