What Is the Main Advantage of a Type IV PFD?

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Boat safety is essential, so a personal flotation device, otherwise known as a PFD, is compulsory on all boats. There are different kinds of PFDs, one of which is the Type IV that can be tossed to someone in the water to keep them afloat. With that being said, what is the main advantage of the Type IV PFD?

The main advantage of the Type IV PFD is that since it is not designed to be worn, any person, whether a child or an adult of any size, height, and weight, can use it. This type of PFD is meant to be thrown to someone who fell overboard to help them from drowning.

There are questions on many boating license courses about different types of PFDs, including the Type IV. It can be confusing, and many aren’t sure what they are. Read on to learn more about the main advantage of a Type IV PFD, as well as the different kinds and how to use them.

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What Is a Type IV PFD?

Type IV PFD is identified as the fourth level of the United States Coast Guard’s (USCG) classification for personal flotation devices. Type IV PFDs should be carried on boats at all times. Its purpose is not for wearing but rather to be tossed to a person who is drowning or cannot swim.

  • This flotation device is also known as a throwable flotation device.
  • On swimming pools or commercial boats, it is known as a circular flotation ring.
  • At least one Type IV PFD must be on any recreational boat that is longer than 16 feet.

Every boat should have one PFD on board for every passenger. It can be a mishmash of wearables and throwables, although the wearables must fit the body of the person on board. Aside from adult and kid-sized life jackets, don’t forget to include life jackets for any pets on board!

Kinds of Type IV PFD

Advantage of a Type IV PFD
3 Kinds of Type IV PFD

There are three kinds of Type IV PFD. Some companies sell other kinds of Type IV PFDs, but what we have here are the most common ones and the ones accepted for use by the Coast Guard.

Ring Buoys. Ring buoys are the Type IV PFDs you see on most boats. It can be seen in most boats, at docks, and even in swimming pools. The current forms of Type IV PFDs are dressed with activated lights. This is especially helpful during night rescues.

Buoyant Cushions. These are square-shaped cushions and have no holes. An exceptional characteristic of the buoyant cushion is that they have two straps where the person onboard can just insert their arms so that the device won’t float away. But, it is not really required to insert your arms into the straps. You can just position the PFD under your chest and float on top of it. You can also use your legs to paddle and push through the water.

Horseshoe Buoys. As the name goes, this flotation device is shaped like a horseshoe. These are normally made with a cell plastic core, which is concealed with a vinyl-coated cover. It is available in different colors, but the white, yellow and, red ones are the most popular as they are easy to spot.

What Is the Main Advantage of a Type IV PFD?

Some people still question the necessity of a Type IV PFD since every person in the boat is already wearing a life jacket. Nevertheless, know that a Type IV PFD is not the same as any other type of personal flotation device. Below, I list the 3 main advantages of a Type IV PFD.

1. No Size Restrictions

Everyone in the boat can use Type IV PFDs, regardless of age, height, and weight. This type of PFD is not designed to be worn but is intended to be used as a floating device to grab or hold on to should there be a need to use it. With that being said, this flotation device doesn’t have any specific design that should fit certain individuals, like the women’s life jackets, which are intended to adapt to a woman’s body shape.

On the other hand, even if anybody on the boat can use a Type IV PFD, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to wear life jackets anymore. All passengers on the boat should wear a life jacket, including infants and animals on board. Note that Type IV PFDs should only be used as a support to any wearable PFDs and/or life jackets.

2. Toss and Tug

Type IV PFDs (like the ring buoy type) can be fastened to a rope even if it is not in use. Hence, when it is tossed to the fallen passenger on the water, the rope goes with it. And through that rope, the people on board or any rescuer can tug the victim holding on to the Type IV PFD.

Rescuing through this method is much easier, and the rescuer doesn’t have to jump into the water, swim to the victim, and then swim back again to the boat with the victim. That swim back and forth method is very tiring and laborious for the person saving the victim. Plus, both the victim and the rescuer will be placed in a dangerous situation.

Be reminded that not all Type IV PFDs have ropes attached to them. You have to buy ropes separately should there be no ropes included in the package. Some buoy companies sell ropes or include ropes in their Type IV PFD package.

3. Location Indicator

In cases of man on board, passengers on the boat can quickly throw the Type IV PFD to the victim’s exact location or to the position where the victim was last seen. This location indicator can then be used to help the boat operator maneuver through the scene to set up a rescue.

