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Boating Updated:

What is the Main Advantage of a Type IV PFD?

Advantage of a Type IV PFD

Every boating adventure starts with the proper safety precautions.

And whether you’re an experienced boater or an absolute beginner, there is one rule that every person has to live by: a PFD can save your life!

A PFD, or personal floatation device, is the most important safety equipment on any recreational watercraft. Most people tend to think of PFDs as life jackets, but there is another kind that will help you stay afloat – the Type IV PFD.

But what is the main advantage of a Type IV PFD and do you really need it?

From intended usage to federal law regulations – here’s everything you need to know about this must-have safety gear.

What is a Type IV PFD?

A Type IV PFD is throwable and not wearable. It can be used by any person on board – without any restrictions based on size, age, weight, and height. Type IV PFD cannot take the place of a regular life jacket, but it has proven to be very useful in emergency overboard situations.

Much like any other personal floatation device, its job – as the name implies – is to keep a person afloat in case of boat failure or any other emergencies where you end up in the water.

But there’s one feature that sets it apart from other PFDs – it’s designed to be thrown, rather than worn.

“Type IV” is a designation given by the US Coast Guard to throwable floatation devices. Instead of being worn like a typical life jacket, it’s designed to be thrown to someone in the water to aid in any rescue situation.

The US Coast Guard divides PFDs into different levels based on functionality and floatation capabilities. Generally, there are two classifications:

  • Wearables – This includes Types I, II, III and V which are refer to different life jackets or vests.
  • Throwables – Only Type IV belongs in this category.

A Type IV PFD is made from inherently buoyant materials in order to provide extra floatation for adults, children and even pets during any emergency. It’s designed to provide enough buoyancy to hold a person’s head above water.

The most common is a ring type PFD, like the ones you usually see at the edge of marinas or in larger boats. But Type IV PFDs can also come in other shapes, such as squares and horseshoes.

How to Use a Type IV PFD

A Type IV PFD is reserved for overboard situations.

True to its designation as a throwable device, all you have to do is:

  • Throw the PFD to a person struggling in the water.
  • The person then grabs a hold of the PFD and places it under their chest to keep afloat.
  • Once the person has made contact with the PFD, they can easily kick their legs to propel themselves towards the boat.
  • If the PFD comes with a line or rope attached to it, you can also help pull the person closer to the boat for faster rescue.
  • If the PFD is in the form of a boat cushion which has straps, the person in the water can also put their arms through the straps for better balance.

Its other intended uses include:

  • To provide additional support to someone already wearing a life jacket
  • To supplement buoyancy while waiting to be rescued
  • To aid someone who doesn’t know how to swim

Dos and Don’ts: When to Use a Type IV PFD

1. DO use it when in calm, inland water

Staying inshore where the water is generally free from waves will help the PFD serve its purpose – that is, to stay afloat.

2. DO use it during supervised water activities.

The effectiveness of using a Type IV PFD depends on the presence of other persons who can throw and pull you back onto the boat. It’s the perfect safety gear to have in handy for activities like sailing regattas and canoeing.

3. DO use it in when there is heavy boat traffic

The closer you are to other boats, the higher the chances of immediate rescue.

4. DON’T use it during bad weather and when there is a lot of water disturbance

Waves, water currents, and even strong winds will cause the PFD to be tossed around and may float away from the person in the water.

5. DON’T use it on persons who are unconscious or exhausted

Due to their condition, they won’t be able to grab onto the PFD – rendering it practically useless for rescue.

What is the Main Advantage of a Type IV PFD?

The main advantage of a Type IV PFD is: it can be used by EVERYONE. There are no size, age, or weight restrictions.

From adults to kids, and even pets – everyone can use the PFD.

This is what sets a Type IV PFD apart from ordinary life jackets – it doesn’t have to be fitted to a particular person before you can use it.

Here are some other advantages of a Type IV PFD:

1. Easy to use

This is because a Type IV PFD is throwable, not wearable.

Emergency situations require you to act as fast as you can. Unlike other PFDs which would need to be worn and fitted before using them, the Type IV PFD can easily be thrown to anyone in the water.

2. Portable and lightweight

Many boaters complain about wearing other types of PFDs because tend to be bulky and uncomfortable to wear. And because of the extra weight, the wearer will need to exert a bit more effort to keep himself face up in the water.

Type IV PFDs, on the other hand, are more lightweight and won’t bog you down in the water. It’s designed to provide the wearer with better mobility since you’re free to grab it as you please.

3. Versatile

A Type IV PFD can float anywhere there is water.

This makes it a versatile safety device that can be used in rivers, lakes, harbors, and even in swimming pools. It can be used by itself or as support for other PFDs like life jackets.

4. Towable

A Type IV PFD usually has an attachment point where you can add a rope. This makes rescuing so much easier because once the PFD is in the water, you can grab onto the rope to pull the person nearer to the boat and towards safety.

The importance of this feature not only helps the person who fell overboard – it also eliminates the risk of more people falling into the water. Rescuers no longer have to jump in the water and swim towards the victim. The rescue can be completed in just three easy steps: grab, toss, and pull.

5. No size restrictions

When it comes to other types of PFDs like life jackets, there is the additional requirement that you have to wear the right size and fit – otherwise, it won’t give you enough buoyancy to stay afloat.

But with the Type IV PFD, you don’t need to worry about sizing.

