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What is a Life Vest?

Dee Saale
Updated Jan 28, 2024
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A life vest is an individual device that is designed to keep a person or animal afloat in water. On any boat or airplane traveling over water, there should be a life vest for every infant, child, and adult. There are even life vests available for dogs.

In most cases, the life vest fits over the person’s head. Each life vest is categorized as Type I, Type II, or Type III. There are also “throwable” floatation devices, such as rings, buoyant cushions, or horseshoe-type buoys, which fall under Type IV and are used to save someone who has already fallen into the water without a vest on.

A Type I or off-shore life vest is the best for waters that are open and rough. This type of vest is most often used when the waters are remote and when a rescue will be delayed or slow. The benefits of a Type I vest are that it has the best buoyancy and it will keep an unconscious user face-up in the water. The disadvantage is that it is bulky to wear and to store.

The near-shore life vest or Type II vest is best for calm waters. It is usually worn on lakes or other inland waterways and in areas where rescue will be fast. It is more comfortable and easier to store than a Type I vest. Although some vests may turn an unconscious user face-up, not all Type II vests will do so.

Even though it still looks like a life vest, the Type III vest is called a flotation aid. It is perfect for a wearer who is conscious, who is in calm waters, and in areas where rescue will be quick. It is not likely to keep a person face-up; however, it is the most comfortable of the three types.

An inflatable life vest is another option for many boaters. This type works by self-inflating when the wearer hits the water. Some brands of Type III inflatable-type vests are designed to keep the wearer face-up, making those brands a good option for those boating in calm waters. The main deterrent to the inflatable life vest is that it can pop if it strikes a fast moving or sharp object.

The most important consideration when wearing a life vest is that it must fit properly. If it is too large, the wearer can easily slip out of it. If it is too small, it will not fasten appropriately around the wearer and it will not keep the person afloat. Most vests have weight guidelines. It is essential to find one that matches the weight of the wearer, especially for children.

In airplanes, most life vests are found underneath the seat; however, in some cases, the seat cushion is the floatation device. In flights where the airplane is traveling over a large body of water, such as an ocean, flight attendants will give each set of parents an infant vest. The life vests are designed specifically for babies and should keep them afloat in the event of the water landing.

For boaters with canine companions, there are even life vests for dogs. Like their human counterparts, the vests are available in sizes ranging from extra-small to extra-large. These can be especially helpful for smaller dogs or dogs that cannot swim.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Dee Saale
By Dee Saale

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to WikiMotors.

Discussion Comments

By julies — On Jun 02, 2011

We spend a lot of time at our cabin on the lake in the summer and have a room full of various sizes of life vests - everything from baby life vests all the way up to adult sizes. There is even a dog vest in the mix somewhere too.

Because you never know how many people will be there, or who will be joining you on the water, we always make sure we have a life vest that will fit everyone. Sometimes kids will complain because they say it is too tight, but you need to make sure it fits snug enough that it will not come off.

It seems like our collection grows every year, but I think it is better to have too many, than not enough for everybody.

By myharley — On May 31, 2011

Our family goes camping in the mountains every summer and one of our favorite activities is to take our inner tubes and tube down the river.

Even though the water is not that deep, the current is strong an flows quickly, so we always make sure all of the kids wear a life jacket vest. To me, it is just not worth taking any chances and helps me feel more at ease as they are floating down the river.

The kids always think nothing will happen, but we have had a few times when the current was stronger than what they realized, and they were glad to have that extra security.

By golf07 — On May 30, 2011

We spend a lot of time on the water in the summertime. We love to fish, swim and boat, and our life vests go with us just about everywhere we go. We do not even think about putting our boat out in the water without making sure there is a life vest available for everyone.

Sometimes the kids will complain about putting theirs on, but they know the rule is if they want to ride in the boat, they have to wear their life jacket. Riding in the boat wins every time.

Dee Saale

Dee Saale

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is...

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