Fitting a life jacket on a small child

Life Jackets are for Everyone

A life jacket (or Personal Flotation Device - PFD) is the single most important piece of equipment on your boat and the most important consideration should be size. More than two-thirds of all boating fatalities are drowning incidents and 90% of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket. So buy a life jacket that you will wear ... it could save your life.

There several types of traditional foam flotation devices as well as new inflatable life jackets. Each is designed for different boating activities and water conditions and each has its own maximum buoyancy, performance level, and limitations. You should choose your life jacket based on your boating activities and conditions. Life jackets must be U.S. Coast Guard-approved in order to meet carriage requirements.

The Requirements for Life Jackets

There must be a properly fitting life jacket for each and every person aboard a recreational vessel. Life jackets must be Coast Guard-approved, in serviceable condition and the appropriate size for the intended user. Obviously, they are most effective when worn. On a vessel underway, children under 13 must wear an appropriate Coast Guard-approved PFD, unless they are below decks or in an enclosed cabin. Within the geographic boundaries of any State that has established a child PFD wear requirement, that State’s requirement will be adopted. Our Life Jacket Loaner Program for kids can help you get the right life jacket for the day or weekend.  To find the loaner site nearest you, use our convenient map.

Each state may have additional wear requirements, such as for water skiing, personal watercraft operation, white water boating activities and during certain cool-weather months. Additionally, a boat 16’ in length or greater, except canoes and kayaks) must have a throwable flotation device. See specific state requirements for life jackets.

Life Jackets - Some Things to Know

  • There must be at least one life jacket for each person aboard
  • Life jackets must be properly sized for each person aboard
  • Children under a certain age are required to wear their life jacket (typically under 13 – see state requirements)
  • Participants engaged in certain water sports are required to wear a life jacket (typically skiing and personal watercraft operation – see state requirements)
  • Life jackets must be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard in order to meet requirements
  • Life jackets are grouped into categories called “Types”. A life jacket will be a Type I, II, III or V
  • These life jackets must be readily accessible and not in an out-of-reach location or in original packaging
  • Any boat 16’ and longer (except canoes and kayaks) must carry a throwable PFD called a Type IV
  • Throwable devices must be immediately available for use such as in the cockpit or near the helm
  • An inflatable life jacket must be properly armed with an unused gas cylinder
  • Inflatable life jackets are authorized for use on recreational boats by a person at least 16 years of age