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Lifebuoy with emergency light on a cruise ship
A lifebuoy floating on water

A lifebuoy is a life-saving buoy designed to be thrown to a person in water to provide buoyancy and prevent drowning.[1] Some modern lifebuoys are fitted with one or more seawater-activated lights to aid rescue at night.

Other names[edit]

Other names for "lifebuoy" include:

  • life preserver
  • life ring,[2]
  • lifering
  • lifesaver
  • ring buoy
  • donut
  • safety wheel
  • Perry buoy
  • Kisbee ring[3]


The lifebuoy is usually a ring- or horseshoe-shaped personal flotation device with a connecting line allowing the casualty to be pulled to the rescuer in a boat. They are carried by ships and boats and located beside bodies of water and swimming pools. To prevent vandalism, they are protected by fines (up to £5,000 in the United Kingdom) or imprisonment.

In the United States, Coast Guard approved lifebuoys are considered Type IV personal flotation devices. At least one Type IV PFD is required on all vessels 26 feet or more in length.[4]

In the UK the Royal Life Saving Society considers lifebuoys unsuitable for use in swimming pools because throwing one into a busy pool could injure the casualty or other pool users. In these locations, lifebuoys have been superseded by devices such as the torpedo buoy,[5] a low-drag device developed to be towed by lifeguards to those in danger.


Leonardo da Vinci sketched a concept for a safety wheel, as well as for buoyant shoes and balancing sticks for walking on water.[6]

According to various sources the Knights of Malta were the first to use cork lifebuoys on their ships.[7]

In the book Architectura naval antigua y moderna (1752) by Juan José Navarro, 1st Marquess of Victoria, two plates show "circular lifebuoys" and another plate includes a drawing of "a lifebuoy made of cork", called "salvenos". This is the type used systematically by the Knights of Malta on their ships. The lifebuoy was attached to a rope on one side and to the poop of the ship on the other, so that it may be deployed in case anyone should fall into the sea.[8] Navarro was Captain General of the Navy and is credited with the systematic introduction of the lifebuoy on all ships of the Spanish navy.

In 1803, a device called the "Marine Spenser" from the name of its inventor, Knight Spenser of Bread Street, was described in the Philosophical Magazine.[9] It was made of "800 old tavern corks" affixed to a band, "covered in canvass, and painted in oil, so as to render it waterproof."[10] The invention gained Spenser the honorary silver medal from the Royal Humane Society.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Kisbee Ring". Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  2. ^ "Boat Life Rings, Ring Buoys". Retrieved 20 February 2023.
  3. ^ "The Kisbee Ring". Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  4. ^ "46 CFR 25.25-5 Life Preservers and Other Lifesaving Equipment".
  5. ^ The Lifeguard. IQL UK Ltd. ISBN 1905008120.
  6. ^ Wallace, Robert (1972) [1966]. The World of Leonardo: 1452–1519. New York: Time-Life Books. pp. 106–07.
  7. ^ Hugo O'Donnell, 7th Duke of Tetuan (2004). El primer Marqués de la Victoria, personaje silenciado en la reforma dieciochesca de la armada: discurso leído el día 1 de febrero de 2004 (Real Academia de la Historia ed.). Real Academia de la Historia. pp. 46, 90. ISBN 978-84-96849-08-2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ "Análisis y estudio del Album del Marques de la Victoria con proposito del su empleo en el modelismo de arsenal naval" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-04-05. Retrieved 2024-03-15.
  9. ^ "The philosophical magazine. Volume 16". 1803. pp. 172–173.
  10. ^ "The Cristian Observer". September 1803. p. 568. Retrieved 2024-03-14.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Lifebuoys at Wikimedia Commons
  • The dictionary definition of life jacket at Wiktionary