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Approximately 70% of all boating fatalities are drownings, and most of those fatalities could have been avoided. Ninety percent of drowning victims are not wearing a life jacket—drownings are rare when boaters are wearing an appropriate PFD. One of the most important things you can do to make boating safe and enjoyable is not only to carry enough life jackets for everyone on board but also to have everyone wear them!

PFDs on children
Requirements for PFDs

These requirements for PFDs are both important and the law.

  • PFDs must be readily accessible. Better yet, each person should wear a PFD because PFDs are difficult to put on once you are in the water. In most fatal accidents, PFDs were on board but were not in use or were not within easy reach. If you are in the water without a PFD, retrieve a floating PFD and hold it to your chest by wrapping your arms around it.
  • PFDs must be of the proper size for the intended wearer. Always read the label of the PFD to make sure it is the right size based on the person's weight and chest size. It's especially important to check that a child's PFD fits snugly. Test the fit by picking the child up by the shoulders of the PFD and checking that his or her chin and ears do not slip through the PFD.
Keep PFDs in Good and Serviceable Condition

PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition.

  • Regularly test a PFD's buoyancy in shallow water or a swimming pool. Over time, the ultraviolet radiation from the sun will break down the synthetic materials of your PFD. Frequently inspect PFDs for rips or tears, discolored or weakened material, insecure straps or zippers, or labels that are no longer readable. Discard and replace any PFD that has a problem.
  • If using an inflatable PFD, before each outing check the status of the inflator and that the CO2 cylinder has not been used, has no leaks, and is screwed in tightly. Also check that the PFD itself has no leaks by removing the CO2 cylinder and orally inflating the PFD. The PFD should still be firm after several hours. After an inflatable PFD has been inflated using a cylinder, replace the spent cylinder and re-arm it. Because an inflatable PFD is a mechanical device, it requires regular maintenance. Maintain the inflatable portion of the PFD as instructed in the owner's manual.
Inflatable PFDs
inflatable pdf

Some people say they don’t wear their PFDs because they’re too hot or too bulky. But that’s not an excuse anymore. Inflatable PFDs offer a U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jacket that is small and lightweight. Inflatable life jackets come in two styles: a PFD that looks like a pair of suspenders or a belt pack that looks like a small fanny pack.

  • Some of these PFDs are designed to inflate if the wearer falls into the water; others require the wearer to pull a cord.
  • Inflatable PFDs are approved only for people 16 and older, and they are not to be worn on PWCs or while water-skiing.
  • Read the operating instructions and the approval label before you choose an inflatable PFD. Then be sure to wear it!