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PFD Availability and Sizing

PFD Availability

If you and your passengers are not wearing their PFDs, you must have them stored in an unlocked area that you can get to easily and quickly. Make sure everyone knows where their PFD is before you leave the dock. Because everyone has to be able to put on their PFD quickly and easily, do not keep the PFDs in plastic bags or store them under other gear. Throwable Type IV devices must also be immediately accessible.

PFD Sizing

To work properly, your PFD must fit properly. How it fits is the most important thing to consider when you buy your PFD. If it's too large, it won't hold your head above the water or could slide off your body. If it's too small, it will be uncomfortable and make breathing difficult.

For yourself, choose a PFD based on your chest measurements. When you put it on, it should feel snug but not uncomfortable. If the vest slides up your chest and you can pull it up past your nose, tighten the straps. If that doesn't help, try a smaller vest.

PFDs for Children

Children should wear PFDs at all times when on a boat. In some states, children are required by law to wear PFDs (see Chapter 7). PFDs for children come in a variety of sizes, according to the child's weight. Children must wear a PFD designed for their weight. PFDs made for children have a weight range printed on the label, which is usually either less than 30 lb, 30 to 50 lb, less than 50 lb, or 50 to 90 lb. When you buy PFDs for children, buy vests that fit now, not ones they will grow into. It won't help the child if the PFD slips off in the water. To check for a good fit, pick the child up by the shoulders of the PFD. The child's chin and ears should not slip through if he is wearing the appropriately sized PFD.

PFDs for infants, and some children's models, usually have flotation collars to keep the infant's head out of the water. They also have crotch straps that help keep the vest snugly in place.

If a child suddenly falls in the water, he might panic. He will start flailing his arms and legs, which will make floating in a PFD difficult, and may cause the PFD to be unable to keep him face-up. This why you should teach your child how to use a PFD and get him used to wearing it in the boat and in the water.

Other Considerations for PFDs

Even PFDs that are of the same type are made differently. Some have ribs of foam, while others have panels. Some are pullovers, and some zip up the front. Choose the style that's the most comfortable for you.

You can attach a whistle to your PFD so that if you ever fall overboard, you will have a way to attract attention to your position. If you will be boating at night a strobe light can also be attached to your PFD. These lights can be manually or water activated. Should someone fall overboard in open water at night, locating their position in the dark is very difficult, and the sea state may make it difficult to hear the sound of a whistle. Finally, if you are planning on sailing in open water, such as the ocean or Great Lakes, a personal locator beacon (PLB) is a very wise investment. PLBs must be manually activated and they relay your position to a worldwide network of search-and-rescue satellites. While these PLBs cost a few hundred dollars, no one should operate offshore without one!

Distress radio beacons, also known as emergency beacons, PLB , and emergency position-indicating radio beacon EPIRP, are tracking transmitters that aid in the detection and location of boats and people in distress. Strictly, they are radio beacons that interface with worldwide offered service of Cospas-Sarsat, the international satellite system for search and rescue (SAR). When manually activated, or automatically activated upon immersion, such beacons send out a distress signal. The signals are monitored worldwide and the location of the distress is detected by satellites.

If your dog comes with you on your boat, you can even get a PFD designed for dogs. A PFD can help your dog stay afloat in rough water. Buy a PFD with grab loops that make it easier to pull the dog out of the water.

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