Before you go out on the water, it’s important to know the US Coast Guard life jacket regulations for the area where you are. The good news is that most states have similar laws, and there are federal minimum requirements that apply across the country.
The United States Coast Guard provides comprehensive information and recommendations on life vests and other PFDs, but it can be difficult to sort out the laws from the suggestions.
Here is a brief overview of the laws you need to know.
US Coast Guard Life Jacket Regulations
All boats, whether recreational or commercial need to have at least one USCG approved life jacket on board for every passenger.
Each life jack must meet the following requirements:
- The lifejacket must meet USCG standard and be coast guard approved.
- The life jacket must be the correct size for the individual.
- The life jacket must be stowed in a convenient location and easily accessible.
- The life jacket must be in good and functioning condition.
- If there are children on board, any child less than 13 years of age is required to wear a life jacket when on deck.
It is recommended, but not required that all individuals where life jackets whenever they are maneuvering on deck.
For the purposes of this recommendation, “maneuvering on deck” refers to any individual who is not in a cabin or other enclosed area and is not secured to the vessel via an attached life line. This includes individuals who are seated in the cockpit, or other ‘safe’ zone of the vessel.
It is important to note that the regulations listed above are the federal minimum regulations. Individual states may require additional restrictions. For example, some states may have additional age or accessibility requirements.
Wearing a life vest or other type of PFD is always a good idea when you’re on the water, regardless of whether you’re kayaking, sailing, fishing, or on a cruise.
The overwhelming majority of boat accidents and boating fatalities occur when the captain, crew, and passengers are least expecting it. This includes accidents in near shore or calm waters.
See this article on surprising boating fatality statistics for more information.