What is a PFD, what it really does and how it properly works. First and foremost what does PFD mean? Princeton Fire Dept? Praline Fruit Dessert? NO it stands for Personal Flotation Device; aka life jacket.

Most drownings occur way out at sea, right? Wrong! Fact is, 9 out of 10 drownings occur in inland waters, most within a few feet of safety. Most of the victims owned PFDs, but they died without them. A wearable PFD can save your life, if you wear it. If you haven’t been wearing your PFD because of the way it makes you look or feel, there’s good news. Today’s PFDs fit better, look better and are easy to move around in. Before you shove off, make sure all on board are wearing PFDs. To work best, PFDs must be worn with all straps, zippers, and ties fastened. Tuck in any loose strap ends to avoid getting snagged or hung-up. When you don’t wear your PFD, the odds are against you. You’re taking a chance on your life.

According to the United States Coast Guard children can panic when they suddenly fall into the water. This causes them to move their arms and legs violently, making it hard to float safely in a PFD. A PFD will keep a child afloat but may not keep a struggling child face-up. That’s why it’s so important to teach children how to put on a PFD and to help them get used to wearing one in the water. To work right, a PFD must fit snugly on a child. To check for a good fit, pick the child up by the shoulders of the PFD. If the PFD fits right, the child’s chin and ears will not slip through.

PFDs are not babysitters. Even though a child wears a PFD when on or near the water, an adult should always be there. Parents should remember that inflatable toys, rafts, blow up water wings should not be used in place of PFDs. According to Boater Kids; A puddle jumper looks like the blow-up water wings but is foam filled where both arms fit thru, it has a front chest piece and a snap enclosure in the back. The PFD company Stearns makes a Puddle Jumper, their label clearly states that it is “US Coast Guard Approved when worn on boats”. It is meant for a child 30-50 lbs – perfect for about 2-4-year-old kids (or even up to 5 if your kid is smaller and lighter than most). While it is Coast Guard approved remember to read the label as this is basically a swim aid when anchored and swimming and will not do what a traditional PFD will do if the child were to fall out a moving boat.

Since infants and children come in many sizes and shapes, the U.S. Coast Guard and personal flotation device (PFD) manufacturers urge that PFDs be tested immediately after purchase. You should test your PFD in a swimming pool. Test it with the infant or child who will be wearing the PFD. Just because it works for one infant or child does not mean it will work for another in the same manner. Check for proper weight range, comfortable fit, and especially a stable face-up position in water. Infants and children are difficult to float in a face-up position because of the distribution of body weight and the tendency for them to struggle or attempt to climb out of the water. Some infants and children float best in one style of vest, while others will float better in another. If one does not work well, try another style. 

Remember: Never leave an infant or child unattended on a dock, on a boat or in-the-water, even if they have a PFD on.

The Coast Guard has 4 types (classes) of PFDs:

• Type I Off-Shore: Best for open water, rough seas and abandon-shop for commercial vessels .Slow rescue

• Type II Near Shore: General boating activities. Calm inland water ways, fast rescue.

• Type III Flotation Aids: These are specialized activities marked on the device such as water skiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and others. These are good for calm inland waters where the chance of rescue is fast.

• Type V Special Use: Throwable cushions, Throwable life-rings, Hybrid Inflatable PFDs, Canoe/Kayak Vest, Boardsailing Vests, Work Vests for Commercial Vessels

According to the The Handbook of Missouri Boating Laws and Responsibilities 2019 edition

Children under 7 years of age must wear a USCG approved PFD at all times while on board any vessel, unless the child is confined in a totally enclosed area of the vessel, such as the cabin area of a houseboat or day cruiser.

Did you also know that someone being towed behind a vessel by definition is considered to be aboard the vessel?