Table of Contents

Download the PDF Version

It's the Law


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

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)


All vessels 16 feet in length or longer must carry one U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)–approved wearable personal flotation device or PFD (life jacket) for each person on board or being towed. Vessels less than 16 feet in length must carry one wearable or one throwable USCG–approved device for each person on board or being towed. Under federal law, however, a wearable PFD is required for each person on board regardless of vessel length.

One USCG–approved throwable device must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer and readily accessible, in addition to the above requirements.

Children under 7 years of age must wear a USCG–approved PFD at all times while on board any vessel, unless the child is confined in a totally enclosed area of the vessel, such as the cabin area of a houseboat or day cruiser.

Each person riding on a PWC must wear a USCG–approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD.

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. PFDs may not be stowed in closed or locked compartments.
  • Of the proper size for the intended wearer. Sizing for PFDs 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 since they will not turn most unconscious persons face up.

Type IV

Type IV: Throwable Devices/Not Wearable

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

TYPE V: Wearable 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.