What is the Main Advantage of a Type IV PFD?

Last Updated on April 25, 2021 by KayakPro

Are you a fan of spending time out in the water?  If so, have your equipped your boat with the proper equipment in case someone goes overboard?

I think we can all agree that if you’re going out on the water, safety should always come first.  This is why personal floatation devices (PFDs) are a must-have in kayaks and boats. When it comes to PFDs, there are plenty of different models and versions to choose from. They all serve different purposes, and among these types of PFDs is the Type IV PFD, which is what we’ll be talking about today.  

boat jacket types
Source: https://hsseworld.com/personal-flotation-devices-pfds/

So, with so many different kinds of flotation devices on the market today, what is the main advantage of a Type IV PFD?

In terms of design, the Type IV PFD is meant to be thrown out to someone in the water. When in the water, the IV PFD types help save somebody, from a child to an elder. They work regardless of the users’ height, weight, and size and helps to keep them from drowning.

Even knowing this though, it’s important to understand the advantages of a Type IV PFD and other important factors about this floatation device since this information will come in handy if you’re among water sports enthusiasts or people who generally like being out on the water.

What is a Type IV PFD?

A Type IV PFD is a unique personal floatation device that’s mostly used by water enthusiasts. It’s highly recommended that every time you’re going into the water, you have it in your boat. For any boat longer than 16 feet, there should at least be one type 4 PFD.

It’s not meant for wearing, but should instead be thrown to someone who falls overboard and can’t swim, or someone who’s generally drowning for another reason altogether. Once these Type IV PFDs are thrown, the drowning person is supposed to grab then hold on to it as they float while awaiting help.

The Type IV PFD is also referred to as a throwable floatation device. When used in swimming pools and even in commercial boats the IV PFD type is called a circular floatation ring.

flotation device example

Having one PFD for every passenger onboard a boat will ensure utmost safety. They could be a mix of life jackets designed to be worn or throwables although if you’re going to be wearing a life jacket, the life jacket must fit your body right. Aside from carrying life jackets for the kids and adults, ensure there’s a life jacket for any pet you have on board.

While a Type 4 PFD offers boat safety, there are a few restrictions to a person using one of these when in water. First, don’t use a Type IV PFD in places where the waters have a lot of disturbances such as currents, strong winds, or waves. This is because the PFD Type IV is likely to be tossed around in such waters or even worse, it could float away when thrown to someone who’s drowning.

What is the main advantage of a Type IV PFD?

A Type IV PFD comes with several advantages for any person in the water and to get the main one, we have to highlight all the other advantages of this floatation device. The advantages include:

  1. Type IV PFDs come in a universal size

Every individual in the boat or the swimming pools can use the IV PFD Type without worrying about size restrictions. They are suitable for people of different ages, heights, and even weight. This is because it’s a flotation device that’s not meant to be worn, rather be grabbed and held on to should the need arise. (Source)

Unlike life jackets for women that are meant to adapt to a given figure, this Type IV PFD has no specifications that limit it to women of a certain shape. However, just because you will be using this personal flotation device does not mean you should eliminate your life jackets.

All passengers aboard the boat should wear them including infants and any animals on board.

2. The IV PFD allows for towing and tugging

When you get one of these Type IV PFDs you can fasten it to a rope whether or not it’s in use. That way, the moment any of these personal flotation devices is thrown to a person in the water, the rope goes with it. Using this rope, the coast guard or other people on the boat can pull the non-swimmers who are holding on firmly to these Type IV PFDs.

A coast guard will find it easier to rescue using this method since they won’t have to get into the water and swim to save the drowning victim. The swimming is often exhausting and could put both the coast guard and the victim in danger.

Keep in mind that not every Type IV PFD comes with the ropes attached. For some, you will be required to buy the ropes separately and then attach them. (Source)

3 . Type IV PFDs come with location indicators

Another one among the advantages of a Type IV PFDs is that when someone falls out of the boat, the flotation device can easily be thrown to the exact location the drowning person was last spotted. It has a location marker that is used to guide the boat operator as they maneuver through that particular area for successful rescuing.

While the location indicator is helpful, one disadvantage is that it can be swept away easily by waves or currents especially if they are rough. Regardless, the Type IV PFDs remain valuable as they help the boat driver find out where the waves are originating from. In case the drowning victim was wearing a life jacket, then it’s possible that they were swept in between the waves and this could make the search process easier.

Having discussed these advantages of a Type IV PFD, the main advantage of a Type IV PFD is easily the fact that it has no size restrictions, making its use universal. You can get some on Amazon.

Different Types of Throwable Devices Available on the Market

There are different kinds of Type IV PFDs available in the market today for you to choose from. They include:

a.) Ring buoys

Ring buoys are Type IV PFDs that are commonly seen on different boats at the docks or even in swimming pools. Ring buoys are fitted with activated lights.

A big advantage is that these lights in a ring buoy are helpful during rescue missions at night. According to its design, a ring buoy will have 16.5 pounds of buoyancy.

b.) Horseshoe buoys

The Horseshoe flotation rings come in a shape that resembles a horseshoe just as the name suggests. This type of device is made up of a cell plastic core that is fitted with a cover coated with vinyl. An advantage is that these are available in a variety of colors. The most common colors in which you can find a horseshoe buoy are yellow, blue, and white since these are the easiest colors to spot.

c.) Buoyant cushions

Buoyant cushions come in square shapes and do not contain any holes. The most exceptional advantage of buoyant cushions is that they come with two straps. These straps allow the person onboard to insert their arms in order not to be carried away by the water currents.

