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It's the Law


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

Personal Flotation Devices (Life Jackets)


All vessels, except sailboards and certain racing shells or rowing skulls, must have at least one wearable personal flotation device (PFD) that is U.S. Coast Guard–approved and of the proper size for each person on board. Sizing for life jackets (PFDs) is based on body weight and chest size.

All life jackets (PFDs) must be in good and serviceable condition and must be readily accessible.

In addition to the above requirements, vessels 16 feet in length or longer, except a canoe or kayak, must have one U.S. Coast Guard–approved throwable flotation device on board and readily accessible.

All children 12 years of age and younger must wear a U.S. Coast Guard–approved wearable personal flotation device (PFD) while underway on any vessel. The life jacket (PFD) must be fastened according to the manufacturer’s recommended use and must fit the child properly.

Each person on a PWC must wear a U.S. Coast Guard–approved wearable personal flotation device; and all closures of the personal flotation device must be fastened or secured according to the manufacturer’s design or recommended use and must be adjusted for a snug fit.

Each person being towed behind a vessel on water skis or a similar device must wear a life jacket (PFD) or buoyant belt. Note, however, that buoyant belts are not approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Type I

Offshore Life Jackets (Wearable)

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

Near-Shore Vests (Wearable)

These vests are good for calm waters when quick rescue is likely. Near-shore wearable vests may not turn some unconscious wearers face up in the water.

Type III

Flotation Aids (Wearable)

These vests or full-sleeved jackets are good for calm waters when quick rescue is likely. They are not recommended for rough waters because they will not turn most unconscious persons face up.

Type IV

Throwable Devices

These cushions and ring buoys are designed to be thrown to someone in trouble. Because a throwable device is not designed to be worn, it is neither for rough waters nor for persons who are unable to hold onto it.

Type V

Special-Use Devices (Wearable)

These vests, deck suits, hybrid PFDs, and others are designed for specific activities, such as windsurfing, kayaking, or water-skiing. To be acceptable, wearable special-use devices must be used in accordance with their label.

Inflatable PFDs must have a full cylinder, green status indicators, and an accessible and intact lanyard or lever. Hybrid inflatable USCG–approved PFDs, which use foam and inflation for buoyancy, are approved for children. Non-hybrid inflatable USCG–approved PFDs (no foam) are authorized only for persons at least 16 years old.