Life Jacket Types: What the Coast Guard Life Vest Ratings Mean for You

If you’re familiar with the US Coast Guard laws, you know that all boats are required to carry life jackets that are USCG approved.

What you might not know is that there are actually five life jacket types that mark levels of standard life vest approval measured by the Coast Guard. Three of these are traditional life jackets, while two are additional types of PFDs.

In this post I’ll give an overview of the three primary life jacket types and their intended uses.


Type I: Offshore

Type I life jackets are the most durable and most buoyant of all the different life jacket types. Designed to assist with 22 lbs of buoyancy, these vests are approved for extended activity on the open ocean and in rough water conditions. They are able to right an unconscious person to be face up in the water.

These life jackets are usually designed with a “security first, comfort second” mindset, which is appropriate for their intended use, in which rescue may be slow coming.

Read more about the best Type I life jackets.

Type II: Near Shore

Type II life jackets are designed for near shore coastal or inland waterways.

These vests are the most common type of life jacket for most recreational uses, and are equipped with 15.5 lbs of buoyancy that, like Type I vests, are capable of right most adults and children face-up in the water in the event they are unconscious.

Type II vests are generally less expensive and also less bulky than their offshore counterparts, which makes them far more attractive to the average boater.

Type II vests are not intended for offshore boating or situations in which a rescue is not forthcoming.

Read more about Type II life jackets.

Type III: Wearable Flotation Aid

Flotations aids are intended for use in calm inland waters, such as a lake, inlet, or cove. These vests are approved for 15.5 lbs of buoyancy, but are not designed to turn an unconscious wearer face up in the water.

This means that Type III vests are intended for low-risk activities, such as calm water kayaking or small craft boating, in which the chance of an impact-related accident is low.

Type III vests are not intended for situations in which a water rescue will have significant delays.

Read more about Type III life jackets.

Life Jacket Types: Uses and Recommendations

See the following chart to determine when to use each of the different life jacket types, according to craft size and location.


Additional Life Jacket Types

In this post I’ve covered the 3 primary life jacket types according to the USCG approval rating system. In the next post I’ll cover additional USCG PFD types, Type IV and Type V PFDs, which are not life jackets, but personal flotation types. Click here to read more about these PFDs.

If you’re looking to purchase a life jacket for your boat, you may want to read more about how to choose an adult life jacket or browse adult life jackets here.

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