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It's the Law


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

Life Jackets


All vessels must have at least one USCG–approved wearable Type I, II, III, or V life jacket for each person on board.

In addition to the above requirement, one USCG–approved throwable Type IV flotation device must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer except canoes or kayaks.

Children Must Wear Life Jackets: While underway on a recreational vessel on any Iowa waters, a child under 13 years old must wear a USCG–approved life jacket unless the child is below deck or in an enclosed cabin or below deck or is a passenger on a commercial vessel with a capacity of 25 people or more.

Each person on board a personal watercraft (PWC) or being towed behind a vessel on water skis, a surfboard, or similar device must wear a USCG–approved Type I, II, III, or V life jacket. Inflatable life jackets are not approved for persons on PWCs or being towed. Windsurfers are not required to wear a life jacket but must have one on board.

Life jackets must have a legible USCG approval tag and be:

  • In good and serviceable condition. Life jackets must not have a torn or missing strap; punctured flotation bag; waterlogged flotation material; rotted material in straps, webbing, or cover; missing laces; missing hardware; torn or perforated envelope; torn stitching; or any other condition that impairs the operating efficiency. Inflatable life jackets must have operable gas cartridges.
  • 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

Type I: Wearable 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

Type II: Wearable 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

Type III: Wearable 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, as they will not turn most unconscious persons face up.

Type IV

Type IV: Throwable Devices

These cushions and ring buoys are designed to be thrown to someone in trouble. Because 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

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. To be acceptable, Type V PFDs must be used in accordance with their label.