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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 (PFDs)


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

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

Children under 13 years of age must wear a USCG–approved PFD while underway in a recreational vessel less than 65 feet in length unless below deck or in an enclosed cabin.

Each person being towed behind a vessel on water skis, a surfboard, or other device must wear a USCG–approved PFD.

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

A Type V PFD may be substituted for any other type if it is specifically approved by the USCG for the activity at hand.

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.
  • Of the proper size for the intended wearer. Sizing for wearable PFDs is based on body weight and chest size.

Your PFD won’t work if you don’t wear it. Protect yourself and others—“wear your PFD.”

Type I

Type I: Offshore Life Jackets

These life jackets 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 since 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. Since 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.