Since it’s designed to throw and grab onto, anyone can use it – regardless of weight, size, and height.

6. Location Marker

When someone falls overboard while the boat is running, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact location where they fell.

This is where a Type IV PFD comes in handy. By throwing it into the water, it marks the location – or at the very least the general area – where the victim was last spotted. This is a good starting point for rescuers to search and will guide the boat operator when circling around the area of the incident.

7. Determines the direction of water current

In open water, the strong turbulence and water currents will cause the PFD to be tossed around and may float away from the person in the water – making it ineffective as a location marker or floatation device in such situations.

But it still serves another purpose: it helps the boat operator determine the direction of the current.

If the victim was wearing a life jacket, it becomes easier to track the direction where the victim was carried away. This is an important step in any rescue operation because it efficiently narrows the search area for rescuers.

This will help narrow the search area when the person who fell overboard was wearing a life jacket – it becomes easier to track the direction where the victim was carried away

Approved Kinds of Type IV PFDs

1. Ring Buoys

Chances are you’ve seen these Type IV PFDs many times before –at the edge of harbors, stowed away in decks of large ships, or even in swimming pools.

Ring Buoys are those donut-shaped floatation devices that come in bright colors ranging from orange to red or a combination of both. The user can either grab the side of the ring or wear it over their head and arms.

Modern versions are equipped with lights that are intended for night rescue.

2. Buoyant cushion

As its name suggests, this square-shaped PFD looks like a seat cushion on a couch or sofa.

The larger surface area gives the user lots of room to lie on and stay afloat while waiting for rescue. It can also be placed under the chest so you can easily paddle towards the boat. A unique feature of this type of PFD is it has straps on the side where you can put your hands through for better balance.

Though it may look like a cushion, this PFD is not intended to be sat on when out of water. This could degrade the foam and reduce the amount of floatation over time.

3. Horseshoe Buoys

Horseshoe Buoys look just as their name implies – they’re shaped like a horsehoe.

Their construction is made from a closed-cell plastic core and covered with vinyl coated nylon. Much like the other kind of Type IV PFDs, they are available in a variety of bright colors.

Rules and Regulations for Using a Type IV PFD

Not all personal watercrafts require the use of a Type IV PFD.

1. Vessels 16 feet in length or longer must have at least one Type IV PFD on board.

If your boat is over 16 feet in length, federal law requires you to have at least one Type IV PFD – in addition to a life jacket or vest for each person on board.

The law does not specify a particular kind of Type IV PFD, so you can choose between ring, horseshoe or buoyant cushions.

But it’s recommended that smaller boats also have one on board in case of overboard emergencies.

2. Kayaks and canoes are not required to carry a Type IV PFD – even if they are 16 feet or longer in length.

When it comes to kayaks, canoes and other non-motorized watercraft, most state laws only require the use of a life jacket. This is because there isn’t much room on a kayak to begin with, so a wearable PFD is the most space-efficient choice.

3. A Type IV PFD must be US Coast Guard approved and readily accessible.

It should be readily available for anyone to use when needed.

A Type IV PFD should be put in an area where it can be seen by everyone on the boat. It must be kept on a visible part of the deck, and not hidden under boat seats, lockers, or inside the cockpit.

4. A Type IV PFD must be a bright color so it’s easier to see in an emergency.

It must be highly visible to the rescuer from a good distance.

The international distress orange is the recommended color as it provides a contrast to both the sea and sky.

5. A Type IV PFD must have a buoyancy of at least 16.5 pounds.

This is the optimum size for adults to ensure that the head remains above water while floating.

6. A grab-line must be attached to the Type IV PFD.

As much as possible, it must be secured at four different points of equal distance around the PFD for easy grabbing by the person in the water.

The recommended length is at least four times the diameter of the PFD.

7. A Type IV PFD is NOT a replacement for a life jacket.

Despite its advantages, the Type IV PFD is reserved only for overboard emergency situations.

Federal law requires all personal watercrafts to have at least one life jacket correctly fitted to each person on board. The use of a Type IV PFD should only be used as support for someone already wearing a life jacket.

Proper Maintenance of a Type IV PFD

1. Keep it away from sunlight when not in use.

Long exposure to high temperatures and ultraviolet rays can deteriorate a Type IV PFD rapidly.

You can opt to purchase a ring housing for the PFD. This is a weatherproof case that not only protects the PFD from the elements but also provides an easy way of mounting it on deck.

2. If the PFD has been in salt water, rinse it thoroughly with fresh water.

This is to prevent the buildup of mildew and odor over time.

3. Always check for rips, tears, and holes.

The inner part of a Type IV PFD is made out of polyurethane foam that tends to shrink or deform when the outer shell is torn or has holes.

4. Dry the Type IV PFD thoroughly before storing it.

The goal here is to prevent water-logging that causes discoloration and degradation over time.

The Bottomline

While most people don’t think of the ring style PFDs as necessary, they do have their place. It is another tool and the chest for safety.

You can’t always predict an emergency, but you can prep your boat with a Type IV PFD for extra safety.

Chris Blackwell Boating
About Chris Blackwell

Chris is an avid angler and boating enthusiast. Raised on a small lake he spent most of his youth fishing in Jon Boats and water skiing behind Fiberglass boats. Chris enjoys taking his family out on the water so they can relive the fun he has always had.

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