Another type of "life saving equipment" (LSE) as referenced by the International Convention on Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) is the "immersion suit", also referred to as a (ship) "abandonment suit" or "Gumby suit" (Gumby is the name of a toy from America in the 1960s. People wearing immersion suits resemble this cartoon -like character.), which are specially designed to provide not only flotation but also thermal protection or insulation from cold water. Whereas "personal flotation devices" generally involve the wearer becoming wet while floating, immersion suits are designed to seal out water for the most part. (However, the wearer can still become wet inside an immersion suit due to perspiration (sweat) and urination inside the suit.)
"Dry suits" also seal out water but do not generally provide flotation.
"Life savers" are also referred to as "lifebuoys", "ring buoys", "life preservers" or "life rings" and are NOT wearable and not only provide flotation but also serve to mark the location of a person who is overboard in the water. The circular device is equipped with a "becket line" or ~1.5 cm diameter cord affixed at several (generally 4) points around the device's perimeter for the user to hold on to. The larger sizes of these devices are designed with sufficient flotation to buoy up MORE THAN ONE victim in the water.
"Lifesling" is the trade name of another water survival device which combines personal lifesaving function with an overboard recovery function. It's main features consist of a buoyant loop that a person can slip over his or head (or swim into) and under his or her armpits, connected to an integral floating lifeline that can be trailed from a boat to effect recovery of a person in the water back towards the boat from which he or she may have fallen from. The device is also used to rescue people in the water by trailing it behind the rescuing vessel, which is maneuvered so that the line encircles the person, who then secures him or herself to the buoyant collar. One model of Lifesling has received USCG approval as a type of PFD.
Devices designed and approved by authorities for use by civilians (recreational boaters, sailors, canoeists, kayakers, etc.) differ from those designed for use by passengers and crew of aircraft (helicopters, airplanes) and of commercial vessels (tugs, passenger ferries, cargo ships). Devices used by military (air force, special forces, marines, navy, coast guard) and police and enforcement agencies generally have features not found on civilian or commercial models, for example compatibility with other worn kit (e.g. survival vest, bullet proof vest / body armor, equipment harness, rappelling harness) and use of ballistic nylon cloth to protect pressurized carbon dioxide (CO2) canisters used for inflating the vest from injuring the wearer if struck by a round from a firearm. The ballistic cloth keeps the fragments from the canister from becoming shrapnel injurious to the user.
PFDs are available in different sizes and different designs purposed for various levels of protection.
The University of Victoria in British Columbia (province) Canada pioneered research and development into the "Floater Coat" (patented UVic Thermo Float PFD), which provides superior protection from cold water immersion (immersion hypothermia) through the incorporation of a neoprene rubber "diaper" that seals the user's upper thigh/groin region from otherwise cold, flushing and debilitating water.
The photograph to the right features two types of PFDs: A USCG Type II (vest, being worn) and Type V ("mustang suit" one piece coverall, hanging up)
Lifejackets or life vests are the most multiform of personal flotation devices. They are mandatory on airplanes travelling over water (in which case they consist of a pair of air cells (bladders) that can be inflated by triggering the release of carbon dioxide gas from a canister - one canister for each separate cell. Or the cells can be inflated "orally" that is by blowing into a flexible tube with a one-way valve to seal the air in the cell. Lifejackets must also be supplied on seafaring vessels, accessible to all crew and passengers and to be donned in an emergency. Floatation devices are also found in near water-edges and at swimming pools. They may take the form of a simple vest, a jacket, a full-body suit (one piece coverall), or their variations suited for particular purposes. They are most commonly made of a tough synthetic fiber material encapsulating a source of buoyancy, such as foam or a chamber of air, and are often brightly colored as yellow or orange to maximize visibility for rescues. Some devices consist of a combination of BOTH buoyancy foam and an air chamber. Retroreflective "SOLAS" tape is often sewn to the fabric used to construct lifejackets and PFDs to facilitate a person being spotted in darkness when a search light is shone towards the wearer.
