PFDs Type IV: A Versatile and Essential Water Safety Device

We all know the importance of staying safe when enjoying water activities. Whether you’re boating, swimming, or participating in any water-related adventure, having the right safety equipment is crucial. One such essential piece of gear is a personal flotation device (PFD). While most people think of life jackets when it comes to PFDs, there is another type that deserves attention: the Type IV PFD.

What is a Type IV PFD?

Type IV PFDs are throwable flotation devices designed to be tossed to someone in distress in the water. They differ from the commonly known life jackets, or Type III PFDs, which are meant to be worn. Type IVs, on the other hand, are made of materials like polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride, ensuring they do not absorb water and provide maximum buoyancy.

Approved Type IV PFDs

There are various approved variations of Type IV PFDs, each serving a specific purpose. Here are three common types:

Buoyant Cushion

Imagine a cushion-shaped device with straps on the sides for gripping. Buoyant cushions offer a large surface area for buoyancy and can be easily placed under the chest to keep the person afloat.

Ring Buoys

Ring buoys, or flotation rings, are the most common type of Type IV PFDs. They feature a center hole that allows the user to put their head and arms through it, much like a blow-up swim ring. Modernized versions even come equipped with lights for improved visibility during nighttime emergencies.

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Horseshoe Buoys

As the name suggests, horseshoe buoys are shaped like a horseshoe. They are typically made of closed-cell plastic covered with a vinyl coating. Horseshoe buoys come in various colors, including red, yellow, white, and blue.

Advantages of Type IV PFDs

Type IV PFDs offer several advantages that make them an excellent addition to your water safety arsenal:

Easy to Use

Type IV PFDs are incredibly user-friendly. Unlike life jackets, they do not need to be worn beforehand but can be quickly thrown to the person in need during an emergency.

Lightweight and Towable

Compared to traditional life jackets, Type IV PFDs are lightweight and provide better mobility in the water. Additionally, many Type IVs come with an attached rope or attachment point, allowing for easy towing of the person in distress.

Versatile and Size-Inclusive

Type IV PFDs can be used in various water conditions, from slow-flowing rivers to oceans and swimming pools. Moreover, they do not have size restrictions and can be worn by individuals of any size or height.

Location Marker

In addition to their flotation capabilities, Type IV PFDs can also act as location markers. If someone falls overboard, throwing a Type IV PFD into the water can help rescuers locate the person’s last known position.

Rules and Regulations for Type IV PFDs

When it comes to Type IV PFDs, there are some important rules and regulations to keep in mind:

  • Vessels over 16 feet in length must carry at least one Type IV PFD, along with life jackets for every person on board.
  • Kayaks, canoes, and non-motorized watercraft are not required to carry Type IV PFDs but must have life jackets for all occupants.
  • Type IV PFDs must be US Coast Guard approved, easily accessible, brightly colored, and provide a minimum buoyancy of 16.5 pounds.
  • While Type IV PFDs are essential, they are not a substitute for life jackets. All personal watercraft should have properly fitting life jackets for each person on board.
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Dos and Don’ts of Type IV PFDs

To ensure the effective use of Type IV PFDs, keep these dos and don’ts in mind:

  • DO use them when there is boat traffic, as it increases the chances of a quick rescue.
  • DO use them in calm waters, as they work best in such conditions.
  • DO use them in conjunction with other PFDs to provide additional support and assistance.
  • DON’T use them in bad weather, as strong waves and currents can separate the PFD from the person in need.
  • DON’T use them on unconscious individuals, as they need to be able to grab onto the PFD for it to be effective.

Taking Care of Your Type IV PFD

To ensure the longevity and effectiveness of your Type IV PFD, follow these care tips:

  • Avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight, as it can deteriorate the PFD quickly. Consider using a ring housing to protect it and keep it in a well-known location on board.
  • Rinse the PFD with fresh water regularly, as saltwater and sea spray can encourage mold and mildew growth.
  • Check your PFD before and after every outing for any signs of damage or wear that may affect its performance.
  • Always ensure the PFD is completely dry before storing it, as water logging can degrade the materials over time.

East Coast Paddle Sports offers a wide range of Type IV PFDs and other essential water safety equipment. Visit East Coast Paddle Sports to explore their collection and ensure your safety on the water.


Still have questions about Type IV PFDs? Here are some frequently asked questions:

  • Q: Are Type IV PFDs suitable for all water activities?

    • A: Yes, Type IV PFDs are versatile and can be used in various water conditions, making them suitable for a wide range of activities.
  • Q: Can Type IV PFDs be used as a replacement for life jackets?

    • A: Type IV PFDs are not meant to replace life jackets. Every personal watercraft should have properly fitting life jackets for each person on board, as required by law.
  • Q: How should I store my Type IV PFD?

    • A: Store your Type IV PFD in a cool, dry place away from sunlight and extreme temperatures. Ensure it is easily accessible in case of an emergency.
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Remember, safety should always be a priority when enjoying water activities. Stay prepared with the right equipment, including a reliable Type IV PFD, and have a great time exploring the water!

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