What Is The Main Advantage of Type IV PFD?

Boat safety is an essential factor, and several devices are put on boats for safety purposes. One of these devices is the personal floatation device, also known as PFD. Now I know your mind jumps to lifeboats and vests, but there are many other types of PFDs, including the type IV PFD which is a vital tool to have on your boat.

It is preferred by most because it has the main advantage over others of its kind. The main advantage of a Type IV PFD is that anyone can use it, no matter the age, size, weight, or height.  So, what it is and what is the main advantage of type IV PFD? Read on to find out.

What Is Type IV PFD?

This type of floatation device is identified as level four of the United States Coast Guards’ (USCG) classification of flotation devices. It is also known as a type 4 PFD and a throwable floatation device. That is because it is meant to throw to someone who has fallen overboard and is at risk of drowning or a person who cannot swim. It is known as a circular floatation ring on commercial boats and swimming pools.

You should include it in all boats longer than 16 feet. It should be out of its packaging and ready to use in case of an emergency. You should place the PFD in a place you can easily reach, like the cockpit or helm, instead of under the seat.

what is the main advantage of type IV PFD


Restrictions regarding the use of a type IV PFD include that it is not for use in strong waters, or water with a lot of disturbances like strong winds, water currents, and waves. This is because the strong waves and other disturbances can cause the device to move around a lot in the water and might even float away from the person who needs it.

Another restriction is that it should not be thrown to an unconscious person or someone who cannot swim since they won’t be able to hold on to the device. You should have the device on your boat anyway, along with your life vests and life jackets.

Although the Coast Guard states that only boats larger than 16 feet should carry it, you should still carry it even on a smaller boat. You can never know when an emergency will occur, and you might need to use it. You can use it to help people who have gone overboard.

There should be a PFD for every passenger on board. It can be a combination of throwable and wearables that have to fit those on board. And here is where the main advantage of a type IV throwable comes in; it has no size restrictions. This means you can get one of them, and it can fit whoever you have on-board, no matter their age, shape, or size.

Kinds of Type IV PFD

There are three main kinds of Type IV PFD. There are many other types, but these three are the most common ones and have the approval of the Coast Guard.

Ring Buoys

These are the ones most commonly found on boats. You have seen them on all boats, docks, and swimming pools. Some of them have lights that you can activate put on them. These lights make it easy to locate a person, especially during night rescues. The PFDs most commonly have ‘donut’ holes where a person is going to wear it.

Buoyant Cushions

Unlike the ring buoys, these cushions do not have holes. These PFDs look like the seat cushions found on couches. They are square and have straps and have a variety of colors for easy spotting. These straps are where the person in need would insert their arms to ensure the device doesn’t float away.

You do not have to wear the device; you can just place it under your chest and flat on it. You can also use your legs as a paddle to push through the water. If you have no strength to propel yourself, you can just place it under your chest and float there until help comes.

Horseshoe Buoys

Just as the name says, these personal floatation devices have the shape of a horseshoe. They have a vinyl cover that protects a cell plastic core. Like the buoyant cushions, the horseshoe buoys also come in a variety of colors, with red and yellow being the most common because they are easy to spot.

The Difference between Type IV PFDs and other PFDs

One of the main differences between type IV and other flotation devices is that these are throwable. Most of the other personal floatation devices are for wearing to provide buoyancy if you fall in the water.

A type IV floatation device, on the other hand, is for throwing at a person who is in the water, for example, one who falls overboard. You can also use this floatation device to help someone who gets into difficulty, like a muscle pull, while swimming.

They are also for providing additional help for someone who already has a life jacket on. The type IV PFDs need to be visible to make rescues easy, which is why most of them come in vibrant colors like red, white, yellow, and orange.

Another difference comes in the storage of the device. Most of the other personal flotation devices are worn or stored in places like under the seats. Type IV PFDs should be in places that are easy to reach in case of emergencies.

They are recommended on larger boats but should be in smaller boats just in case of emergencies. The ring buoy should be either white or orange. Other styles of the Type IV floatation device can come in other colors, much like the other type of PFDs as long as the colors are vibrant for easy spotting.

What is the Main Advantage of a Type IV PFD?

Most people do not see the advantage of having Type IV PFDs on boats since they already have life jackets. But, as we have seen above, this floatation device is not like the other types, it is a special kind. These are some of the main advantages that make the type IV PFD a must-have.

No Size Restrictions

As we now know, type IV PFDs do not have size restrictions. They are free for use by anyone on board, no matter their height, weight, or age. This absence of size restrictions is because this device is not for wearing, rather it is for use as a floating device.

Therefore, you only have to grab it. It does not have a specific design for different people, and it is a one size fits all design.

Even though anyone can use a type 4 PFD, no one should ignore wearing a life jacket. Everyone on board a boat should wear a life jacket, including men, women, and kids.

You should also get a pet life jacket, like the dog life jacket, if you plan to bring a pet. The life jacket should fit the size of the wearer for it to be effective. You should only use type IV PFDs as support to any life jackets or other types of wearable PFDs.

