When considering a Type I, II or III - remember that, generally, the lower the number the better the performance. (A Type I is better than a Type II.)
Types I, II or III may be inherently buoyant, that is, they will float without action by the wearer, or they may be inflatable (oral and manual inflation at a minimum), or a combination of both (hybrid). Currently, all USCG approved inflatable PFDs are Type IIIs with manual inflation.
Select a PFD based upon your planned activities and the water conditions you expect to encounter.
Offshore Life JacketType II
Near-shore Buoyant VestType III
Flotation AidBest for open, rough or remote water, where rescue may be slow-coming.Good for calm or inland water, or where there is a good chance of fast rescueGood for conscious users in inland water and where there is good chance of fast rescue.AdvantagesFloats you the best Turns most unconscious wearers face-up in water
Highly visible color
Turns some unconscious wearers face-up in the water Less bulky, more comfortable than Type I
Generally the most comfortable type for continuous wear Designed for general boating or the activity that is marked on the device
Available in many styles, including vests and flotation coats
DisadvantagesBulkyNot for long hours in rough water Will not turn some unconscious wearers face-up
Wearer may have to tilt head back to avoid going face down Not for extended survival in rough water; a wearer's face may often be covered by waves
All wearers need to try it in water prior to going boating
Inflatables:Inflatables: Some brands are now approved. Be sure to check for USCG approval. Type III Inflatables: Will keep many unconscious wearers face-up after inflation, but must be regularly inspected and re-armed to be reliable. Inflatables are not for non-swimmers, or for long hours in rough water. Inflatables are not for use where high speed impact is likely to occur.