Table of Contents

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

When preparing to go out on a vessel, the operator must check that the legally required equipment is on board.

All vessels must be equipped with a personal flotation device for each person on board or being towed.

  • The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) requires that all vessels have at least one Type I, II, or III personal flotation device that is USCG–approved, wearable, and of the proper size for each person on board or being towed. Sizing for PFDs is based on body weight and chest size.
  • Michigan's PFD law permits a vessel that is less than 16 feet long, or is a canoe or kayak, to choose to have either a wearable PFD (Type I, II, or III) or a throwable PFD (Type IV) for each person on board.

In addition to the above requirements, one USCG–approved Type IV PFD must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer and be readily accessible.

Michigan law requires all children under 6 years of age to wear a USCG–approved Type I or II PFD when riding on the open deck of any vessel while underway.

Each person riding on a PWC or being towed behind a PWC or other vessel must wear a USCG–approved Type I, II, or III personal flotation device. Inflatable PFDs are not allowed on PWCs or while being towed behind PWCs or other vessels.

All PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition and must be readily accessible.

Type I PFD

Type I: Offshore Life Jackets – These vests are geared for rough or remote waters where rescue may take awhile. They provide the most buoyancy, are excellent for flotation, and will turn most unconscious persons face up in the water.

Type II PFD

Type II: Near-Shore Vests – These vests are good for calm waters when quick rescue is likely. A Type II may not turn some unconscious wearers face up in the water.

Type III inflatable PFDs

Type III: Flotation Aids – These vests or full-sleeved jackets are good for calm waters when quick rescue is likely. They are not recommended for rough waters since they will not turn most unconscious persons face up.

Type IV inflatable PFDs

Type IV: Throwable Devices – These cushions and ring buoys are designed to be thrown to someone in trouble. Since a Type IV is not designed to be worn, it is neither for rough waters nor for persons who are unable to hold onto it.

Type V PFD

TYPE V: Special-Use Devices – These vests, deck suits, hybrid PFDs, and others are designed for specific activities such as windsurfing, kayaking, or water-skiing. To be acceptable, Type V PFDs must be used in accordance with their label.

Type V PFD

Michigan law requires all children under 6 years of age to wear a USCG-approved Type I or II PFD when riding on the open deck of any vessel.

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