What Is the Main Advantage of a Type IV PFD?

We say it to everyone who will listen: safety should always be your top priority. With that in mind, what is the main advantage of a type IV PFD?

A Type IV PFD (referred to as a T4 throughout), also known as a throwable flotation device, serves as an additional layer of safety for individuals in distress.

Unlike wearable Type III PFDs, this type of PFD is not supposed to be worn but rather thrown to a person in need. It acts as a buoyant aid, providing the necessary flotation to keep them afloat until help arrives.

Understanding Type IV Personal PFDs

Its design allows it to be used in various water environments, ranging from recreational boating to swimming pools. Whether you are on a boat, kayak, or near a body of water, having a T4 on hand can provide an additional level of safety for both experienced individuals and novices.

They come in different shapes and sizes. The most common varieties include ring buoys, buoyant cushions, and horseshoe buoys. These variations allow for adaptability based on the specific rescue scenario.

For instance, ring buoys are shaped like a horseshoe and are particularly effective in throwing directly to a person who is drowning, while a buoyant cushion flotation device is shaped like a seat cushion and provides someone drowning or unable to swim a larger surface area to hold onto.

What Is the Main Advantage of a Type IV PFD?

We’ll give you more than one! These are very helpful devices…

Versatility in Water Rescue Scenarios 

Whether you are boating, kayaking, or enjoying other water activities, having a T4 on board can be a game-changer in emergency situations. These throwable flotation devices are specifically designed to be quickly deployed.

From aiding a person who has fallen overboard to supporting someone struggling in a swimming pool, Type IV PFDs prove invaluable in a wide range of rescue scenarios. Their lightweight and compact design make them easy to handle and deploy, allowing swimmers to hang onto the device for immediate assistance. 

what is the main advantage of a type IV PFD?

Accessibility for All Individuals

One of the main benefits of a type iv device is their accessibility, irrespective of size or age. Unlike wearable life jackets, which require a proper fit for each individual, T4s can be used by anyone in need of help. 

For boaters or water enthusiasts with varying numbers of passengers on board, the accessibility of T4s becomes a huge asset. Instead of being forced to carry multiple wearable life jackets of different sizes, having at least one T4 ensures that there is always a flotation device readily available for any individual who may require it.

Another huge advantage of the type iv PFD is its simple and intuitive nature–in distress situations, the straightforward instruction of throwing the device to the person in need and instructing them to hold on tightly provides a clear and easily understandable response. This accessibility empowers bystanders to assist the boat operator when trying to save those at sea. 

Additional Functions

Add Location Markers

These devices come in bright colors, making them highly visible in the water. This makes it easier for rescuers or other boats in the vicinity to locate the individual, which is especially helpful in situations where visibility may be limited. This kind of flotation device significantly improves the efficiency and effectiveness of search and rescue operations.

Help the Boat Operator 

When a person falls overboard, the captain’s immediate priority is to navigate the boat safely and initiate rescue procedures. In such circumstances, throwing a T4 to the swimmer helps them stay afloat and conserve energy while awaiting further assistance. By reducing the risk of drowning or exhaustion, T4s alleviate some of the pressure on the captain, allowing them to focus on executing rescue protocols with a clear mind.

Moreover, since this flotation device bridges the gap between the swimmer and the boat, they serve as a secure point of contact for both the rescuer and the person in distress. By holding onto the device, the individual can be pulled closer to the boat, minimizing the distance they need to swim or tread water.

This method of retrieval, yanking them back to the boat, can be particularly beneficial when the person is fatigued or unable to swim due to injury. 

To maximize the effectiveness of type 4 pfds, have captains and crew study proper rescue techniques and maintain their gear. Caring for a type iv is easy and effective. 

Ensuring the safety of everyone on board is of the utmost importance, and the use of T4s is subject to specific regulations set forth by the Coast Guard.  

For boats longer than 16 feet, it is mandated that at least one Type IV PFD be on board. This regulation is in addition to the requirement of wearing a life jacket (Type I, II, or III) for each person on the boat. The T4 serves as an additional flotation device that can be readily accessible in case of emergencies.

The T4s must be Coast Guard-approved, ensuring that they meets the necessary safety standards. 

To comply with regulations, it is essential to have one PFD that is in good condition and readily accessible. This means you need to carry a type iv that isn’t obstructed or hidden from view. Regular inspections should be conducted.

Proper usage of a type iv personal floatation device involves knowing when and how to throw the device to someone in the water. When a person is in distress and requires assistance, remain calm and poised. Remember: they are extremely easy to use. 

Additionally, you should be aware of some limitations. These devices are most suitable for calm waters and situations where other individuals are available to assist in the rescue.

In turbulent waters, or when the person is unable to swim or is at risk of drowning, additional measures may be necessary. Assess the specific conditions and adapt the rescue approach accordingly.

(For information on how to pass a fishing boat safely, see our article “How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat?”)

Comparisons and Varieties of Type IV PFDs

Type IV: Throw the PFD
Type III, II, and I: Wear the PFD

The main advantage of the Type IV PFD is how easy it is to use in rescue situations. In particular, the square-shaped design of certain T4s, like buoyant cushions or ring buoys, allows for easy gripping and handling, increasing their effectiveness during a rescue. 

