Scanstrut Free Canvas Pod Cover with select ScanPod purchase
Free RMK-9 with purchase of Axiom 12  While Supplies last
Mustang Survival Up to 80% Off While Supplies Last!
Defender Email Blast - Maptech
Magma Holiday Sale - Up to 25% Off Until 12/26/22
Lowrance Click for Exclusive Deals While Supplies Last
B&G Click for Exclusive Deals While Supplies Last

Life Jackets & Personal Flotation Devices

Old vs. New Classification Systems

There are many different designs of devices to assist a person floating in the water. The features they offer and where they are to be used influences how they are named.

Type System (US)

The old US Type classification system called everything a PFD, a Personal Flotation Device Type I through V. In Canada they distinguished between PFDs and life jackets (with turning ability).

Performance System (new US/Canada "Harmonized")

The new Performance Classification System refers to a numbered scale with Buoyancy Aids at the lower range and life jackets at the upper end. Recent improvements to standards for life jacket design, construction and testing have led to changes that will offer more choice to users.

Why the change?

Canada and the United States have worked together to harmonize their life jacket standards in order to:

  • improve safety choices and encourage innovation
  • allow new approved devices to be used across borders
  • expand markets and streamline regulations

Current / Old Labels - Legacy devices

All current approved life jackets and PFDs (personal flotation devices) will continue to be legally approved for carriage as long as they are still in good condition, readily available and of the correct size to be worn for each person on board.

US approved devices are acceptable in the USA, and Transport Canada approved devices are acceptable in Canada.

New devices with new labels under the new performance classification system are acceptable in both countries. New devices tested to new standards will be phased in as introduced by manufacturers.

Currently approved devices will continue to be acceptable on board as long as they are in good condition. New devices available in stores will begin to have new labels, with clear information and icons indicating performance of the device in the water. Devices with new labels are approved for use in Canada and the United States. Devices with old labels continue to be approved in one country or the other, not both. Read the label.

Check with state and local authorities for specific PFD/life jacket requirements for both (Type I-V) and harmonized systems.

What Does Your PFD's Label Look Like? Click to learn more

Performance Level PFD Classifications


label size info

The size of the device is shown on the label, (usually near the back of the neck) stated as a measure of mass (weight). A chest measurement or height may also be indicated. The label is a general guideline only as body type and size vary greatly. Most devices are adjustable for GOOD FIT.

Try it on! Try it out in the water!

  • Try on your device. Choose a GOOD FIT!
  • Pay particular attention to GOOD FIT for children.
  • DO NOT choose a size bigger for children to 'grow into'. This is dangerous as the device may come off over their head in the water.


label warning info
label warning info

The warnings panel on the label includes important information for the user about the device and its intended use.

Icons are used to inform the user that a device may not be appropriate for certain activities, such as water-skiing, towed sports or personal watercraft. (Some jurisdictions may have regulations about what device design is required).


label approval info

The approval panel indicates that the device has been approved by the United States Coast Guard and Transport Canada.

Other important information includes:

  • approval codes
  • certification by testing laboratories
  • manufacturer's name, contact info, device lot and model numbers


label maintenance info

The maintenance panel on the label includes information on the care and use of the device. Icons are used to inform the user about cleaning and drying the device. Reminders about fastening the device for GOOD FIT and the importance of inspecting for damage before use and storage are included here, with reference as well to reading manufacturers information.


Devices are designed, constructed and tested under controlled conditions and assigned a Performance Level that indicates the conditions of use for which it is intended.

Performance is a combination of factors - buoyancy, freeboard, turning, stability and visibility.

The icons on new labels are international symbols that are adopted from the International Standards Organization (ISO) sub-committee for life jacket standards.

Level 50

Level 50
  • swim skills expected of user
  • not recommended for weak or non-swimmers
  • close to shore and immediate assistance
  • no turning ability

Level 70

Level 70
  • calm or sheltered waters
  • close to shore or help near-to-hand
  • no turning ability

Level 100

Level 100
  • calm or sheltered waters
  • some time to wait for rescue
  • some turning ability

Level 150

Level 150
  • offshore waters with waves
  • turning ability

Level 275

Level 275
  • offshore emergency situations
  • used with weight of extra tools, equipment or clothing

Type System PFD Classifications (old)

Type I PFD

Off-Shore Life Jacket
Best for open, rough or remote water, where rescue may be slow coming


  • Two sizes fit most children and adults


  • Floats you the best
  • Turns most unconscious wearers face-up in water
  • Highly visible color


  • Bulky, uncomfortable


Near-Shore Buoyant Vest
Good for calm, inland water, or where there is a good chance of fast rescue


  • Infant, child, youth, and adult


  • Less bulky
  • Turns some unconscious wearers face-up
  • More comfortable than Type I PFD


  • Not for long hours in rough water.
  • Will not turn some unconscious wearers face-up


Flotation Aid
Good for calm, inland water, or where there is a good chance of fast rescue


  • Many sizes from child - small through adult


  • Generally the most comfortable type
  • Designed for activity marked on the device
  • Available in many styles


  • May have to tilt head back to avoid face-down
  • Wearer's face may be covered by waves
  • Not for extended survival in rough water


Throwable Device
For calm, inland water with heavy boat traffic, where help is always nearby


  • Rings, Horseshoe Buoys and Cushions


  • Can be thrown to someone
  • Good back-up to wearable PFDs
  • Some can be used as a seat cushion


  • Not for unconscious persons
  • Not for nonswimmers or children
  • Not for many hours in rough water

Type V PFD

Special Use Devices
Only for special uses or conditions. Equal to either Type I, II, or III performance as noted on the label

Varieties include:

  • Boardsailing vests, deck suits, work vest, hybrid PFDs, & others (including inflatable PFDs)


  • Made for specific activities
  • Least bulky of all types
  • High flotation when inflated
  • Good for continuous wear


  • May not adequately float some wearers unless partially inflated
  • Requires active use and care of inflation chamber
  • Required to be worn to be counted as a regulation PFD

Defender carries a complete line of USCG Approved Life Jackets and PFD's from Mustang Survival, Revere, Stearns, Spinlock, Kent, Full Throttle, Onyx, and more.

Note: All recreational boats must carry one wearable PFD (Type I, II, III or Type V PFD) for each person aboard. A Type V PFD provides performance of either a Type I, II, or III PFD (as marked on its label) and must be used according to the label requirements. Any boat 16ft and longer (except canoes and kayaks) must also carry one throwable PFD (Type IV PFD).  For more info:

Scroll to Top of Page