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, except sailboards, must carry one wearable U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)–approved 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, vessels 16 feet in length or longer must have one USCG–approved throwable device on board and readily accessible.

Children under 12 years of age must wear a USCG–approved Type I, II, or III PFD at all times while underway on the open deck of any vessel.

A person under 16 years of age must wear a USCG–approved Type I, II, or III PFD at all times while on board a sailboard.

Everyone on board a PWC must wear a USCG–approved Type I, II, or III PFD.

Anyone being towed behind a vessel must wear a USCG–approved PFD. Ski belts are not approved PFDs.

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

Type I: Wearable 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: Wearable 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: Wearable 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. 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

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.