Personal Flotation Devices-What’s in a Name?
Centuries ago, William Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a life jacket by any other name would float as much.” Wait a second. That is not exactly what Shakespeare wrote, is it? However, the recent discussion started by Rebecca Wear Robinson’s blog about using the term life jacket made me think of Shakespeare’s immortal line: “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
In a follow-up blog, Rebecca wrote that she was surprised by the controversy over a name to call wearable personal flotation devices (PFDs). While I applaud those attempting to be more technically accurate in defining life jackets and other PFDs, I also understand where Rebecca is coming from. She and many groups are working hard to simplify messages about water safety so people understand what to do to prevent drownings and respond to emergencies.
Life Jacket, PFD, and Back to Life Jacket Again
Having been in the water safety business for over 40 years, I remember teaching children about lifejackets in swimming classes. At that time, we used the orange yolk-type PFD because it was the least expensive and therefore the type purchased by aquatic departments to be available for lessons. We taught that lifejackets must be US Coast Guard approved, the correct size for thew wearer, and in good repair. (This is still good advice!)
I remember the day when the term personal flotation device or PFD was introduced to replace lifejacket. At the time, I remember being told that there were other devices that cannot be classified as lifejackets that should be a part of the discussion of buoyancy aids and devices. This discussion then included the 5 types of PFDs identified by the US Coast Guard.
Type I are off-shore life jackets designed to roll an unconscious wearer to a faceup position.
Type II are near-shore buoyant vests (see above) that provides less buoyancy than a Type I life jacket. Many Type II devices turn an unconscious victim face up.
Type III are flotation aids considered to be the most comfortable for recreation in and around the water. These devices should be used close to shore where quick rescue because they will not turn an unconscious victim face up. Type III devices are used for water skiing, jet skiing, tubing, fishing, hunting, water slide use, etc.
Type IV are throwable devices that include the life ring, seat cushions found on boats and airplanes, etc. The use of the term PFDs probably became popular to include Type IV devices in discussions about life jackets and related devices.
Type V are restricted-use and special-use devices like work vests, deck suits, and hybrids (devices with some buoyancy that can be inflated when necessary to provide additional buoyant support). Some Type V devices have additional features, like insulation to prevent hypothermia.
The Central Message: Don’t Just Pack It, Wear Your Jacket
Here’s where Rebecca and groups like the US Coast Guard are coming from. Wear your life jacket, especially when you are a nonswimmer, boating, using recreational equipment on the water, or around cold water. The use of “life jacket” in this message is meant to simplify the message and be inclusive of the appropriate wearable device. (For links about life jackets, go to General Water Safety.)
Following this central message, it is OK to state: Life jackets should meet US Coast Guard or ISO BS EN 12402 standards, be appropriate for the activity (i.e., ask an expert), fit snugly yet comfortably, and be in good repair. there are several types of life jackets, including buoyant vests and flotation aids.
It is great to be as precise as possible when discussing the technical aspects of a subject, but remember that simply messages are easy to remember and save lives. For example, the message “stay with the boat” does not need to be qualified for the type of vessel. It is a general rule.
By the way, if I am ever on a cruise and the purser or cruise director hands me a Type III buoyancy aid in case of an emergency at sea, I’m getting off at the next port of call!