The simplest and least buoyant of the class come in the form of nylon-lined foam vests, often used in training for swimming, or as light safety precautions in relatively safe environments, such as lake cruises and amusement parks. With no need for a leakproofing quality check because of their inherently buoyant foam cores, they can be mass-produced inexpensively and widely used, making it the most commonly seen form of lifejackets.
Such devices can be best thought of as "buoyancy aid" only (as opposed to a 'life saver") in the sense that they are useful adjuncts for users who know how to swim. Non-swimmers (or weak swimmers) with no or little in-water orientation skills such as treading water and somersaulting would be disadvantaged wearing a simple buoyancy aid vest compared to an able competent swimmer who is capable of orienting him or herself in the water with his/her face clear of the water. It is possible to float in a face down in the water position while wearing such a vest.
Life jackets for outfitting large commercial transport in potentially dangerous waters, such as coastal cruises and offshore passages, and overwater air flights, are often a pair of (twin or double) sealed air chambers constructed of coated nylon (sometimes with a protective outer encasing of heavier, tougher material such as vinyl), joined together (but can also be constructed of foam aboard ships). Twin air chambers provide for redundancy in the event of one of the air chambers leaking, for example if the thin air cell fabric is sliced open by sharp metal fragments during emergency evacuation and egress.
Aircraft devices for crew and passengers are always inflatable since it may be necessary to swim down and away from a ditched or submerged aircraft: inflated or foam filled devices would significantly impede a person from swimming downward in order to escape a vehicle cabin. Upon surfacing, the person would then inflate the device, orally or by triggering the gas canister release mechanism.
"True" Life Jackets always provide more buoyancy than buoyancy aids and the positioning of the buoyancy on the wearer's torso is such that a righting moment (rotational force) is developed that will eventually float most persons (for example unconscious) who are face down into a FACE UP attitude with their bodies inclined backward, unlike common foam buoyancy vests (which are simply swimmers' aids, really since they don't generate re-righting moment forces.) Self righting devices are be best for non-swimmers, who may not be able to orient themselves face up in the water, for example due to panic arising from finding themselves in deep, open water.
Today these air chamber vests are commonly referred to as "Inflatable Life Jackets or Vests" and are available not only for commercial applications but also for recreational boating, fishing, sailing, as well as kayaking and canoeing. They are available in a variety of styles and are generally more comfortable and less bulky than traditional foam vests.
The air chambers are always located over the breast, across the shoulders and encircling the back of the head. They may be inflated by either self-contained carbon dioxide cartridges activated by the pulling of a cord, or blow tubes with a one-way valve for inflation by exhalation. Some of the inflatable life jackets also react with the salt/fresh water, inflating them. The latest generation of self triggering inflation devices, however, respond to water pressure when submerged and incorporate an actuator known as a "hydrostatic release". Regardless of whether manually (pull cord) or automatically triggered, a pin punctures the cartridge/canister and the CO2 gas escapes into the sealed air chamber.
Drifting in open seas and international waters, as encountered by long sea voyages and military forces, require prolonged survival in water. The life jackets suited for this purpose are often attached to a vest with pockets and attachment points for distress signaling and survival, for example: a handheld two-way radio (walkie-talkie), emergency beacon (406 MHz frequency), signal mirror, sea marker dye, smoke or light signal flares, strobe light, first-aid supplies, concentrated nutritional items, water purification supplies, shark repellent, knife, pistol.
Offshore sailors and others can utilize accessories such as leg straps to keep the inflated chambers in position for floating in a stable attitude and splash or face shields constructed of clear see-through vinyl which covers the head and face to ward off water from waves inundating the face (nasal and mouth entries to the airway).
The Mark 10 Submarine Escape Immersion Equipment (SEIE) suit is intended to allow submariners to escape from much deeper depths than currently possible with the Steinke Hood. Some United States Navy submarines already have the system, with an ambitious installation and training schedule in place for the remainder of the fleet.
