HOW MANY LIFE JACKETS MUST BE ON A BOAT?
All passengers on small vessels are obliged to wear life jackets. Be sure to wear a life jacket when you board a small boat! Wearing a life jacket will more than double your survival rate! For compliance with U.S. Coast Guard rules, a vessel must have U.S. Coast Guard Approved lifejackets for everyone aboard.
Have Life Jackets for Children above the Age of 13 Years Old
Many states mandate the use of life vests for everyone on board, including children as young as five years old. Even in states where children are not required to wear life jackets, the Coast Guard enforces the 13-year rule. In other words, every child aged above 13 is obligated to wear a life vest in a moving boat, including personal watercraft and fishing boats.
For kids and toddlers, life vest sizing often gets tricky. The expert recommendation is a 30-50 lb. approved life vest. The U.S. Coast Guard requires all youth life vests to meet the characteristics regarding size & fit:
- The vest should be the right size based on buoyancy.
- It should fit snuggly.
- It must keep the wearer's head up.
If you purchase a life jacket individually, please check the types used on the boat you are boarding!
Life Jacket for the Boat Captain
The captain must have a boating life jacket as well. When driving a small vessel, it is a violation not to wear a life jacket. It is also a violation if you wear a jacket that does not meet safety standards. The life jacket must have been tested by the USCG and confirmed to comply with safety standards.
If you are on a rowing boat such as a mini boat or canoe that does not require a small boat license, you will still need an approved life jacket. When worn correctly, the life jacket should fit snugly and not allow the vest to rise above the wearer's face.
- All life jackets must be USCG certified.
- An adult life jacket should have 7 pounds of buoyancy.
- Foam filled life vests must be tested for wear and buoyancy every year.
- Damaged, waterlogged, and faded must be discarded.
- You are required to maintain Inflatable lifejackets per the manufacturer's instructions.
Have Life Jackets for All Adult Passengers
All adult passengers on board a boat should wear a life vest at all times when the boat is moving. The right type of wearable lifebelt can save your life, but only if you wear it. You should be able to wear your adults life jacket fast during an emergency. It should be readily accessible. It is a best practice not to store life vests in plastic bags or closed compartments.
If a person who intends to snorkel is wearing a wet suit, he/she is exempt from wearing a life jacket. However, it would be wise to wear a snorkeling vest if:
- You are not an expert swimmer, especially children.
- You often get a muscle cramp when swimming.
- You have an illness that makes you weak underwater.
- You get exhausted when you get stuck on a current.
Snorkeling life jackets have been known to save lives. Many reported snorkeling-related accidents could have been avoided if the victims wore life jackets meant for diving.
It is a violation to wear a lifebuoy that has been confirmed to comply with national safety standards as an alternative for a life jacket. Lifebuoys are not a substitute for life jackets, even if they have been demonstrated to comply with national safety standards.
Who is Exempted from Wearing a Life Jacket on a Boat?
- Babies under five years
- Those who are in the cabin surrounded by the roof and walls are exempt
- Places exposed to wind and rain, such as spaces with only a roof, are not exempt.
- Those wearing lifelines and safety belts
- Those wearing lifelines and safety belts are exempt
- Those who do sports and recreation using special equipment overboard
The life jacket is also not mandatory when you perform the minimum necessary movements to move outboard, such as putting on and taking off your life jacket or moving outboard to swim.
You are not required to wear a life jacket if you work with special equipment overboard. To carry out work performed overboard, such as diving fishery, rescue, or investigation, you are not required to wear a life jacket while wearing special equipment on board.
If you are within the range of "a place where there is little risk of falling overboard (safe place)" designated by the captain, you can skip the jacket with the captain's consent.
The Need for Compliance
In case of an emergency, even the most experienced swimmers can wear themselves out swimming against a fast or strong current (and don't even try to get out of a rip current, it's nearly impossible!)
Even if the surface of a lake, river, or ocean seems calm to you, it is very difficult to assess the strength of the currents that these rivers can hide. Wearing a life jacket or PFD could help keep your head above water and save your life.
And do you remember the ice water bucket challenge? An accidental fall into freezing water can take your breath away. This is because the initial shock of ice water on your skin triggers a physiological response and can lead to hyperventilation or a panic attack. Naturally, a person who has difficulty breathing is more likely to swallow water.
In this situation, wearing a life jacket or PFD could help you stay on the surface of the water until help arrives, so don't forget to put it on! You might be unconscious following an emergency onboard. We'd rather not think about such an eventuality, but imagine hitting your head on something when falling into the water. Your boat could also capsize after it collides with another boat (oops!)
If you are unconscious in the water, wearing a life jacket or PFD will help you float until you regain consciousness or help arrives. A must-have as soon as you board a boat!
In a nutshell, have a life jacket for everyone on the boat. It is not just a question of compliance with USCG rules. Sometimes it is life or death.
Also of Interest:
- Life Jacket Types: A Beginner's Guide
- What Is A Type 3 Life Jacket?
- Why Wear a Life Jacket for Boating?
- Do Life Jackets Expire? How Often to Replace One?