PFDs: What the labels tell you

When it comes to PFD’s, look for size labeling behind the neck of the wearer or sewn inside the device. Never trust the labeling; always try on the device you intend to wear, and have others try on the device they are intended to wear. For more tips on sizing PFDs, see part 2 in this series.

Performance and other labeling

Three other labels provide information that you need to know about a PFD. Please note that sometimes the three labels are condensed into one or two labels, but the following information must be on the label(s) for the device to be U.S. Coast Guard compliant.

  • The “Performance, Buoyancy, and Turning Information” label;
  • The “Warnings, Intended Activity, and Limitations of Use” label;
  • The “Manufacturer, Certification, and Approval Information” label

Performance, Buoyancy, and Turning Information

The performance level on a device’s labeling indicates the conditions in which it was designed to be used.

Several factors are considered when designers are assigning a performance level to a device, but the three that every user should know are buoyancy, turning, stability, and visibility.

There is a bold-faced number on the label. It could be 50, 70, 100, 150, or 275. This number indicates the buoyancy of the device. The higher the number, the greater the potential for floatation.

Most life jackets you’ll see in the United States are Level 70 devices, which have similar performance to the Type III life jackets of the old labelling system.

PFDs rated lower than 70 or Type III are not U.S. Coast Guard approved.

On a Level 70 label, you’ll see a dock and an extended hand with some slightly wavy lines, indicating calm water. This means this life jacket is suitable for nearshore use in relatively protected water where rescue is likely to be near at hand. You’ll note that the higher the number is on the icon, the farther away the dock and background will be, and the bigger the waves.

The curved arrow indicates the turning ability of the life jacket. Turning ability is whether or not a life jacket is capable or designed to turn an unconscious person face up, unassisted. A Level 70 life jacket will not turn a person right side up, that’s what the curved arrow with a slash through it indicates.

Manufacturer and Certification Information

In the United States and on navigable waterways, a Coast Guard approved life jacket, properly fitted for the intended wearer must be aboard for each occupant. Therefore, knowing your life jacket is approved by the Coast Guard to meet carriage requirements is important. You’ll find this information, as well as testing approval numbers and manufacturer information in this section of the label.

Care and Maintenance Instructions

You should care for your PFDs the way you care for everything else aboard your vessel that must be maintained and kept working. The label and manual that came with your life jacket will detail cleaning and care instructions.

Performance Level Icons

Level 50

  • Device is not recommended for weak or non-swimmers;
  • Device users should remain close to shore and immediate assistance;
  • Device has no turning ability;

Level 70

  • Device is designed for use in calm or sheltered waters;
  • Device is to be used close to shore or with help nearby;
  • Device has no turning ability;

Level 100

  • Device is designed for use in calm or sheltered waters;
  • Device can be used farther from help;
  • Device has some turning ability;

Level 150

  • Device is designed for offshore waters with waves;
  • Device has turning ability;

Level 275

  • Device is designed for offshore emergency situations;
  • Device can support the weight of extra tools, equipment, or clothing.

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