Frequently Asked Questions


What type of PFD should I buy?  Or what type will float me best?

Choosing the right PFD (Personal Flotation Device) is an important decision.  Listed below are the various types of US Coast Guard approvals and their uses.  To better understand this information, it is important to know:

Most adults only need an extra 7-12 pounds of buoyancy to keep their heads above water.  A PFD can give you that "extra lift" and it's made to keep you floating until help comes.  But, a PFD is personal flotation device and it's important to get the right one for you.  Your weight isn't the only factor in finding out how much "extra lift" you need in water.  Body fat, lung size, clothing and whether the water is rough or calm, all play a part in staying on-top.  In general, the more physically fit you are, the more "lift" you need.  

Proper size and fit are important to the performance of a flotation device.  Read the label on your PFD to be sure it's made for people your weight and size.  Test it in shallow water or a pool.  Then, in an emergency, don't panic.  Relax.  Put your head back and let your PFD help you come out on top.  

TYPE I PFDS / OFF-SHORE LIFE JACKETS: Best for all waters, open ocean, rough seas, or remote water, where rescue may be slow coming. Abandon-ship lifejacket for commercial vessels and all vessels carrying passengers for hire:

  • Inherently Buoyant Type I PFDs - SOLAS Service

  • Inherently Buoyant Type I PFDs - U.S. Service

  • Inflatable Type I PFDs - SOLAS and Domestic

  • Hybrid Type I PFDs - US Services

TYPE II PFDS / NEAR-SHORE BUOYANT VESTS: For general boating activities. Good for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue.

  • Inherently Buoyant Type II PFDs

  • Inflatable Type II PFDs

  • Hybrid Type II PFDs

TYPE III PFDS / FLOTATION AIDS: For general boating or the specialized activity that is marked on the device such as water skiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and others. Good for calm, inland waters, or where there is a good chance for fast rescue. Designed so that wearing it will complement your boating activities:

  • Inherently Buoyant Type III PFDs

  • Inflatable Type III PFDs

  • Hybrid Type III PFDs

TYPE V PFDS / SPECIAL USE DEVICES: Only for special uses or conditions. See label for limits of use:

  • Hybrid Inflatable PFDs

  • Canoe/Kayak Vest

  • Boardsailing Vests

  • Deck Suits

  • Work Vests for Commercial Vessels

  • Commercial Whitewater Vests

  • Man-Overboard Rescue Devices

  • Law Enforcement Flotation Devices

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I do not know how to swim.  Should I use an inflatable PFD? 

No.  A non-swimmer could panic in an unexpected fall in to the water, and forget they may need to activate the inflator mechanism.  Non-swimmers would be advised to use an inherently buoyant or hybrid PFD that provides flotation without any action on their part.  

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How are "impact tested" ratings measured?

A number of years ago,the wording for the approval labels was changed from "Impact Tested" to "Strength Tested". The reason for the change was that people were assuming that the vest would protect the wearer from impact at the stated speed. What is really tested is whether or not the "construction" of the PFD is strong enough to withstand the drop at the stated speed. This is done wth a PFD strappedto a metal frame, so there is no evaluation of whether it offers any personal protection.

In 2002,the requirement was added that if a PFD did not have three primary closures,two of which were body encircling, and was not strength tested at a minimum of 50 MPH,then it would have to be marked as "Not approved for use on personnel water craft, for water skiing or similar towed uses."

For example, our model 4180, USCG Type III PFD, is labeled: STRENGTH TESTED AT 50 MPH (22.4 m/s) - NOT TESTED FOR PERSONAL PROTECTION FROM IMPACT. And because it has three types of closure, it would be acceptable for personal water craft, waterskiing or similar towed uses.

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My PFD is old, but in good condtion, when should I consider replacing it?
A Personal Flotation Device (PFD), like any other equipment, eventually gets old and worn and must be replaced.When should you replace PFD's? Broken zippers and frayed webbing's are frequent indicators of a worn-out device. Less obvious is the cover fabric of a PFD, which has been weakened by extensive exposureto sunlight.

Most PFD's are covered wth nylon or polyester fabrics. These materials are plastics, and like many plastics,they can start to break down after extended exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) light in sunlight. A weak cover could split open and allow the flotation material inside to be lost. PFD's should be replaced if the cover has been torn or badly faded. Compare fabric color where it's protected, under a body strap for example,to wherethe fabric is exposed. Another simple test is to pinch the fabric between thumb and forefinger of each hand and try to tear it. If the fabric cover can be torn this way,the PFD should definately be destroyed and discarded.

You may also want to "feel" the foam. If it feels hard and brittle, the device should be replaced. If you have any doubts as to the serviceabilty of a device, we recommend wearing the device in a shallow lake or pool to test the buoyancy.

