Types of lifejackets

Lookout! Issue 26, September 2012

It is essential that you choose the correct type for your boating activities. The different types are described in the New Zealand standard NZS 5823: 2005.
Variety of lifejackets
Maritime New Zealand ©2019
There is a variety of different lifejackets or PFDs available.

Type 401 – open waters lifejacket

These are designed to keep the wearer vertical in the water, and to hold a person’s mouth and nose uppermost if they are unconscious. The two versions available are inflatable, or with semi-rigid foam flotation.

The ones with foam flotation are rated as having a minimum buoyancy rating of 100 newtons (adult size). These lifejackets are cumbersome and uncomfortable.

Type 401 Lifejacket
Two examples of Type 401 lifejackets.
Maritime New Zealand ©2019

They are not suited to continuous wearing on a pleasure craft, but because they are designed to hold an unconscious person’s head and face clear of the water, they are best suited for emergencies such as abandoning a vessel.

The inflatable 401 lifejackets must provide 150 newtons of buoyancy, and are fitted with either a water-activated inflation switch, or a manual pull cord to inflate. They can also be inflated using a mouthpiece.

These lifejackets are also designed to keep a person’s head and face clear of the water, and are comfortable and convenient to wear. They can be fitted with a safety harness.

National and international standards* that substantially comply with type 401: ANSI/UL 1123 and 1177 type I PFD offshore life jacket; AS 4758 level 150; ISO 12402-3; EN 396.

Type 402 – inshore waters PFD

These provide at least 71 newtons of buoyancy and must have a buoyant collar to support the wearer’s head. They are quite comfortable to wear continuously while boating, and are the most common PFDs found on recreational craft. However, while they must not allow the wearer to tilt forward of vertical, they are not designed to keep an unconscious person’s head and face above water.

Type 402 Lifejacket
An example of Type 402 lifejacket.
Maritime New Zealand ©2019

This type of PFD must be marked “May not be suitable for all conditions”. The effectiveness of this PFD is considerably reduced in rough or breaking seas or surf. The PFD will give support in the water for an extended period.

This type of PFD normally relies on plastic clips and adjustable straps to secure it. These straps must be fastened securely and there is some tendency for this type of PFD to ride up on the wearer. A crotch strap is advised if the wearer may be using the PFD in rough water.

National and international standards* that substantially comply with type 402: ANSI/UL 1123 and 1177 type II PFD near shore buoyant vest; AS 4758 level 100; AS 1512 PFD type I; ISO 12402-4; EN 395.

Type 403 – buoyancy vest

No collar is fitted to a buoyancy vest and it has a lower buoyancy rating than a lifejacket. It is designed for use in aquatic sports, such as dinghy sailing.

Type 403 Lifejacket
An example of Type 403 lifejacket.
Maritime New Zealand ©2019

This particular type of PFD (adult size) must have at least 53 newtons of buoyancy. While wearing this type of PFD will not provide the same level of support or safety provided by other models, it is necessary for specialist type sports to have the most appropriate PFD for their purpose.

National and international standards* that substantially comply with type 403: ANSI/UL 1123 and 1177 type III PFD; AS 4758 level 50; AS 1499 PFD type 2; AS 2260 PFD type 3; ISO 12402-5; EN 393.

Type 404 - buoyancy aid and wetsuit

A wetsuit with added buoyancy in specific areas. These are very expensive and suitable for some sporting activities.

Type 405 - buoyancy garment

This standard is the same as type 403, but is not required to have reflective tape or be brightly coloured.

Type 405 Lifejacket
An example of Type 405 lifejacket.
Maritime New Zealand ©2019

They are often used in specialist sporting events, but where lack of bright colours may compromise safety, a type 403 PFD should be used.

National and international standards* that substantially comply with type 405: ANSI/UL 1123 and 1177 type III PFD; AS 4758 level 50; AS 1499 PFD type 2; AS 2260 PFD type 3; ISO 12402-5; EN 393.

Type 406 - specialist PFD

These include the various specialist PFD designs that are used for rafting, jet boating or kayaking.

Type 406 Lifejacket
An example of Type 406 lifejacket.
Maritime New Zealand ©2019

National and international standards* that substantially comply with type 406 for specialist activities: „„

  • kayaking: ANSI/ UL 1123 and 1177 type V PFD special use device / canoe / kayak vest; AS 4758 level 50 special purpose PFD; AS 1499 PFD type 2; AS 2260 PFD type 3; ISO 12402-6 special purpose; EN 393. „„
  • white-water rafting: ANSI/UL 1123 and 1177 type V PFD special use device / commercial white water vest; AS 4758 level 100 special purpose PFD; AS 1512 PFD type 1; ISO 12402-6 special purpose level 100.
  • „„jet and power boat racing: ANSI/UL 1123 and 1177 type II near shore buoyant vest or type V special use device; AS 4758 level 100 special purpose PFD; AS 1512 PFD type 1; ISO 12402-4; ISO 12402-6 special purpose; EN 395.

Type 408 – specialist PFD

These include the various specialist PFD designs specified in NZS 5823: 1999 and 2001 that are used for rafting or jet boating.

Type 408 Lifejacket
An example of Type 408 lifejacket.
Maritime New Zealand ©2019

National and international standards* that substantially comply with type 408 for specialist activities:

  • white-water rafting: ANSI/UL 1123 and 1177 type V PFD special use device / commercial white water vest; AS 4758 level 100 special purpose PFD; AS 1512 PFD type 1; ISO 12402-6 special purpose level 100.
  • jet and power boat racing: ANSI/UL 1123 and 1177 type II PFD near shore buoyant vest or type V special use device; AS 4758 level 100 special purpose PFD; AS 1512 PFD type 1; ISO 12402-4; ISO 12402-6 special purpose; EN 395.

* National and international standards

  • ANSI – American National Standards Institute
  • AS – Australian Standard
  • EN – European Standard
  • ISO – International Organization for Standardization
  • NZS – New Zealand Standard
  • UL – Underwriters Laboratories

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