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Course Outline

Virginia law requires the following with respect to PFDs.

  • All vessels must have at least one USCG–approved wearable PFD of a proper size for each person on board. Sizing is based on body weight and chest size.
  • All vessels 16 feet or more in length must have one throwable device on board, in addition to the required total number of PFDs, and immediately available. This means you must be able to reach the PFD quickly in an emergency. Exceptions are:
    • PWC
    • Non-motorized canoes and kayaks 16 feet or more in length
    • Racing shells, rowing sculls, racing canoes, and racing kayaks
    • Sailboards
    • U.S. vessels used by foreign competitors while practicing for or racing in competitions
  • No person may operate a recreational vessel underway on federal waters with any child under 13 years old on board unless each such child is either:
    • Wearing an appropriate approved PFD or…
    • Riding below decks or in an enclosed cabin. In Virginia, this rule is enforced only by the USCG and applies on waters over which they have jurisdiction (Atlantic Ocean, Chesapeake Bay, all tidal rivers, Smith Mountain Lake, etc.).
  • If a person chooses to wear a PFD that is not USCG approved (when not specifically required), a properly fitting USCG–approved PFD must be carried on board the vessel to meet the state and federal carriage requirements.
  • Each person riding on, or being towed by, a PWC must wear a USCG–approved PFD.
  • Each person being towed behind a boat must wear a USCG–approved PFD if no observer is on board.
Person fitting a PFD on a child
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