However, the only problem is that this indicator can be easily swept away by the current or waves of the water, especially in open or rough waters. Strong waves, currents, and intense wind are the antagonists here. Nevertheless, Type IV PFDs can still attest to be valuable in such circumstances.

For example, it can assist the boat operator in figuring out the course of the waves, and if the victim was using a wearable PFD, then there is a likelihood that the man on board was also swept away in the course of the waves. Somehow, this will lessen the search area, contrary to randomly inspecting the surrounding area of the initial location where the victim fell.

Guidelines on the Use of Type IV PFDs

  • Type IV PFD is not mandatory on kayaks or canoes. But, Coast Guards may possibly demand the use of other kinds of life jackets or PFDs suitable to what activity you will be doing. For example, if you are kayaking, you may need to have kayak life jackets to guarantee the safeness of the paddler. Many paddlers bring buoyant cushions, which can be used as a seat cushion or knee cushion padding, however, this is not a good idea because the extra height might change the balance or security of the kayak/canoe and will just damage the buoyant cushion.
  • Type IV PFDs must be out of their packaging and must be readily accessible for any emergency use. It is ideal if a rope is already attached to it for easy rescuing.
  • Bringing a Type IV PFD is one of the Coast Guard’s requisites for boats that are longer than 16 feet in length. There is no exact requirement though as to the type of throwable PFD (such as buoyant cushion, horseshoe, or ring buoy) provided that it is accepted for use by the Coast Guard.
  • The throwable PFD must be exposed in an area that is noticeable to every person on board. It should not be kept back on lockers, under the boat seat, cockpit, or any place where it is hidden from the eyesight.

Selecting and Caring for a Type IV PFD


What’s great about a Type IV PFD is that it is low-priced and can last for many years. Therefore, do not be too cheap and use any alternative floating device like your ordinary stadium cushion instead of a Type IV PFD. Remember, a person’s life may possibly depend on it.


  • Pick a Type IV PFD that is USCG-approved. 
  • Flotation rings are normally 16.5 pounds and boat cushions are normally 18 pounds. An average adult needs 7-12 pounds of buoyancy to stay floating with a PFD.
  • Pick a bright colored PFD because it is easier to see during emergency cases.


  • Wash the Type IV PFD with fresh water after every use.
  • Let it dry thoroughly and it is best to keep it in direct sunlight.
  • Check for holes and any other form of damage.

Paddling and Type IV PFD

A Type IV PFD is the least efficient flotation device in terms of paddling, and it is not ideal if you’ll use it as your only means of security.

Many kayakers/canoers depend on the boat cushion-style PFD to be granted with the “one PFD per person” requisites. Although it is handy and they can double as a seat/knee cushion while paddling, it will be too easy to be detached from this type of flotation device when there’s a need to use it for its real purpose.

  • Wearable PFDs must be worn while in a kayak/canoe, although it’s not mandatory for a person over 13 years of age. 
  • If you depend on a throwable flotation device, never tie it on your kayak/canoe because it will be difficult to get it during emergency cases.
  • If you’re kayaking/canoeing on any open or rough waters and assistance is not immediately accessible, you have to wear a Type III PFD.

Most kayakers find a Type IV PFD useless since they will be wearing a Type III PFD each time they explore the open waters. They find it useless because it is uncomfortable, and the 3-inch thick seat cushion will elevate too high from the seat and adversely influence the kayak’s stability. Most importantly, this throwable PFD can easily get stuck in the kayak’s cockpit and will be hard to get in emergency cases.

Investing in a decent life jacket, a suitably fitting Type III PFD will make your paddling experience more pleasurable.

Conclusion – What Is the Main Advantage of a Type IV PFD?

What is the main advantage of a Type IV PFD? There are, in fact, quite a lot of advantages.

For one, there is no size limit, which means that an ordinary Type IV PFD can be used by both children and adults of different sizes, heights, and weights. Second, it is a throwable flotation device, and when it is tied to a rope, the rescuer can use it to pull the victim to the boat and help them get out of the water easily. Lastly, since this flotation device is not intended to be worn, it can be used as an indicator to mark the initial position of the person who fell overboard.

Surely, these are more than sufficient reasons for you to think through in bringing a Type IV PFD on your boat, even if you already have life jackets with you. Your safety while onboard is important. After all, this type of PFD is not expensive, so do not hesitate to invest in this.

Remember, children who are under 13 years of age must wear a life jacket. Even though your state does not have a life jacket law for kids, the Coast Guard rules are valid. Remember also that Type IV PFDs are not a suitable substitute for your kid’s life jackets.

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