According to the U.S. Coast Guard, most adults only need an extra seven to 12 pounds of buoyancy to keep their heads above water. A personal flotation device (PFD) can provide that needed lift in the case of an emergency. Note, however, that the word “personal” in personal flotation devices means that everyone who goes boating or enjoys other water sports needs just the right PFD for them. When looking for a personal flotation device for everyone in the family, consider these three general categories.


Basic, But Effective

This one is made for people over 90 pounds and has three adjustable buckles for a perfect fit. STEARNS

There are several types of traditional foam flotation devices as well as new inflatable life jackets. Each is designed for different boating activities and water conditions, and each has its own maximum buoyancy, performance level, and limitations. When choosing a standard foam life vest, read the label on the PFD you are considering to be sure it’s made for people your weight and size. Also, make sure you get one with plenty of adjustability so it can be cinched up to fit your tightly and correctly. An incorrectly worn PFD might give you a false sense of security but fail to protect you from sinking in an emergency situation as it might slip off.


Lightweight Pick

This option fills with air when immersed in water or when the user pulls the handle. Onyx

Inflatable life vests are extremely handy since they aren’t bulky like many other life vests. They’re also very comfortable, as they don’t inflate until they become submerged or the wearer pulls the inflate handle. Inflatable vests are often worn by fishermen who prefer to not have a regular life vest inhibit their movement, as well as by people who enjoy sailing and stand-up paddling sports. While they tend to be a little more expensive than standard life vests, they’re well worth the extra price for some who want the protection along with the increased ease and range of motion. Of course, since these vests inflate on their own if submerged, they’re not useful for water sports like skiing, tubing or wakeboarding. They’re also not appropriate for outdoor recreationists under 16 or for people who don’t know how to swim.

Youth Models

Durable Nylon Shell

This child’s personal flotation device is Coast Guard approved and comes in 20 fun designs. STEARNS

PFDs for children run the gamut from simple models to extravagant ones. The most important factor is to make sure you pick one for your kids that has been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. If it is not Coast Guard-approved, it’s not going to provide your children the level of protection you want them to have. Sizing for youth is weight dependent, not age. Infant PFDs are made for children from eight to 30 pounds, child PFDs for children from 30 to 50 pounds, and youth PFDs from those 50 to 90 pounds. Like adult PFDs, kids’ life preservers should fit snugly. Consequently, plenty of adjustment is not only needed for a perfect fit but is also handy to ensure the PFD can grow with your child until he or she needs to move up to a larger size.