A personal flotation device is an appliance that is attached to the wearer in order to prevent them from drowning in water. The most effective PFD is one that users can wear as a vest or life jacket. Personal flotation devices are also known as life belts, life vests, life savers, cork jackets, buoyancy aid or flotation suit.
What is the difference between a PFD and Life Jacket?
Australian Standards previously identified Personal Flotation Devices as Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3. This was prior to the revised Marine Safety Regulation 2016 on 7 October 2016 which replaced Types with Levels. You can still use the old types as long as they’re in good condition and well maintained. However, it’s recommended that you upgrade to the newer lifejackets with improved safety features. All lifejackets must meet certain standards. – see Lifejacket standards at roads-maritime.transport.nsw.gov.au
Level 50 - Similar to the former Type 2.
Level 50 lifejackets are:
- mainly used in enclosed waters
- intended for people who can swim and are close to the bank or shore or have help close by
- designed to support you in the water, but do not automatically turn you to a face-up position
- made in high-visibility colours to make it easier to see you in the water and increase your chance of rescue.
Level 50S - Similar to the former Type 3.
Level 50S lifejackets are the same as Level 50 but come in a wider range of colours and styles. They’re popular for activities such as wakeboarding and water skiing.
Level 100 and above - Similar to the former Type 1.
Level 100 and above lifejackets have higher levels of buoyancy and help turn you to a face-up position.
The different levels suit different situations.
- intended for use when the shore is in sight
- not intended for rough conditions
- helps turn you to a face-up position.
- intended for offshore and rough weather
- helps turn you to a face-up position when unconscious
- intended for offshore and rough weather when you’re:
– wearing clothes that could trap air and stop the lifejacket turning you to a face-up position, or
– carrying heavy items that mean you need extra buoyancy.
- helps turn and keep you in a face-up position with your mouth and nose above the water.
It’s strongly recommended that children wear a lifejacket at all times.
Lifejackets must be an approved type that meets Australian standards:
- Level 50S or above on enclosed waters
- Level 100 or above on open waters.
The rules about when children must wear a lifejacket depend on their age.
Children aged under 12 years must wear a lifejacket:
- on all vessels up to 4.8m long at all times
- in open areas of all vessels up to 8m long when the vessel is underway.
When choosing a lifejacket, make sure it fits well and the child cannot slip out of it. A lifejacket with a crotch strap is recommended. Some sports and department stores sell ‘swim vests’ designed for children learning to swim under supervision. These vests are not an approved type of lifejacket as they do not offer the same level of protection.
Inflatable lifejackets are not recommended for children aged under 12 years. If a child is wearing an auto-inflating lifejacket when playing, the lifejacket may inflate if it gets wet. If they’re wearing a manual inflating lifejacket, they may forget how to activate it in an emergency.
Babies must wear an approved lifejacket suitable for their weight. It must fit snugly and securely so the baby cannot slip out of it. Some babies are too small for even the smallest lifejackets. In this case, it’s better not to take them on the water. If you have to do this, an adult wearing a lifejacket must hold the baby at all times.
Children aged 12 years or over must follow the same rules for wearing a lifejacket as adults, although it’s strongly recommended that they wear one at all times.
Lifejackets are exposed to heat, sun and salt, which means they damage easily.
Look after your lifejackets by:
- rinsing off salt with fresh water and checking for damage after use
- storing lifejackets in a dry, well ventilated area out of sunlight
- not using your lifejackets as cushions or fenders (bumpers)
- keeping lifejackets away from oil and fuel
- removing new lifejackets from their plastic wrapping before storing.
A regular service makes sure the bladder, inflation mechanism and CO2 cylinder are in good working order. In NSW, you must service inflatable lifejackets once a year, or in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If you cannot remember when your lifejacket was last serviced, it’s recommended that you get it serviced straight away. Keep receipts and certificates as evidence of service. You must also keep a record of the date your lifejacket was serviced on the inside of your lifejacket.
Sometimes, you can self-service a lifejacket by following the manufacturer’s instructions. The instructions are either supplied with the new lifejacket, printed on the lifejacket itself, or available on the manufacturer’s website.
Inflatable lifejackets need extra care. An inflatable lifejacket can only help you if it’s in working order. If it’s not, you or one of your passengers could drown. Check your lifejacket before wearing it and service it regularly.
Check before wearing
First, check there are no visible signs of general wear and tear. Next, check that the CO2 cylinder is not pierced and is screwed in firmly (hand tight). If you have an auto-inflating lifejacket, check the auto-inflation cartridge is hand tight and that it’s still in date. Cartridges must be replaced by the expiry date shown. Finally, check the pull cord is free and ready to use. After use, remove the cartridge and rinse the lifejacket with fresh water. Dry the lifejacket and reconnect the cartridge before storing it.