Water Safety – Mae West or Annette Kellerman?

Summer’s in full swing, and it’s time to be out on the water with a Coast Guard approved personal flotation device. That’s a mouthful to say so a personal flotation device is nicknamed PFD for short. PFDs (or life-preservers) have had other nicknames throughout the years.

A3WMG1 MAE WEST - US actress 1892 to 1980
A3WMG1 MAE WEST – US actress 1892 to 1980


In World War II, PFDs were nicknamed a Mae West after the movie star famous for her sexy image. To this day, sailors still refer to personal flotation devices as Mae West.



Annette Kellerman


Back in the First World War, PFDs were nicknamed after another movie star, Annette Kellerman, the Million Dollar Mermaid. Known for her swimming, she was considered to be the “perfect woman” with measurements equal to Venus de Milo. (See my previous post for more on Annette Kellerman.)

Here’s a snippet from Private Lawrence Henry Foster’s letter to a friend from aboard the USS Leviathan in 1918, “We have these nifty little life-preservers [sic] that go on like a chest protector. We was told that if the ship went down, to keep cool, and take one blanket with us, and take an Annie Kellerman off the stoin.” (From Into the Danger Zone: Sea Crossings of the First World War by Tad Fitch and Michael Poirer)

So which do you prefer? PFD, Annie Kellerman or Mae West?

Given her athleticism, I’d call it an “Annie Kellerman.”

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