Life Jackets

Which life vest is best?

Personal floatation devices (PFDs) are essential pieces of safety equipment for anyone whose job or hobbies has any chance of landing them stranded in a body of water for an extended period of time. Life jackets (also known as life vests and life preservers) are the most common type of PFD. There are many designs available, including simple inflatable or pre-inflated vests, sleeved jackets and even full-body suits.

The essential feature of a PFD is that it allows the wearer to float and keep his or her head above water. Full life jackets are designed to actually turn an unconscious person from face-down to face-up when immersed, while smaller PFDs like life vests are favored for portability, convenience and ease of use. They are not, however, as adept as life jackets at helping unconscious accident victims turn over and are instead designed primarily to provide buoyancy.

PFD Types

At the basic end of the PFD spectrum is the foam core swim vest. These are used simply for added safety and protection in relatively safe waters and are commonly employed during swimming lessons. They are inexpensive and lightweight, and they're available in different designs for adults, children and babies. Child and infant life vests and swim vests have straps which pass between the legs, preventing the vest from slipping over smaller heads.

A more elaborate but similar product is the life vest, which is bulkier and designed to provide added buoyancy. They should be used in situations which may, in the event of an emergency, require an accident victim to conserve his or her energy. Neoprene life vests are preferred because they offer additional insulation, providing warmth as well as floatability. Used in many surf swimwear products, neoprene is a lightweight but durable water-resistant insulator.

You can also purchase life jackets that have sleeves and zip up, as well as buoyant suits that cover the entire body.

Specialized Life Jackets and PFDs

Certain professionals, particularly search and rescue workers, use advanced types of life jackets that have additional features. One example is the deep water life jacket, which is specially designed for wear in cold water over an extended period of time. They have special insulation properties that will keep the wearer's body temperature in a safe and stable range while providing excellent buoyancy.

Scuba divers sometimes wear devices known as buoyancy compensators, which have adjustable ranges. In the event of an emergency, the diver can activate its full floatability, allowing him or her to automatically rise to the surface.

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