Because it is a full body suit, the Mark 10 provides thermal protection once the wearer reaches the surface, and the Royal Navy has successfully tested it at 180 m (600 feet) depths. (see Submarines in the United States Navy#Pressure and escape training and Steinke hood)
Personal flotation devices were not part of the equipment issued to naval sailors up to the early 1800s, for example at the Napoleonic Battle of Trafalgar. Seamen who were press-ganged into naval service might have used such devices to jump ship and swim to freedom. It wasn't until lifesaving services were formed that personal safety of boat crews heading out in pulling boats generally in horrific sea conditions was addressed.
Purpose-designed buoyant safety devices consisting of simple blocks of wood or cork were used by Norwegian seamen. The modern lifejacket is generally credited to one Captain Ward, a Royal National Lifeboat Institution inspector in the United Kingdom, who, in 1854, created a cork vest to be worn by lifeboat crews for both weather protection and buoyancy.
The rigid cork material eventually came to be supplanted by pouches containing watertight cells filled with kapok, a vegetative material. These soft cells were much more flexible and more comfortable to wear compared with devices utilizing hard cork pieces. Kapok buoyancy was used in many navies fighting in the Second World War. Foam eventually supplanted kapok for "inherently buoyant" (vs. inflated and therefore not inherently buoyant) flotation.
Reference: Built for Life: the history of lifejackets; Dr. Christopher Brookes, Defence and Civil Institute for Environmental Medicine (Downsview , Ontario, Canada; Canadian Navy); Survival Systems (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada) [apparently the only authoritative text on the subject in the English language with a comprehensive account of lifejackets; the only others are in German]
Throwable PFDs are often called "life savers", "life preservers" or "lifebelts" or Lifebuoy (although the terms "life savers" and "life preservers" can also refer to lifejackets/vests).
Throwable PFDs are deployed from a vessel or land into nearby water, to give the recipient buoyancy. They are often provided on ships, docks and other water-edges in case a person falls in the water. Throwable PFDs are usually ring-shaped (toroidal). Such a shape is easy to throw to a distressed person, can be grasped by a hand or hooked arm even in turbulent conditions, and is much easier to put on in the water than a lifevest.
A new form of throwable PFD, known as a "guidable life preserver," or "hydrofoil-powered life preserver", is starting to gain widespread acceptance and use, particularly in the field of swiftwater rescue. Guidable life preservers are typically capable of greater distances and accuracy than traditional throwable life preservers, and in some cases can also be used to transport rescue workers across the water. One example of this new form of life preserver is the following shore-based swiftwater rescue system
Certain airplane seat cushions may be used as flotation devices. They typically include two straps on the back to be held onto in the event of an unsuccessful ditching on a body of water. They are designed to be used as personal flotation devices on non-overwater aircraft that are not required to be stocked with a supply of life vests. (Commercial aircraft are also equipped with multiple inflatable "escape slide - raft" devices, just as ships are equipped with inflatable life rafts and other floating survival platforms additional to rigid lifeboats.)
- 50N (buoyancy aid)
- 150N (lifejacket)
Please see the official website: http://www.uscgboating.org/safety/fedreqs/equ_pfd.htm
The United States Coast Guard rates PFDs in five types.
According to the Coast Guard, all recreational boats must carry one wearable PFD (Type I, II, III or V) per person on board. Boats over sixteen feet in length are also required to carry a throwable (Type IV) PFD, but canoes and kayaks are exempt from this rule.
PFDs must be approved by the Coast Guard (all PFDs will carry a label indicating they are USCG-approved; this label should never be removed) and they must also be in good condition, as well as being an appropriate size for the wearer. (Child-size PFDs have different buoyancy requirements than adult PFDs.) It is extremely important that wearable PFDs, if not actually on their designated person, be at least readily accessible. If an emergency arises, they must be situated in such a way that they can be easily put on.
