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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 (Life Jackets)


All vessels must carry one wearable (Type I, II, III, or V) U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)–approved life jacket, also called personal flotation device (PFD), for each person on board. Type V life jackets must be worn to be acceptable.

All life jackets must be in good and serviceable condition and must be readily accessible. The life jackets must be of the proper size for the intended wearer. Sizing for life jackets is based on body weight and chest size and can be determined by the manufacturer’s label.

In addition to the above requirements, vessels 16 feet in length or longer (except canoes and kayaks) must have one Type IV USCG–approved throwable device on board and immediately available.

Children 12 years of age and younger must wear a USCG–approved life jacket at all times while underway on a vessel, unless the vessel is completely enclosed by railings at least three feet high and constructed such that a small child cannot fall through them. It is strongly recommended that children of all ages wear their life jackets.

The operator of a “ski craft” must wear a USCG–approved life jacket.

Each person being towed behind a vessel must wear a USCG–approved life jacket.

Type I

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

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

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 because 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 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: Special-Use Devices

These vests, deck suits, hybrid life jackets, and others are designed for specific activities such as windsurfing, kayaking, or water-skiing. To be acceptable, Type V life jackets must be used in accordance with their label.