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All vessels must have at least one wearable life jacket of a proper size for each person on board. Sizing for life jackets is based on body weight and chest size.

If life jackets are not worn at all times, they must be readily accessible. This means you must be able to reach the life jacket without delay in an emergency.

  • Due to the increased likelihood of capsizing in a canoe or kayak or falling off a paddleboard, you should always wear your life jacket.
  • Most kayaks do not have an easy-to-reach storage location for a life jacket, and they are more prone to capsizing than other vessels. When a kayak flips over, you want to be wearing your life jacket instead of searching for it in a compartment or watching it float away.

When you are paddling, inflatable life jackets may be more comfortable to wear than other types of life jackets. Inflatable life jackets:

  • Are not approved for persons younger than 16.
  • Are not recommended for non-swimmers.
  • Should not be used when you expect to end up in the water such as while you are white-water paddling or water-skiing.
  • Must be used according to their USCG-approval label.
  • Must be in good and serviceable condition.

Although paddlecraft are not required to have a throwable Type IV PFD on board, it’s still a good idea. In an emergency, a throwable PFD lets you quickly help another boater or swimmer.

While a vessel is underway, federal law states that boaters, boarders, or passengers under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket of proper size.

Check with your state’s boating agency for any additional requirements on wearing PFDs that apply to paddlecraft.