Life Jacket Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve compiled this list of Frequently Asked Questions regarding PFDs and life jackets based off questions that were submitted to us. This page will continue be updated. If you have a question that you feel would be beneficial to other readers, please drop us a note through our Contact page and we’ll do our best to answer it.

What is the difference between a PFD, life jacket, or life vest?

A PFD (Personal Floatation Device) is a device that’s designed to keep a person wearing it, afloat in the water. Life jackets, life vests, floatation aids, float rings, life belts, inflatable jackets, and airplane seat cushions are all considered types of PFDs. Life jackets and vests are usually used interchangeably and the most common type of PFD used.

Should I clean my life jacket after using?
What’s the best way to store a PFD after use?

After use, make sure to completely rinse off the PFD with clean water, especially if it was used in salt water or has sand or mud on it. Allow the PFD to thoroughly air dry outside, preferably in the sun. Do not use any type of direct heat such as a hair dryer to speed up the process. Once completely dried, store it in a cool, dry, dark location.

Do I need to get a new life jacket if there’s mold on it?

Not necessarily. There are a couple good options for cleaning mold or mildew off a life jacket. One involves salt, the other, hydrogen peroxide.

How do I know when to replace a life jacket?
What is the lifespan of a PFD?

A life jacket doesn’t exactly have an expiration date. As long as the cover is free of tears, foam inside doesn’t feel brittle or broken up, straps are in good working condition even after a good tug, and there’s no excess mold which can’t be cleaned off, the life vest can easily last many years. Over time, the sun may cause the color of the outer layer to fade so it may be harder to spot in case of rescue. If the fading is too much, a replacement would be recommended.

Do I need to replace my inflatable life jacket if I accidentally inflate it?

Once an auto-inflatable life jacket is inflated, the CO2 gas cylinder is emptied and the cylinder will need to be replaced before using again. There are “rearming” kits available for all brands of auto-inflate life jackets. Unless punctured, the actual life jacket can be used again and again.

Is there a minimum age for using an inflatable PFD?

Yes. You have to be over the age of 16 to use an inflatable PFD and weigh at least 80 lbs.

Is it possible to wear a life jacket while snorkeling?

Since a life jacket is designed to keep your head above the water, it doesn’t work well for snorkeling where you want your head level with the water. A much better option would be a good snorkel vest which is specifically designed for that purpose.

As a woman, why can’t I find a life jacket that fits comfortably?

Since adult life jackets have traditional been designed with the male figure in mind, women often struggle finding a life jacket that fits right. The good news is that more and more manufacturers are coming out with life jackets for women that better fit the curves of women.

Does a life jacket for pregnant women exist?

While PFDs specifically made for pregnancy don’t exist, a regular life jacket that’s 1-2 sizes larger than you normally wear usually fits well enough. This allows you to go boating during most of your pregnancy or enjoy certain other water activities such as kayaking, floating the river, or going on a cruise.


Can my dog wear a life jacket?

Absolutely! There are many different types and sizes of life vests designed especially for dogs. While many dogs are naturally good swimmers, they still expend a lot of energy staying afloat while swimming. A good dog life jacket will allow them to be in the water longer and stay safer.

Do kids need to wear life jackets at all times?

Yes, if on a boat. Federal regulations require all children under the age of 13 to wear life jackets at all times while aboard a boat. That said, most states have their own life jacket laws for children which supersede federal law. To view your state’s requirements regarding children and life jackets, see our Child Life Jacket Requirements page.

When not boating, it is the parent’s responsibility to determine whether their child should be wearing a life vest or swim aid. With kids, it’s good to instill good habits at a young age and err on the side of caution. It’s a fact that many child drownings each year could have been prevented if a life jacket was being used.

Are there places I can borrow a life jacket?

Life jacket loaner programs and sites continue to spring up more and more each year. Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to purchase a new life jacket for one-time use or if you forgot yours at home. One of the best life vest loaner program search tools is found HERE.

What type of life jacket do I need if I can’t swim?

Since most adults need only 7-12 lbs. of extra buoyancy to keep afloat (people are already naturally buoyant to an extent), any USCG approved PFD (except a deflated Type V) will provide more than enough buoyancy to stay afloat. This doesn’t apply to infants/toddlers who need specific types of PFDs to prevent them from floating face down.

Does a heavier adult need more buoyancy to stay afloat than a lighter adult?

Typically, it’s the exact opposite. We’ll be blunt but it’s a fact that fat floats better than muscle. The bodyfat percentage of a person is a better measurement of how buoyant someone is. In other words, a 275 pound NFL linebacker with 8% bodyfat will need more buoyancy to stay afloat than a 275 pound person with 30% bodyfat who has more “natural” buoyancy. That said, a USCG approved PFD would provide enough buoyancy for both people in the example.

What type of PFD should I get if I do a variety of water sports?

A US Coast Guard approved Type III PFD should be used as it’s a lot more comfortable and less bulky than Type I or II but offers the same amount of buoyancy.


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