It's the Law

When preparing to go out, the operator must check that the legally required equipment is on board.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

All vessels (including canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards) must have at least one USCG–approved wearable personal flotation device or PFD (life jacket) for each person on board.

All vessels 16 feet or more in length (except canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards) must have one USCG–approved throwable PFD on board that is immediately accessible.

Federal law requires children under the age of 13 to wear a USCG–approved PFD while underway in an open vessel on federally controlled waters.

Sailboarders and windsurfers are exempt from PFD requirements but are encouraged to wear a PFD.

Every person on board a personal watercraft (PWC) must wear a USCG–approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD.

Besides being USCG–approved, all PFDs must be:

  • In good and serviceable condition, which means no tears, rips, broken straps or snaps.
  • 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, provide the most buoyancy, and will turn most unconscious persons face up.

Type II

Type II: Wearable Near-Shore Vests

These vests are good for calm waters and may not turn some unconscious wearers face up.

Type III

Type III: Wearable Flotation Aids

These vests or full-sleeved jackets are good for calm waters and 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 and are not designed to be worn.

Type V

TYPE V: Wearable Special-Use Devices

To be acceptable, these PFDs must be worn whenever the vessel is underway.