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PFDs help you stay safe when you’re on the water, but there are so many styles available!

Selecting the best type for you can feel confusing and overwhelming.

Let’s focus on one of the most common types of PFDs: Type IV. 

In our discussion, we’ll explore many of the questions people frequently ask about this type of safety equipment.

How is a Type IV PFD different from other styles? 

What is the main advantage of a Type IV PFD? How does a Type IV PFD protect you?

What is a Type IV PFD?

No matter what type of boat you captain, you’re going to need a PFD. 

PFDs are essential safety equipment anytime you are on the water, but there are several different styles to choose from.

If you do not choose the correct type of PFD for your boat and passengers, you can find yourself in a very dangerous situation.

First of all, the type of PFD refers to the official designation by theUnited States Coast Guard (USCG). 

They rank every PFD according to its style, functionality, and floatation capabilities.

A Type IV PFD is the designation given to throwable flotation devices. 

You’ve probably seen these on large commercial crafts and near public swimming pools. 

Type IV PFDs are usually circular in shape, making them easy to toss to someone stranded in the water.

They can also be shaped as seat cushions, giving them a dual purpose. 

While Type IV PFDs have two straps, they differ from other flotation devices in the sense that they are not intended to be worn.

Instead, they are used in situations where someone may need assistance in the water. 

In such cases, you can quickly throw a Type IV PFD to the person, helping them regain control of the situation.

It’s important to note that Type IV PFDs are required on all boats longer than 16 ft, with the exception of personal canoes and kayaks.

While Type IV PFDs are not required in these situations, it’s still a good idea to have one or two on hand in case of an emergency.

How to use a Type IV PFD

Type IV PFDs are meant to be thrown to someone struggling in the water. 

They’re often reserved for overboard situations.

Once the person has made contact with the PFD, they can place the device under their chest to stay afloat.

While you can use the straps, this is generally not necessary.

Once you’ve made contact with the PFD, you can propel yourself through the water with your legs while holding onto the PFD until you can reach safety.

Disadvantages of a Type IV PFD

While Type IV PFDs have many advantages, they come with several disadvantages and warnings.

Reserve for emergencies

First, Type IV PFDs are the least effective floatation device available. 

If you’re using a Type IV PFD, you need to have a more substantial PFD available, too.

Type IV PFDs are not designed to be the sole means of flotation aboard a boat; they are best reserved for emergencies.

Use sufficient buoyancy

Secondly, not all Type IV PFDs are created equal. 

To work properly, the PFD must have sufficient flotation power with regards to the person using it to stay afloat.

The average adult needs between 7-12 lbs of buoyancy to stay afloat. 

If you are of average size, a Type IV PFD will most likely work for you. 

However, beware that these floatation devices are not intended to bear greater weights. 

Do not use it with non-swimmers or unconscious individuals.

They are also not intended for non-swimmers. If you don’t know how to swim, never solely rely on a Type IV PFD.

Also, Type IV PFDs are not recommended for use with an unconscious individual.

What is the main advantage of a Type IV PFD?

Type IV PFDs come with many advantages from portability to price. 

Inexpensive and long lasting nature

Compared to other types of floatation devices, Type IV PFDs are quite inexpensive, and they are designed to last a long time.

They are highly durable, and, if you take care of them, they can last for many years.


Unlike some of their counterparts that are intended to fit the person wearing them, these PFDs are not restricted to body shapes.

You can use a Type IV PFD regardless of whether you are large or small. 

And, you do not have to worry about adjusting the PFD to fit a certain body type, provided you fall within the recommended weight range.

Ease of use

The greatest advantage of Type IV PFDs is that they are extremely easy to use. 

They are not complicated to wear, and they do not require any adjustments based on the individual.

You can use them as a safety precaution, or as a last resort. It’s fast to get them to someone in the water who needs help.

While they are very easy to use and handy to have, they do not impede your time on the water.

Other types of PFDs can be bulky and uncomfortable, but Type IVs do not bog you down in the water.

Always consult an industry professional before using any PFD to ensure its safety and appropriateness. The content presented in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be substituted for professional advice.

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