Letter Re: Distance Traveling by Waterways

Thanks for your work. I have been a faithful reader for quite a while (and a 10-Cent Challenge subscriber).

After reading LDM in Colorado’s post, I had to e-mail and correct a few problems. While I know little of white water rafting, I do know about Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs). I was a Coast Guard Boarding Officer for many years, and I would like to correct some of his terminology. Unfortunately, some of his comments could place someone in danger.

The rating system for PFDs is based on capabilities. Specifically,

Type I: Provides 22 lbs of buoyancy and turns most unconscious victims face up in the water. The old “Mae West” PFDs referred to are not rated PFDs and do not meet the requirements for any type of PFD.

Type II: 15.5 lbs of buoyancy turns some unconscious victims up in the water. These provide less buoyancy than Type Is, but they are less bulky and easier to work in.

Type III: 15.5 lbs of buoyancy but does not make any effort to upright an unconscious victim. They are easier to wear than either type Is or IIs.

Type IV: Throwable PFDs such as life rings and seat cushions.

Type V: These are special purpose PFDs. They are usually either hybrid (meaning some buoyancy that can be augmented by an inflation), or automatically inflating PFDs, or even full-coveralls for working in stormy conditions.

Type Vs have many advantages, but they have many drawbacks. First of all – use the right Type V for the task. A Type V PFD that requires manual inflation (by pulling a cord) is of little value to an unconscious person. Also – any PFD that can be inflated also has a greater incidence of failure. In regards to PFDs simpler is often better.

If it is simply a matter of floating in the water, a Type I provides the most closed-call foam, keeps most victims upright, and keeps them floating high in the water – and they do it very simply. However, white water rafting requires more freedom of movement than what Type Is allow. That is why Type Vs are so popular. Hybrids are the easiest to wear for an extended period or time.

Thanks for allowing me to make this correction. If you have a boat – you should have at least one Type IV, and one Type III (or II or I) for each person. In fact, Type Vs are only permitted on boats for specific circumstances – that’s why they are Type Vs. They are designed for water skiing, or work coveralls, or white water rafting. But they are poor substitutes for general PFD needs.

Here’s a couple of links that might provide some clarification:

From the Texas Department of of Parks and Wildlife
From the American Association of Pediatrics
From Boating Safety Sidekicks

Regards, – BES in Washington