Inflatable PFDs are sometimes considered more comfortable to wear, but they require proper care. They must have a full cylinder and indicators must read green. There are no Type IV inflatable PFDs, and they are sized only for adults. Type I and II inflatables have a buoyancy of 34 pounds, and type IIIs have a buoyancy of 22.5 pounds. There are also type V inflatable models, but their buoyancy ranges from 22.5 to 34 pounds.
Laws about PFD use vary from state to state. The only federal laws related to PFD use indicate that they are not required on racing kayaks, racing canoes, rowing sculls, or racing shells. Many states do require PFDs for towed activities such as water skiing, as well as when operating personal watercraft, during whitewater activities, and when sailboarding (even though sailboards are not technically "boats" according to federal law).
Some states make it mandatory for children to WEAR PFDs. The requirement varies by state, generally speaking.
In Canada, the term "Personal Flotation Device" is reserved specifically for devices with a minimum of 15.5 pound-force of flotation (69N) for fully inherent - or Canadian Type I - (foam) and 35 pounds (~150N) for fully inflatable type devices. The federal standards also recognize a Canadian Type II "Hybrid" device that is comprised partly of inherent foam (8? pounds minimum) supplemented by inflatable flotation (14? pounds). PFDs also include one piece coverall suits, coats and jackets.
So Types I and II have different meanings in Canada compared to the United States.
In Canada, devices designated as PFDs are approved for use ONLY ABOARD PLEASURE CRAFT (though commercial small vessels often carry them additional to the lifejackets required to meet the Small Vessel Regulation requirements.) Inflatable PFDs MUST BE WORN to count as an approved device to meet mandatory safety equipment vessel carriage requirements.
PFDs, in order to meet carriage requirements for mandatory safety equipment MUST BE OF THE APPROPRIATE SIZE FOR THE BOAT OCCUPANTS and MUST BE READILY ACCESSIBLE IN THE EVENT OF AN EMERGENCY (not stowed in hard to reach quickly locations).
The term "Lifejacket" is reserved for devices with 21.5 to 35 pound-force of flotation that is distributed to promote self-righting. (Note that some PFDs with 15.5 pound-force can take the same form (i.e. keyhole) as a Standard Lifejacket (28 pound-force) that promotes self-righting, however PFDs are not required to self right.) "Lifejackets", while acceptable for use on recreational vessels MUST BE carried aboard all commercial vessels. PFDs of any type do not meet the carriage requirements for any commercial vessel though some commercial operators are known to wear a PFD while working aboard small non-pleasure craft, for example police officers on small patrol boats.
Currently there is the "STANDARD LIFEJACKET" and the "SMALL VESSEL LIFEJACKET", both of inherently buoyant foam flotation. The former is acceptable on both pleasure and ALL commercial vessels including fishing vessels, whereas the Small Vessel Lifejacket is acceptable on pleasure craft and small commercial vessels (passenger and non-passenger-carrying) NO MORE THAN 15 gross tonnage and only up to 12 passengers in the case of a small commercial passenger-carrying vessel, BUT NOT SMALL FISHING VESSELS. The standards are specified by the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) and the approval is given by the federal Department of Transport (Transport Canada).
There is also the Canadian-approved (35 pound-force) SOLAS standard lifejacket in both all inherent and all inflatable models. At present there is no hybrid (combination) inherent-inflatable SOLAS device commonly and readily available for sale in Canada.
The inflatable device is considered as a PFD, not as a Lifejacket by Transport Canada and meets a standard developed by Underwriters Laboratories UL, which is also used by the USCG. This is a SINGLE CELL device. A TWIN CELL inflatable device standard will likely be developed that will meet carriage requirements aboard certain types of commercial vessel. [Source: CGSB]
Lifejackets must be stamped or labeled that they have been approved by the Canadian Coast Guard or Transport Canada in accordance with the Small Vessel Regulations and other regulations.
If a lifejacket does not fall under the standards prescribed in the Life Saving Equipment Regulations, it must meet the applicable standards of the Canadian General Standards Board, the Underwriters Laboratories of Canada, or SOLAS. However, the LSE Regulations are undergoing revision as part of Regulatory Reform by Transport Canada pursuant to the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 which came into force July 1, 2007.