On the other hand, wearable life jackets, including Type I, II, and III PFDs, are worn on the body and provide continuous buoyancy. These are required for activities like boating, kayaking, and water sports, where there is a higher risk of falling overboard.

Keep This In Mind

The Coast Guard requires that all recreational boats have at least one T4 on board in addition to wearable PFDs for each individual. Consider doing the following for everyone’s safety.

  • Make sure you bring a type iv throwable flotation device.
  • Wear a life jacket.
  • Inspect and maintain your PFDs.
  • Educate yourself and others on proper PFD usage.

And some super important things to remember . . .

Practice Using Type IV PFDs
Familiarize yourself and your crew with the proper deployment and use of Type IV PFDs. Take the time to practice throwing the device to simulate rescue scenarios. This practice will prepare you for a rescue scenario. 

Consider Additional PFDs
Other types of PFDs may be more suitable for certain situations. For example, if you engage in activities like waterskiing or tubing, consider using a Type III PFD that allows for more mobility and is made for active water sports.

Encourage Proper PFD Usage Among Passengers
Ask them to wear their life jackets at all times while on board, especially in situations where the risk of falling overboard is high. 

Lead By Example
Set a positive example by consistently wearing your own life jacket and practicing safe boating habits. When passengers see that you prioritize safety, they are more likely to do the same.

By considering these recommendations and incorporating them into your boating practices, you can enhance the safety and enjoyment of your time on the water. 

I hope it’s clear now what Type IV PFDs are and why they’re important. 

They’re great for helping and marking the location of someone in the water. Their design as throwable devices allows for accurate targeting, making them an essential tool for boat operators and rescuers.

They’re accessible to individuals of all sizes and ages. Whether it’s a child, an adult, or a non-swimmer, anyone can benefit from the added safety and flotation support provided by a Type IV PFD.

Be sure to carry one on board!


What is a Type IV PFD?

It’s a specific type of personal flotation device designed to be thrown to a person in the water. It’s commonly referred to as a throwable PFD.

What is the main advantage of a Type IV Personal Flotation Device?

Its versatility and convenience. It can be quickly deployed in water rescue situations and is accessible to individuals of all sizes and ages, regardless of swimming ability.

When should I use a Type IV PFD?

When there is someone in the water who needs assistance or as an additional flotation device on a boat. It’s great at marking the location of a person in distress and providing support until further assistance arrives.

Is it the law that Type IV PFDs must be present on a boat at all times? 

Yes, Type IV PFDs must be present on board boats that are longer than 16 feet in length as per the regulations set by the US Coast Guard. However, they are not required to be worn like other types of PFDs.

Can a Type IV PFD substitute for a wearable life jacket?

No. It serves a different purpose and is not supposed to be worn. It is essential to have both a Type IV PFD and wearable life jackets on board.

How do I throw the Type IV PFD?

Grasp the device, aim for the person in the water, and throw it underhand. Make sure the person can reach and hold onto the PFD. Be sure to practice beforehand.

How should I maintain a Type IV PFD?

Inspect it regularly for any damage or signs of wear. Store it in a dry and accessible location on the boat. If the PFD becomes wet, allow it to dry thoroughly before storing it.

Can I use a Type IV PFD for activities other than boating?

Sure. A Type IV PFD can be used for various water activities. Assess the specific requirements of the activity and make sure that a Type IV PFD is suitable for the intended purpose.

Do I still need to wear a life jacket if I have a Type IV PFD on board?

Yes, preferably a Type III wearable PFD, especially when boating or participating in water activities. 

Can I use a Type IV PFD for floating or lounging in the water?

While a Type IV PFD can provide temporary flotation support, it is not recommended for prolonged floating or lounging in the water. It is intended for rescue situations and as an aid for individuals in need of assistance.

What is an example of a coast guard-approved Type IV PFD?

Ring buoys are coast guard-approved and can be tossed to a person in distress or used as additional flotation support on boats. They are typically circular in shape with a buoyant core and a rope attached for easy retrieval. 

Am I required to carry a Type IV PFD if I’m using a jet ski?

Boats 16 feet in length must carry a Coast Guard-approved Type IV PFD on board. This requirement makes it so that there is a readily accessible flotation device that can be thrown to a swimmer or used to provide additional buoyancy during an emergency situation. 

Is wearing a type III PFD along with the kind of type IV you’ve described in this article uncomfortable?

This should not be uncomfortable. Type III PFDs are known for their comfort and mobility. They are intended to be worn for extended periods and offer a good range of motion. However, the comfort level may vary depending on personal preferences, fit, and the specific design of the Type III PFD. 

Should I throw the Type IV PFD at the victim’s head or their feet?

When rescuing a victim with a square-shaped type IV PFD, it is recommended to throw the PFD near the victim’s head rather than their feet. The best option is to throw it past the victim so you don’t hit them. The objective is to provide them with a buoyant device that they can grab onto and use for support in the water, so you should be aiming for their chest or head. By throwing the PFD near the head, it increases the likelihood of the victim being able to reach and grab onto the device.

Image Credits
Photo 1 by Okansoyluturk
Photo 2 by jotoya
Photo 3 by Maël BALLAND

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