They Are Towable

Another type IV PFD advantage is that you can fasten a Type IV PFD to a rope, even when not in use. This rope makes it easy for you to reach and tow the fallen passenger. When you throw the device on the water, the rope goes with it, and it makes it possible for you and others to tug on the rope and bring the fallen passenger back.

A type IV throwable PFD is good for rescuing is easier and saves the rescuer from having to jump into the water, swimming to where the victim is, and coming back with the victim. Using the rope is less tiring and less difficult and it saves the rescuer a lot of time. It also doesn’t place the rescuer in danger.

Not all types of type IV PFDs come with ropes attached. Make sure you buy your ropes separately if they are not included in the package. You can buy the ropes from some manufacturers who sell them separately, but check your package to see if it has a rope attached before buying.

Location Marker

The last advantage we will look at is the location indicator that you find in the Type IV PFD. You can use this indicator to help locate a person who falls overboard easily.

Passengers throw the PFD to where the victim was seen last, and then the indicator helps the boat operator to maneuver through the scene and set up a rescue. You can use the device to mark a location where the person is and help you with the current direction for a faster and easier search and rescue.

The downside to this indicator is that it can be swept away by strong water currents or waves, which can easily happen in rough waters. The PFD is still useful in this situation. For example, it can help the operator know the direction of the currents, which would indicate that the victim will most likely wash away in the same direction. Determining the current helps in narrowing down the search area, making rescue easier.

Guidelines For Using Type IV PFDs

  • A Type IV PFD is not mandatory on canoes and kayaks. These will most likely require the use of life jackets or other types of PFDs, as long as they suit the activity you are performing. Using a buoyant cushion is not advisable as it can add extra height that can affect the kayak’s or canoe’s stability.
  • The type IV PFD you use should have the approval of the Coast Guard. Any boat longer than 16 feet should have a Type IV PFD. The Coast Guard does not specify the kind of throwable floatation device to either a ring buoy, a buoyant cushion, or a horseshoe buoy. Any of these is suitable as long as the Coast Guard approves it.
  • The PFD should be out of its packaging and easily accessible for use in an emergency. You should also make sure you already attached the rope for easy rescuing.
  • The flotation device should be easily visible to all the passengers on board. It should not be in places that are not readily accessible, like under the seat. This is going to help save time in an emergency.
  • Buoyant cushions should not be used as seat cushions because it might ruin the buoyancy of the flotation device and might even damage it.
  • There should be a type IV flotation device for everyone on board.

Choosing And Caring For A Type IV PFD

As with everything, it is necessary to be careful when choosing your flotation device. It is necessary because the PFD is what can save a person’s life, and you do not want to risk that. Here is what you should do when choosing one;

  • Make sure that the one you choose has the United States Coast Guard approval.
  • Choose a bright color as it is more visible and easier to locate in an emergency.
  • The device you choose should be between 16 and 18 pounds. The average person requires 7-12 pounds of buoyancy. The extra pounds are there to accommodate people of different sizes. A boat cushion is often 18 pounds while a floatation ring is 16.5 pounds, well within its limits.

Caring for a type IV PFD is also necessary because you will need it in its best shape to be ready for use whenever necessary. Here is how you can care for a personal flotation device;

  • Rinse it with fresh water after use
  • Dry it thoroughly. Drying is best done under direct sunlight.
  • Check and fix holes or any other kind of damage.
  • After drying, you should keep it out of direct sunlight.

Other Types of PFDs and How They Work


This type of PFD is inherently buoyant, which means it is made using naturally buoyant materials, like foam. These types of PFDs provide instant flotation upon contact with water. It is suitable for water sports, and different people can use them.


Unlike the standard device, the inflatable ones only provide buoyancy when inflated. There are two kinds of inflatable PFDs; manual and automatic.

Manual inflatable PFDs need you to inflate them once you hit the water. You can do this by pulling a cord. The disadvantage of inflatable PFD is that you might find yourself in a situation where you can’t inflate it manually, which is where the automatic one comes in.

The automatic inflatable PFD inflates automatically when you hit the water. This comes in handy when you are in a situation where you can’t inflate it yourself. They also have a pull cord and an inflation mouth tube for the manual setting.


Hybrid PFDs are a combination of an inflation system and inherently buoyant materials that can provide buoyancy before the inflation system starts working. These personal flotation devices have benefits of both the inflatable and standard PFDs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What Is Type IV PFDs Used For?

Type IV PFDs are for throwing at a person who has fallen overboard. They can place it under their chest for buoyancy while waiting for rescue.

Q: What Is The Main Advantage Of Type IV PFDs?

The main advantage is that it comes in a universal size; all people can use it. It is also throwable and towable and has location markers for faster rescue.

Q: What Are The Main Features To Look Out For When Buying A PFD?

That it is USCG-approved has bright colors and weighs between 16 and 18 pounds to support people of different weights and sizes.


If you were wondering what is the main advantage of type IV PFD, I believe you have the right answer now. It comes in one size that fits anyone, from children to adults. This device helps provide buoyancy and has location markers that help make rescuing easy.

The main advantage of the type IV PFD is that it comes in one size that can fit anyone. This flotation device is not for wearing but for throwing it to a person in the water for buoyancy. Every boat longer than 16 feet should have one, and it should be USCG approved.

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