Table of Contents

Personal Flotation Devices (Life Jackets)

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

Personal flotation devices (PFDs) are either wearable life jackets or throwable Type IV devices.

All vessels (including non-motorized watercraft) must have at least one USCG–approved Type I, II, or III life jacket for each person on board. Non-motorized watercraft includes vessels such as canoes, inflatable rafts, kayaks, and sailboats.

In addition to the above requirement, one USCG–approved throwable Type IV PFD must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer. Canoes and kayaks are exempt from this requirement.

Children 12 years old and younger must wear a USCG–approved life jacket at all times when underway in a vessel less than 19 feet in length, unless in a fully enclosed area.

Each person on board a personal watercraft (PWC) and anyone being towed behind a vessel must wear a Type I, II, or III USCG–approved life jacket. Inflatable life jackets are not recommended for these activities.

A Type V life jacket may be substituted for any other type if it is approved for the activity at hand and is being worn.

Be sure to read the PFD's USCG label, which explains the intended use and recommended user weight and chest size. It is important to obey the USCG label.

All PFDs must be:

  • U.S. Coast Guard–approved and clearly marked with a USCG approval number.
  • In good and serviceable condition.
  • Readily accessible, which means you are able to put the life jacket on quickly in an emergency.
  • Of the proper size for the intended wearer. Sizing for life jackets is based on body weight and chest size.
Type I PFD

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 II PFD

Type II: Near-Shore Vests – These vests are good for calm waters when quick rescue is likely. A Type II may not turn some unconscious wearers face up in the water.

Type III inflatable PFDs

Type III: Flotation Aids – These vests or full-sleeved jackets are good for calm waters when quick rescue is likely. They are not recommended for rough waters since they will not turn most unconscious persons face up.

Type IV inflatable PFDs

Type IV: Throwable Devices – These cushions and ring buoys are designed to be thrown to someone in trouble. Since a Type IV is not designed to be worn, it is neither for rough waters nor for persons who are unable to hold onto it.

Type V PFD

TYPE V: Special-Use Devices – These vests, deck suits, hybrid PFDs, and others are designed for specific activities such as windsurfing, 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

Reminder: Children 12 years old and younger must wear a USCG-approved life jacket at all times when underway in a vessel less than 19 feet in length, unless in a fully enclosed area.

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