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Carrying the proper flotation devices, or PFDs, on your sailboat won't matter if you can't get to them quickly enough to help a sailor in trouble. Having certain kinds of PFDs are not only required on boats, they are an essential boat safety item. To follow marine navigation rules, you should have one PFD for every person onboard. You should also have one throw-away device on each boat 16 feet or longer, but it is always good to have this type of safety flotation device on board.
It is recommended that you wear PFDs during bad conditions such as rough water, when there is a great deal of boat traffic, or when you are a great distance from shore. Putting on a PFD when the boat is stable is easy, but doing it when it's rocking or when you have been thrust into dangerous water is not.
Different types of PFDs include a near-shore buoyant vest, a flotation aid vest (best used in calm water), an offshore life jacket and a special-use hybrid inflatable device. These safety items should always be in easy reach, not stored below deck or still in the coverings used when you bought them.