Dealer Outlook

Trade Only Dealer Outlook Blog

‘PFDs’ are out ? ‘life jackets’ are in

The National Association of Boating Law Administrators is meeting this week. Among the actions planned, delegates are being asked to vote on a proposal to drop “PFD” and return to the use of “life jacket” as the designation for … well, PFDs! Overwhelming approval is anticipated.

We can all remember what they were originally called? How about life preservers, life vests or life jackets? Somewhere around 20 years ago the term “personal floatation device” was coined. It’s not clear whether the industry or the Coast Guard was the prime mover behind identifying life jackets as PFDs. Regardless, the consensus thinking was that “life jacket” had an ominous connotation. After all, the characters in the mega-movie “Titanic” had just spent nearly half of the three-plus-hour epic wearing life vests without any happy ending! So it was easy to garner support for the change to PFD, because it seemed less threatening and less negative. In addition, PFD might be more accepted by the boating public and result in increased use.

But throughout it all, PFD has never been totally embraced by all interests. For example, the National Boating Safety Advisory Council has been taking a pass on “PFD” and has used life jacket for some years, even over the protests of the Coast Guard. “I’m glad the Coast Guard is going back to ‘life jacket,’ ” says Larry Innis, who previously served on the NBSAC board and chaired the organization’s safety campaign that used “life jacket” over “PFD,” believing the message was stronger and more direct.

Arguably, the return to “life jacket” may focus more attention on the life-saving device and its critical function. After all, it is intended to keep people above water and, thereby, save lives. So perhaps it should be called what it is, and that’s the primary motive behind the move to dump “PFD” ? call attention to its purpose.

But it’s not likely to increase life jacket wear. Indeed, it may do just the opposite. Saying “put on your life jacket” to guests, for example, just doesn’t send a picture of a pleasant leisure day on the water. It’s doubtful most skippers will do so.

Accordingly, now that “life jacket” is back “in” and “PFD” is “out” for promotion per the Coast Guard, it appears we’re about to enter a new era of mixed messages regarding boating safety devices like PFDs … or life jackets. If you’re scratching your head over the real need for such a change now, you’re not alone.


13 comments on “‘PFDs’ are out ? ‘life jackets’ are in

  1. Waterdog

    I would say it is more related to a vest than a jacket, though, those worn by the USCG are more jacket like.

    I find that in this over thought world, Personal Floatation Device (PFD) was a bit over done for most average folks. Seat belts are still called seat belts by the majority of the folks. I know no one who refers to them as Vehicular Personal Restaint Devices (VPRD’s) …

    Also now that we live in the world of computers, younger folks & computer savey older folks could confuse PFD with PDF’s…
    In a panic as a boat is in distress I don’t want a bunch of younger or computer savey people shouting “find your PDF’s & put them on”. Only to see a bunch of laptops,PDA’s (Personal Digital Assistant), iPhones, & iPods coming out of backpacks,. purses, pockets, etc… in a time of potential peril.

    This step is not one in the wrong direction but one that corrects the wrong step that was commited prior.

    PC Sanity may may be reversing itself….. I hope so Just MHO (not to be confused with HMO) ;-)))))

  2. ernest utsch

    The bureaucrats can call things anything they like and it does not matter a bit. They have always been life jackets and always will because we on the water use the term that best fits the use. It is like a politician that steals and then makes 100 excuses. He is still a thief. That about says it all.

  3. Mitch Witt, Mech Engr/Cruiser/Surveyor

    Sounds purely like a gimmick to generate new sales.
    We (serious offshore sailors) won’t buy them, we will continue to use the good “offshore” rated
    PFD’s as well as the inflatable variety with the harness built in. I hope NASBLA is not
    becoming a group who can be romanced and bought off by trade reps. Don’t include
    serious offshore sailors in the same group as those who operate ski boats, PWC, and
    day sailors.

  4. Bernice McArdle

    I must respectfully beg to differ with Norm on this one. The boating safety community at large is finally steering itself away from the terminology “PFD.” The acronym is not now—nor was it ever—a consumer-friendly term. Today, there are many different voices out there promoting boating safety; and as all these voices work in concert to influence human behavior and increase lifejacket wear rates, it’s important that everyone is singing the same terminology tune. We should all be harmonizing about the fabulous variety of lifejackets currently available on the market. The “Titanic-type” lifejackets of old—orange, bulky, uncomfortable, and cumbersome—are (thankfully!) a thing of the past. Nowadays we have stylish and comfortable products available, which we’re not embarrassed to wear. Au contraire, I think standardizing the term “lifejacket” instead of “PFD” will positively impact the boating safety refrain, and, ultimately, brand our collective messages into a single, stronger, more effective voice.

