While states might differ on this, Federal laws call for all children under the age of 13 to wear a life vest while in vessels upon moving water. Exceptions to this rule might only apply when the child is below deck (or in the cabin) or if the vessel is anchored (moored or not underway). Coast Guard regulations stipulate that these live vests must be of an appropriate size and type for the child and the activities in question. There are currently no infant-approved life vests, meaning that toddlers should always be within reach of an adult and supervised constantly.
This is determined by the number of people on the boat. You will need to have a life vest available for everyone aboard the vessel, with children under the age of 13 required to have them on at all times. In most states, it is also a requirement that you have a throwable PFD (Personal Floatation Device such as a floating ring) aboard, just in case someone goes overboard while not wearing their life vest.
The terminology the authorities (Coast Guard) used for this question is ‘comfortably snug.’ This means two things: First, you should be able to fasten it in such a way that it fits snugly across your torso, and if you can’t, then it’s too big for you. Second, you should feel comfortable moving freely after fastening it, and if you can’t, then it’s too small for you. A loose life vest might be pulled up and over your head by water should you happen to fall over, while an exceedingly tight life vest might restrict your ability to maneuver yourself out of the situation.
The short answer here is YES. In most states, the law requires everyone under the age of 13 to have a life vest when onboard any recreational vessel. In general terms, the laws require any vessels of lengths extending beyond 16 feet to have life vests available for every passenger on board. These vests must be of a type and quality that the Coast Guard approves.
There are five life vest types in current use, and each of them is suited to a particular purpose or condition.
Type 1 – Offshore Life Vests: These are made for use in relatively rough or somewhat remote areas, especially those where any emergency rescue operation might take a long time to come about. Their design emphasizes buoyancy, and they will ensure that not only is the wearer kept afloat, but at the right side up to allow for even unconscious persons to breathe.
Type 2 – Near-Shore Vests: Calmer or more closely supervised waters are suitable for this vest type. They are very buoyant, but not they may not necessarily have a wearer who is unconscious turn to face the open air.
Type 3 – Floatation Aids: These vests are suitably adequate in calm waters where any emergency will be rapidly noticed and attended to. They are not recommendable for rougher conditions, as they will keep the wearer afloat, but the chances of helping them turn the right side up are 50-50. You will most often find these being used by water skiers, wakeboarders, and surfers.
Type 4 – Throwable Floatation Devices: These are not designed to be worn but held on to by a person in distress. Federal law requirements demand all vessels reaching beyond 16 feet to have at least one Coast Guard-approved device of this type on board. The most common device of this type is the floatation ring you see hanging by the side of most small to medium-sized vessels.
Type 5 – Special-Use Floatation Devices: These are specifically designed for different purposes such as windsurfing, kayaking, wakeboarding, and more. They will each have their specific usage instructions and guidelines for users to adhere to according to their design and functionality.
There have been plenty of floatation devices over the years preceding what we know as the life vest or jacket today. These vests are made of materials or inflatable attachments that float in water. The significant difference is that modern devices are attached to the wearer, allowing their arms to be free to paddle or otherwise help themselves out of their predicament. When a person wearing a life vest falls into the water, its buoyancy will counteract their body’s tendency to sink downwards, thereby keeping them from submerging underwater entirely and, perhaps, drowning.
This personal flotation device comes in the shape of a vest worn around the neck and tied to the body to help a person avoid drowning should they find themselves distressed in a large body of water. Life vests are designed to keep the wearer’s mouth above water level with no effort from the wearer. Even an unconscious person might be kept afloat and able to breathe freely in this way, potentially saving their life.
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