Staying afloat

Know which floatationdevices will save your life

Know which floatationdevices will save your life


I visited Children's Village of Washington County a few weeks ago with a classroom full of second-graders. We learned about safety at home, on the street and around water.

I say WE learned because it's true.

In one of the sessions, Ranger Russell J. Boback with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources talked about life jackets. He said he had a question for a parent and looked in my direction.

While holding up a life jacket, he asked if I thought that life jacket would keep my child's face up if an accident would occur on the water.

I gave a hopeful nod.

He shook his head, smiled at me and said that's a mistake many parents make.

Type III life jackets - the brightly-colored ones favored by many water skiers - aren't designed to hold an unconscious person's face out of the water.


Of course, I wanted to know more.

After class, Boback agreed to talk about life jackets, or personal flotation devices (PFDs), in more depth.

There are basically five types of flotation devices. Why should you care? Because your life or the life of a loved one may depend on it.

Let's face it, this weekend's forecast looks gloomy. But we can pretend to be getting ready for summer. Safety should be part of our recreational plan.

On Maryland waters, children younger than 7 are required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device while riding on vessels shorter than 21 feet, according to

Water skiers and those on personal watercraft must wear Coast Guard-approved jackets.

Adult boat riders are not required to wear life jackets, but there must be at least one life jacket for each person on a boat, Boback says. The jackets need to match the size of the people. You can't have an adult's jacket for a child or vice-versa. Throwable devices, such as seat cushions or life rings, also should be available.

So what type of jacket do you need?

A Type I, or off-shore, life jacket is designed for open, rough or remote water where rescue may be slow in coming, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The bulkiest type of PFD, it is designed to keep an unconscious person face-up in the water. It may be uncomfortable for extended wear, especially on a hot day, but the bulk makes it the safest.

"See how ugly they are?" Boback says while holding up at Type I jacket. "But they are the safest one. They will keep your head up."

The Type II jacket is suited for calm, inland water or where there is a good chance of quick rescue. The Near-Shore Buoyant Vest is less bulky and more comfortable for extended wear.

This jacket will turn some, but not all, unconscious wearers face-up in the water, according to the DNR.

The Type III jacket also can be used in calm water or where there is a good chance of quick rescue. Designed to keep a person in a vertical position, the jacket may require the wearer to tilt his head back to avoid going face-down. This jacket allows for more freedom of movement in water sports, according to the DNR.

The Type IV device, usually a boat cushion or life ring, can be thrown to a conscious person in the water. It is not designed to be worn and should be easily accessible.

Type V is a special use or hybrid inflatable jacket. These may provide protection against hypothermia. In some cases, they can be substituted for another device.

Types I, II and III are also available in inflatable versions but the DNR does not recommended them for children, individuals who can't swim, water-skiers, personal watercraft riders or whitewater paddlers.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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