A non-resident of Canada may bring aboard a Canadian PLEASURE CRAFT a wearable USCG PFD of any type provided it conforms with the applicable home state and federal requirements.
PFDs intended for children are specifically required to meet the standards established in the Personal Flotation Devices for Children standard from the CGSB. Standards for ring-type lifebuoys are established in the SVR, Schedule III, sections 4 through 14 and in the Lifesaving Equipment Regulations. However, this standard has been replaced in 2007 for future approval for device manufacture by TC.
HOWEVER, effective 2007, the CGSB lifejacket standards have been revised for manufacturing devices towards Transport Canada approval. Devices meeting the "old" lifejacket standard eventually may need to be replaced with devices meeting the "new" standard. Efforts are also being made to develop a common North American standard, analogous to the European CEN standards which replaced multiple national standards operating within the European Union. [Source: CGSB]
Pleasure craft no longer than six meters must carry an appropriately-sized PFD for each person on board, and a "buoyant heaving line" (throwbag) of at least 15 meters. If every person on board is wearing an appropriately-sized PFD, then additional devices are not required on personal watercraft or paddleboats. In addition to lifejackets or PFDs for each person on board, pleasure craft between six and eight meters must carry a 15-meter buoyant line attached to a throwbag or ring-type lifebuoy; those up to 12 meters must carry both a throwbag and lifebuoy. On boats up to 20 meters, the lifebuoy must be equipped with a light and buoyant line; boats over 20 meters require an additional lifebuoy.
Small Fishing Vessels and Small Commercial Vessels are also required to carry life jackets (but not PFDs) and life rings.
The Small Vessel Regulations require TYPE I inherently buoyant lifejackets be carried by sailboarders, in personal watercraft, for whitewater paddling, and by individuals under the age of 16 or smaller than 36.3 kg (80 lb). Inflatables are not acceptable. Inflatable PFDs MUST BE WORN on open boats and when the individual is on the deck of a boat that is not open in order to meet the pleasure craft standard for approved safety equipment. Sailboarders may not use automatically inflatable PFDs but may use manually inflated ones.
Exceptions to the pleasure craft PFD (not life jackets) requirements state that infants under 9 kg (20 lb) and persons with a chest size greater than 140 cm (55 in) are not required to meet pleasure craft personal protection equipment standards and requirements. Note that SALUS Marine Wear has developed an infant PFD design that is unique in the world, though it doesn't fall under any Canadian regulatory regime, such as the Small Vessel Regulations.
Exceptions are also made for rowing shells, racing canoes, and racing kayaks while they are in formal training or official competition under a "governing body" recognized by Transport Canada, provided they are accompanied by a safety craft that carries (a) a PFD for each member of the safety craft crew AND (b) sufficient approved PFDs of the PROPER SIZE for all occupants of the largest racing craft being accompanied. Sailboarders need not wear PFDs if they are involved in an official competition that includes a safety boat carrying PFDs for emergency use and where there are also devices for the crew of the safety boat.
PFDs are generally worn by Canadian Dragonboat paddlers, however enforcement authorities sometimes allow for the non-wearing of PFDs during officially sanctioned competition under a recognized governing body, which requires additional safety measures be instituted during such formal competition.
NOTE THAT THE SMALL VESSEL REGULATIONS ARE BEING REVISED, with effect expected in 2009, as part of the Regulatory Reform program pursuant to the "Canada Shipping Act, 2001" - which came into force July 1, 2007, supplanting the (now rescinded) "Canada Shipping Act".
The Small Vessel Regulations covers small (non-pleasure) commercial vessels up to 15 gross tonnage and all sizes of pleasure craft, whereas the Small Fishing Vessel Regulations covers commercial fishing vessels up to ____ gross tonnage/ 24 metres in "overall length". The SFV Regs are also undergoing revision and updating.