It’s however not compulsory to insert your arms as you could always just float on these kinds of Type IV PFDs and then use your legs to paddle through the water.

According to coast guard rules, all children below the age of 13 need to have life jackets on as these main PFDs are not a replacement for them. This is regardless of whether or not your state has laws for this.

Type IV PFD Guidelines

Just like with other personal flotation devices, the Type IV PFD comes with a set of guidelines that ensure you use them properly. They include:

  • Making sure that the Type IV PFDs are taken out of their original packaging. This ensures they are always ready to use should the need arise. Making sure that the rope is firmly attached to your Type IV PFD facilitates an even quicker rescue should there be an emergency.
  • The Type IV PFD should be well placed on the boat in a way that everyone onboard can see it. It should never be hidden under the seats, lockers, cockpits, or any other section of the boat that would have it obscured from everyone.

What vessels require the IV PFDs?

  • For boats that happen to be longer than 16 feet, it’s important to have the PFD Type IV. It’s a USCG requirement. It does not matter whether you pick a buoyant cushion, a ring buoy, or a horseshoe buoy just as long as the USCG has approved its use.
  • Regardless of their length, these IV PFDs are not compulsory in canoes or even kayaks. However, in their absence, you should still have other PFDs such as a type III PFD or incorporate life jackets. Your choice should be dependent on the activities you’ll be engaging in while in the water.

 Is paddling while using a Type IV PFD recommended?

The answer is no. While it isn’t uncommon for some paddlers to carry certain buoyant cushions that they use as seat cushions or knee cushions, this is highly discouraged by the USCG. This is because this added height will affect the stability of your vessel, subsequently tampering with the buoyant cushion.

Selecting and Caring for a Type IV PFD

One of the things that stand out when it comes to Type IV PFDs is the fact that they are relatively affordable. Other than that, this flotation device is long-lasting, meaning you’ll always get value for your money.

Whenever you’re picking one, go for a Type IV PFD which has been approved by the U.S Coast guard. Brighter colors come highly recommended as they are easily visible in case of an emergency.

This life ring is usually 16.5 pounds heavy and the boat cushions stand at 18 pounds. On average, any person in water only needs 7 to 12 pounds for them to remain floating.

When it comes to caring for a Type IV PFD, how do you clean it? Well, ensure you always wash it carefully after use with some clean water. After washing, allow it to dry completely under direct sunlight.

When should you replace a Type IV PFD? You should typically check it regularly for any damage such as holes, air leaks, or waterlogging. Should you find any of these, that’s your cue to get a replacement.

Commonly asked questions about Type IV PFDs

Some of the frequently asked questions regarding PFDs include:

  •   Does a Type IV PFD expire? 

No, a Type IV PFD does not expire. It only becomes void in case it’s been altered or repaired a couple of times.  With this, it is no longer safe to use and should be discarded accordingly. You should then replace it with another high-quality PFD.

  • How do you measure the buoyancy of a PFD?

To check your PFD’s buoyancy in water, tilt your head back, and keep your body relaxed. You should then check to see if the PFD you are using will keep your chin above water and if you can still breathe with ease.

  • What does USCG approved mean?

USCG means the device has been cleared by the US Coast Guard as safe for use by a person in the water in case of emergencies. The device is therefore rendered capable of helping you remain afloat should you be unable to swim.

  • What is the greatest disadvantage of a type IV personal flotation device?

The greatest disadvantage of a Type IV PFD is that it’s the least efficient for use in paddling especially if you have no other types of PFDs with you. However, if you still have to depend on it, just ensure it’s not tied to the kayak. Tying it only makes accessing it more difficult in the face of an emergency.

  • Which type of PFD will turn most?

Although the off-shore life jackets are bulkier than a Type II and Type III PFD, they will in most cases turn an unconscious person easiest to a face-up position.

  • What type of PFD is recommended in rough waters?

When it comes to flotation devices, Type 1 PFDs or off-shore life vests are the most suitable for different water conditions and are the most buoyant. They work well on isolated or rough waters where it’s possible to have delayed rescue.


As can be seen from the article, a Type IV PFD comes with features that make it highly beneficial for use in water and should, therefore, be carried in boats by water sports enthusiasts. The fact that it is not designed to be worn is the main advantage because it means there is no size limit. It can therefore be used by both kids and adults.

Since it doesn’t have to be worn, this device can also serve as a location indicator for the victim’s initial or last position, therefore making rescue operations easy. For this, no need for any password recovery in its use which is also a plus.

In case you have any questions or comments, we encourage you to leave them below or send them to us and we will be more than happy to respond. That said, always remember to carry a PFD with you before you go out to the water. Safety first!


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Ryan Stoltz

Ryan Stoltz

Avid kayaker and lover of the outdoors. Having been kayaking for over 7 years, I love sharing my experiences and learnings along the way. Currently kayaking in upstate New York and always open to new adventures!

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