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Many beginners have learned to swim using “swim-assist” products that were first introduced in the form of arm supports. These products have now become available in the form of vests, which are similar in appearance to lifejackets. They have a warning that reads, “Swimming-Aid vest; use only under competent supervision; not to be used in boating.” There is concern that these devices are easily mistaken for a lifejacket and parents do not realize they are not approved Personal Flotation Devices (PFD).

A Coast Guard approved PFD goes through several steps, which can take years, including lengthy testing by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Only then is a Coast Guard number of approval assigned. This number will always begin with 160. Federal law requires there be a Coast Guard approved Type I, II, III, or V lifejacketlife vest for each passenger on a boat and if the boat is 16 feet or larger it is also required to have at least one Type IV throwable PFD as well, such as a ring.

There are type V Coast Guard approved “Swimwear Flotation Devices”. These devices must be worn at all times if used while a vessel is underway. If approved, they bear the Coast Guard approval number beginning with 160. They cannot be counted as a legal PFD if not being worn.

The concern is that some manufacturers produce both approved swimwear flotation devices AND simple swim-assist products. The swim-assist products can provide a false sense of security to an adult. These products are not approved devise for boating. Review our boat safety section for the types of life jackets which are approved by the Coast Guard. These are not necessarily the large, uncomfortable, orange life vests of days gone by. Times have changed and so have lifejackets.

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3 Responses to Swim Assist vs PFD’s

  1. Capt Fred says:

    Photo’s could add to the confusion, because “swim assist” and approved devices often look alike. Randy’s article states the only way to be sure is to look for and read the Coast Guard Approval. The number will begin with 160. If you can’t find and clearly read the number, do not use it.

  2. Robert Lea says:

    Your article on “swim-assist” devices could have been more helpful had it included a photo of both a “swim-assist” product and a “swim-assist flotation” device.
    But, thanks for the information.
    Robert Lea

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