The need for hypothermia protection varies by season. The following explains the primary characteristics of Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs), Life Jackets, Anti-Exposure Work Suits and Immersion Suits.

Personal flotation devices (PFDs)

A PFD, in its most basic form, is a sleeveless torso vest with a minimum level of buoyancy. It is not a life jacket, and therefore, does not guarantee self-righting or keeping the head clear of the surface in other than calm conditions. It will keep the wearer at the surface and provides a reasonable level of protection for an experienced swimmer, except in rough conditions. It is valuable to a non-swimmer in calm conditions and shallow water where rescue is close at hand.

It does not provide hypothermia protection and should not be used in water temperatures lower than 15 degrees Celsius.

Life jackets

There are three types of life jackets in the Canadian standards: the Small Vessel Regulation Life Jacket, the Canadian Steamship Regulation Life Jacket and the SOLAS Life Jacket. The required life jacket is dependent on the size of the vessel.

By definition, a life jacket should provide an unconscious person self-righting and a guaranteed floating position which allows for breathing. The Canadian Life Jackets address these characteristics in various degrees; the Small Vessel Life Jacket, to a limited extent; the Standard Life Jacket for the most part; and the SOLAS Life Jacket in all respects.

Life jackets protect against early drowning much better than basic PFDs, particularly in heavy water. Life jackets provide no hypothermia protection at all; this is important to note because research shows that most victims who drown prior to suffering the effects of hypothermia do so within six minutes of immersion.

Anti-exposure work suits

The anti-exposure work suit has the same minimum buoyancy requirements as a PFD. It has good hypothermia protection that should allow for about two hours survival in 0 degrees Celsius water and increasing to about 6 hours in 15 degree Celsius water.

Immersion suits

Immersion suits provide the highest degree of buoyancy and hypothermia protection.