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Is there an age requirement for inflatable PFD's?

Yes.  Inflatables are only approved for use by people 16 years of age and older.  People under the age of 16 must have inherently buoyant or hybrid device in their size range on board the boat to meet the carriage requirements.  At some point in the future, ther may be standards developed for children's inflatables. 

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Are Inflatable PFD's approved for all boating activities?

No.  Fully inflatable PFD's are not approved for high speed applications such as riding a PWC, waterskiiing, or tubing. Inflatables are not approved for white water activities.

For these activities, the user needs buoyancy while in the water.  It is not reasonable to expect that the wearer would stop, deflate the chamber, rearm the inflator, and repack the PFD after each water entry.  

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Will any CO2 cylinder work?

No. It is important to use a rearm kit that includes a cylinder that is supplied by the maker of the vest. There are a variety of CO2 cylinders in stores for various uses. The correct cylinder to use will be included on the PFD itself and in the Owner's Manual, or can be obtained by calling the PFD manufacturer.

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Can I use my CO2 cylinder more than once?

No.  Once the cylinder has been punctured all of the gas will escape into the chamber.  This is why you need to check to see if the cylinder is full before each outing.  If your device has a CYLINDRICAL SEAL INDICATOR, it will show GREEN if the cylinder is full.  If it shows RED, you must replace the cylinder.  

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My inflatable vest just went off and it was stored in my closet.  What happened?

Premature inflation may occur with automatic inflatables. Basically,these units contain a "water soluble" substance which when exposedto water, quickly dissolves, causing the mechanism to trigger. This substance can "break down" under certain condtions, such as excessive vibration, improper storage condtions (such as dampness or high humidity) and the age of the tablet. It is imperative that these devices be stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight. All inflatables should be inspected and tested at least once a year. Your owner's manual will provide information on how to perform this inspection. Stearns recommends replacing water-soluble tablets during your one-year maintenance check more often in humid climates or when exposedto damp conditions. Addtional information may be found in your inflatable vest owners manual.

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What should I be looking for when trying to fit a lifevest for my child?

The "THINK SAFE" booklet, which is attached to every US Coast Guard approved device, has valuable information on types of flotation devices and how to fit a PFD. It is important to read the label on the PFD and test it in a controlled environment. Children's PFDs are sized according to weight range and chest size. Weigh your child and measure their chest under the arms.Whenever possible, be sure to try the PFD on the child in the store. A PFD needs to fit comfortably snug. To check for a good fit, pick the child up bythe shoulders of the PFD. If the PFD fits right,the child's chin and ears will not slip through. To check for buoyancy of your PFD in the water, relax your body and let your head tilt back. Be aware, your PFD may not act the same in swift or rough water as in calm water. Children may also panic when they fall into water suddenly. This causes them to move their arms and legs, making it hard to float safely in a PFD. A PFD will keep a child afloat, but may not keep a struggling child face-up.While some children in the 30-50 pound weight range who can swim may like the extra freedom of movement that a Flotation Aid (Type III PFD) provides, most children in this weight range, especially those who can not swim, should wear a Near Shore Buoyant Vest (Type II PFD). 

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Why can't I find boat covers on your website?

Boat covers are manufactured by CLASSIC ACCESSORIES.  For information on boat covers, please contact Classic Accessories at the following telephone number or email address:

Telephone: 800.854.2315

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How to Properly Fit a Life Vest

1. Before you hit the water make sure your PFD fits properly. You want it to be comfortable, but you don’t want the vest fir to be sloppy and be moving around on the wearer. You don’t want it to come up on the wearer, or twist around. If it doesn’t fit, don’t try to force the jacket to fit by altering it in any manner. An altered vest is a useless vest. Printed inside every Stearns® PFD there is information that outlines the vest size, the chest size that the vest fits, and the weight rating it is intended for. It also contains information about the Coast Guard Certification and the intended water conditions for which the vest is made. 

2. Federal law requires that children under the age of 13 wear a USCG approved PFD while boating. On a child’s vest, make sure the crotch strap is attached and is snug. Make sure not to over tighten, however. The purpose of the crotch strap is to ensure that the vest does not slip off of a child when they are in the water. A good way make sure you have the right size of vest is to place your fingers in between the shoulders and the vest and pull up. If the vest comes up above the ears, the jacket is too big. This is actually a good test that works on adult jackets as well. 

3. Try not to use the PFD for anything other than a life jacket. Using it as a pad for heavy objects or kneeling on it while working on the boat crushes the material inside that provides buoyancy, and will shorten the useful life of your jacket. 

4. If you happen to have a Type IV throwable PFD, practice throwing it a few times to get used to the weight and feel of how to throw it, should the need arise. 

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