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 must have at least one U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)–approved wearable (Type I, II, III, or V) personal flotation device (PFD), sometimes called life jacket, for each person on board.

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

Children 12 years of age and younger must wear a USCG–approved PFD at all times while on the open deck of a recreational vessel that is not anchored, moored, or aground.

A USCG–approved PFD must be worn by each person on board vessels being operated within specifically marked areas below dams.

Each person on board a personal watercraft (PWC) must wear a USCG–approved PFD.

Inflatable PFDs are not approved for PWC use, whitewater activities, or persons younger than 16 years of age.

A ski belt may not be counted as one of the required PFDs on board your vessel. A ski belt may be worn while skiing, but an approved PFD for the skier must be on board the vessel.

To be acceptable, all PFDs must be used in accordance with their USCG approval label.

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 PFDs is based on body weight and chest size.
Type I

Wearable Offshore Life Jackets (Type I)

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

Wearable Near-Shore Vests (Type II)

These vests are good for calm waters when quick rescue is likely. They will turn some unconscious wearers face up in the water.

Type III

Wearable Flotation Aids (Type III)

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

Throwable Devices/Not Wearable (Type IV)

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

Special-Use Devices (Type V)

These vests, deck suits, hybrid PFDs, and others are designed for specific activities such as windsurfing, kayaking, or water-skiing.

Note: Some wearable and throwable PFDs may still be labeled as a Type I, II, III, IV, or V.