Page banner image
Home > About > Clothing > Lifevests

Lifevests and Buoyancy Aids

A personal flotation device (also named PFD, life jacket, life preserver, lifevest, life saver, cork jacket, life belt, or buoyancy aid) is a device designed to keep a wearer afloat and their head above water.

The terms "lifevest" or "lifejacket" can include all types of such devices from life preservers to life jackets to survival suits. They are available in different sizes and different designs purposed for various levels of protection.

Lifejacket or Buoyancy Aid?

Whenever possible choose lifevests instead of buoyancy aids. They can turn unconscious people on their back, allowing them to breathe. Buoyancy aids don't.

A proper lifevest will turn you from a face down position onto your back, so you can breathe. Anything else is no lifevest, just an "insurance cover".

Swimming Practice

Practice swimming in different lifevests before any adventures. Wear them over all your boating clothes and jump into the water. See how they float you up, and how well they fit with all your clothes. If a lifevest is not comfortable you probably won't wear it for long.

bouyancy aid life jacket fleece top
bouyancy aid life jacket fleece top

Lifevest Types

Type I - Off-Shore Lifevest

Bulky, but floats you best. Best flotation for open, rough or remote waters. Turns most unconscious wearers face-up in the water. A Type I PFD provides more buoyancy than any other type and turn most unconscious wearers into a face-up position with their head out of the water.

This type requires a minimum adult buoyancy of 10 kg. Because of its bulk it is generally not comfortable to wear when not on the water. They are typically jacket-shaped but sleeveless, and usually have multiple ties and belts for closure.

Type II - Near-Shore Buoyancy Vest

Familiar to anyone who has rented a canoe or other pleasure craft, these are the bright orange vests also seen on water taxis and the like.

They are a reduced version of the type I PFD, and provide a minimum 7 kg buoyancy. Most have one belt and one tie.

Type II PFDs are used near shore where a quick rescue is likely, like in water sports centres. They will usually turn the face of an unconscious person out of the water, but are not as dependable as Type I PFDs for this task.

Type III - Flotation Buoyancy Aid

Buoyancy aids are useful for immersion sports where you often go into deep water. They are intended for use by competent swimmers who are near to bank, shore, or who have help and a means of rescue close at hand. Most popular with canoeists, kayakers and small-boat sailboat racers, they are best for conscious wearers who can keep their own faces out of the water.

Type III PFDs are usually jacket-style and may have pockets, lashing hooks, tow belts, and other functions that enhance their application. They typically fit the wearer closely, and many have buckles or zips to close.

They have minimal bulk and are of limited use in disturbed water as they cannot be expected to keep you safe for a long period of time. The minimum buoyancy is 7 kg, but the better designs have higher buoyancy (frequently 8 kg).

Designed to keep you afloat, they allow you full movement during your water sports, when you are in a sailing dinghy, personal watercraft, windsurfer, canoe or water-skiing or if providing safety cover for such an activity. Buoyancy aids assist deep water activities including entries and treading water.


Buoyancy aids will not turn you on your back if you're unconscious, but let you float face down. Hence they are known as "Insurance Covers" because they fulfil insurance requirements, but not much else.

A common sight around leisure centres are buoyancy aids that are worn in the wrong size. They reach over the ears and are way too large. This is a hazard as it can lead to breathing difficulties and injuries.

bouyancy aid life jacket fleece top
This bouyancy aid fits well.
bouyancy aid life jacket fleece top
This bouyancy aid could kill him.

Special Purpose

Approved for the activities listed on the label. Some are approved for white water rafting, board sailing, etc. This type also includes new hybrid PFDs with foam floatation and an inflatable chamber. Type V Hybrid PFDs are as comfortable to wear as a Type III but when fully inflated have the floatation performance of a Type II or better.

Their turning performance (keeping an unconscious person face-up) is rated according to PFD types I, II, and III. Type V PFDs come in a variety of styles, from full-body suits to work vests. Some have a safety harness and some provide protection against hypothermia (survival suits).

Floater Coats and One Piece Suits

Offering good flotation and better thermal protection from cold temperatures, the floater suit provides buoyancy and will help delay the onset of hypothermia. There are also pockets and compartments in which to keep signaling devices or a VHF radio and other survival items.

For the best protection from the cold as well as excellent flotation, the combination of a Floater Coat and Floater Pants or a one piece Survival (Immersion) Suit will offer one of the best solutions for dealing with the effects of Cold Water Immersion. These are designed with plenty of room for emergency equipment such as flares, sound signaling devices, VHF radios or other survival items.

Lifevest Training Lesson Plan

Lifevests and other Equipment
Take a good look at the different personal floatation devices (PFD). Show the difference between buoyancy aids and lifevests. Let everyone try them on.

Check it out before you jump in
Is it a lifevest that can save your life, or just a buoyancy aid? Make sure it is the right size for you. A wrong size can hurt you.

Use a Lifevest or Bouyancy Aid
Give your class a chance to try out the different floatation devices in the water. Swim two lengths with each device. Avoid chafing on bare skin with soft clothes.

Warm-up Game
This exercise simulates a rescue situation where lifevests are thrown out to people in the water. Throw enough lifevests for everyone into the middle of the pool. Then get your team to jump in, swim out and put on the lifevests in the water. This can be quite a challenge, especially when you are fully clothed.

Practice Lifevest Handling
Practice wearing a life jacket, enter the water using ladder, steps or side. Later on jump into the water, holding the lifevest close to the chest to keep it from hitting your face.

Float for a few minutes in the HELP position and get your class together in the Huddle position. Wear life jackets to tread water and swim to safety or climb into a boat or on top of a floating matress.

Practice in Open Water
Training in a pool is easy. Open water presents unique challenges, make sure you have the respective safety measures in place. Practice all the above in a lake or the sea.

Keep Warm
Make sure you stay warm and avoid wind chill. Wear a fleece pullover under an anroak or cagoule to keep warm.

 About   Fitness   Survival   Lifesaving