  5. Capt. Pete Hosemann

    I have been making Life Jacket announcements on board passenger vessels for thirty years.
    They have always been Life Jackets.
    To have called them PFDs would only creat confusion and misunderstanding.
    Good move.

  6. Virgil Chambers

    Debating on the term life jacket, life vest, life preserver, flotation device, PFD is really not the issue. First of all, PFD is an acronym and unless you are in the business, it means little or nothing to the boating public. Okay, you will find it in the boating laws and regulations and ignorance is no excuse. But when we in the boating community communicate with the public, I hope we use the term “life jacket” regardless of what “officially” is accepted by the profession.

    Don’t let a term hang us up – we are used to saying words that may technically be different but really mean the same things: pen vs. ball-point, coat vs. jacket and other words in boating: manual vs. unpowered, boat vs. vessel, no wake vs. idle speed, then there’s PWC (personal watercraft), wave runner (Yamaha’s official name), jet ski (Kawasaki’s official term), among other boating terms we use.

    The issue is life jacket wear. We know for the most part recreational boating is a safe activity, but it can be safer. We would save between 400 and 500 lives a year if people would wear a life jacket. Today’s life jackets (inflatables and the new foam devices) are truly wearable and comfortable. The day will come when we will not have to say “put on your life jacket”; it will be automatic, we will do it without thinking, much like the younger generation buckles up in the car. And it’s just not the laws that drive us to buckle up. We have increased the wear rate through the “Wear It” campaign when we educated the boaters to what is available. Let’s not try to change the boaters vocabulary, let’s change their behavior.

  7. Waterdog

    Bernice wrote- We should all be harmonizing about the fabulous variety of lifejackets currently available on the market. The “Titanic-type” lifejackets of old—orange, bulky, uncomfortable, and cumbersome—are (thankfully!) a thing of the past. Nowadays we have stylish and comfortable products available, which we’re not embarrassed to wear.

    Bernice no offence but the life vests on the Titanic were white.
    Orange is still the prefered color in commercial circles.
    I would like to see these latest models in a fashion show type setting at IBEX. I think it would be much more exciting than resin infusion demonstrations useing turkey bagging technology.
    Not that there is anything wrong with infusing a turkey in a bag…Seriously how about having all the servers at the happy hour whereing a PFD. I’m serious now !!!

  8. Jim Battye

    Be aware of the difference in meanings between “life jacket” and ‘PFD.” There is no such thing as a Type IV (throwable) life jacket…so, as long as you are talking about wearable devices, “life vest” or “life jacket” is fine.

  9. Peggy Monahan

    A PFD (personal flotation device) is a life jacket. The variety of models, colors, sizes is endless. Having your own personal flotation device, it should fit the owner, and should be put on when the boater gets onto the boat. It is personal to the owner. It is not meant to be shared by 2 or 3 people.
    This is what the boating public does realize. I fit all the children carefully for size and comfort and purpose (buckles for the ski or tube users), but the parents don’t need a life jacket. Who is going to save the children?? An accident is an unplanned event I remind them.

    If you look at a promotional ad created by a boat manufacturer; are the people riding in the boat wearing life jackets?

    Yes lets change the behavior of the boating public . Only the boaters who respect the ocean wear their life vests!!

  10. Sailor Dawn

    It does not matter what term we use for LIFE JACKETS, we just need to get the boating public to wear them.

    Why the general boating public still spend hundreds of dollars on fishing poles and fancy drink glasses, but only cents on the old MAY WEST life jackets to meet the minimum USCG requirements is beyond understanding.

    We need better education to all on the water, And to do that, it will take every respectfull boater to remind all others, to put one on.

  11. Arch

    I”m surprised they didn’t blame using the term “PFD’s” for the decline of our industry. They’ve incorrectly blamed about everything else.

  12. Howard

    A PFD(personal floatation device) is not the same as a lifejacket.
    A PFD does not keep your head face up when unconcious in the water. A lifejacket does.
    There are some legalites and policies which require the distinction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments Policy.