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Personal Flotation Devices

The operator of every boat must have onboard the required number and type of approved Personal Floatation Devices that are described below. An approved PFD is one that meets the safety standards established by the U.S. Coast Guard, has a Coast Guard approval stamped or sewn on it, and is in serviceable condition (ripped, damaged or unserviceable PFD's are not legal). All PFD's must be readily accessible and wearable Personal Flotation Devices must be the proper size for the intended wearer.


Boats: It is unlawful to operate any boat (including inflatables and inner tubes) unless at least one of the following type PFD's of the proper size is available for each person on board.

Iowa law now requires persons 12 years of age and younger to be wearing their PFD when the boat is underway. Exceptions are provided when at anchor, tied to a dock, aground, in an enclosed cabin, or while on a commercial vessel with a capacity of 25 persons or more.

In addition to the above, each boat 16 feet or longer (except canoes and kayaks) must have at least one throwable buoyant cushion or ring buoy on board.

Personal Watercraft (PWC): It is unlawful to operate a PWC unless each person is wearing a type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device.


Type I - Off-shore life jacket

Type II - Near-shore buoyant vest

The Type I PFD provides the most buoyancy and is best for open, rough or remote water, where rescue may be slow in coming. It is designed to turn most unconscious wearers face-up in the water. The Type I comes in both adult and child size.

The Type II PFD is good for calm, inland water or where there is a good chance of quick rescue. This type will turn some, but not all, unconscious wearers face-up in the water. Less bulky than a Type I PFD, the Type II is the least expensive type of PFD. It is available in many sizes.


Type III - Flotation aid

The Type III PFD is good for calm, inland water or where there is a good chance of quick rescue. Designed to keep the wearer in a vertical position, it may require the wearer to tilt their head back to avoid going face-down in the water and therefore is not recommended for extended survival in rough water. The Type III allows more freedom of movement for active water sports and is generally the most comfortable type for continuous wear. Float coats, fishing vests, and vests designed with features suitable for various sports activities are examples of this type of PFD.


Type IV - Throwable device

The Type IV PFD is an approved device that is designed to the thrown to a conscious person in the water. This device is not designed to be worn and must have at least 16.5 pounds of buoyancy. These usually take the shape of a boat cushion, life ring, or horseshoe device. These devices must be readily accessible during boat operation.


Type V - special use device or
hybrid inflatable

The Type V PFD is a special use device intended for a certain activity and may be carried instead of another PFD, but only if used in accordance with its label. Some of these devices provide hypothermia protection while others, such as a work vest, are intended for freedom of movement. A Type V may also take the form of hybrid inflatables such as float coats which combine inherently buoyant material with an inflatable bladder for extra lift. Type V PFDs must be worn when underway to be legal.


Inflatable PFDs

Inflatable PFDs come in Types I, II, and III. Although the different "Types" of inflatable PFDs are intended for use in the same areas as inherently buoyant types of PFDs, the characteristics of inflatable PFDs are different. Inflatable PF's are not inherently buoyant and will not float without inflation. For Types I, II, and III inflatables, the lower the Type number, the better the PFD's performance (e.g., Type I is better than Type II).

Although inflatable PFDs are considered more comfortable to wear when it's hot, inflatable PFDs require regular maintenance and are not recommended for children or individuals who can't swim. Inflatable PFDs are not for use where water impact is expected, such as when waterskiing, riding personal watercraft, or whitewater paddling.

Life Jacket Loaner For Kids Program

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