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Handbook of Illinois Boating Laws and Responsibilities Illinois Department of Natural Resources

It's the Law: Required Equipment

When preparing to go out on a vessel, the operator must check that the legally required equipment is on board.

Father fitting daughter to a lifejacket

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) (625 ILCS 45/4-1)

  • All vessels must have at least one USCG–approved Type I, II, or III PFD for each person on board or being towed. All vessels 16 feet or longer, except canoes and kayaks, also must carry one USCG–approved Type IV throwable device.
  • All children under the age of 13 must wear a PFD on vessels less than 26 feet in length when underway, unless they are below decks in an enclosed cabin.
  • A personal watercraft may not be operated unless each person on board is wearing a USCG–approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD.
  • Sailboarders are exempt from PFD requirements but are encouraged to wear a PFD.
  • Type V PFDs may be substituted for a Type I, II, or III if the Type V PFD is approved for the activity for which it is being used.
  • Besides being USCG-approved, all PFDs must be:
    • In good and serviceable condition.
    • Readily accessible, which means you are able to put the PFD on quickly in an emergency.
    • Of the proper size for the intended wearer. Sizing for PFDs is based on body weight and chest size.
Types of Personal Flotation Devices Illustrations

TYPE I: Offshore Life Jackets

These vests are geared for rough or remote waters where rescue may take awhile. They provide the most buoyancy, are excellent for flotation and will turn most unconscious persons face up in the water.

Type I PFD

TYPE II: Near-Shore Vests

These vests are good for calm waters when quick assistance or rescue is likely. Type II vests will turn some unconscious wearers face-up in the water, but the turning is not as pronounced as a Type I.

Type II PFD

TYPE III: Flotation Aids

These vests or full-sleeved jackets are good for calm waters when quick assistance or rescue is likely. They are not for rough waters since they will not turn most unconscious persons face up. This type of PFD is generally used for water sports. Some Type III PFDs are designed to inflate when you enter the water.

Type III PFDType III PFD: inflatable

TYPE IV: Throwable Devices

These cushions or ring buoys are designed to be thrown to someone in trouble. They are not for long hours in rough waters, non-swimmers or the unconscious.

Type IV PFD Type IV PFD: ring buoy

TYPE V: Special-Use Devices

These windsurfing vests, deck suits, hybrid PFDs and others are designed for specific activities, such as kayaking or water-skiing. Some Type V PFDs are designed to inflate when you enter the water. To be acceptable, Type V PFDs must be used in accordance with their label.

Type V PFD

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It's the Law!

Handbook of Illinois Boating Laws and Responsibilities
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Online boating safety handbook last modified: April 22, 2008
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