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Get your vessel ready for the spring season - don't wait!
The United States Coast Guard sets minimum standards for recreational vessels and
associated safety equipment. To meet these standards, required equipment must be
U.S. Coast Guard "approved" or "certified." This means that it meets U.S. Coast Guard
specifications, standards, and regulations for performance, construction, or materials.
All recreational vessels must carry one wearable life jacket for each person on board.
Any boat 16 feet or longer, with the exception of canoes and kayaks, must also carry one
throwable (Type IV) device. Life jackets should be worn at all times when the vessel is
On a vessel that is underway, children under 13 years of age must wear an appropriate
U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket unless they are:
If a state has established a child life jacket wear requirement that differs from the Coast
Guard requirement, the state requirement will be applicable on waters to that state's
Children's life jackets are approved for specific weight categories. Check the "User
Weight" on the label and for an approval statement that will read something like:
Approved for use on recreational boats and uninspected commercial vessels not
carrying passengers for hire by persons weighing "less than 30 lbs.", "30 to 50
lbs.", "less than 50 lbs.", or "50 to 90 lbs."
The U.S. Coast Guard recommends - and many states require - wearing life jackets when
engaged in the following activities:
Check with your state boating agency for the laws that apply.
Federal law does not require life jacket use on the following:
State laws do vary so be sure to check with your state boating agency.
NOTE: If you are boating in an area under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, or a federal, state, or local park authority, other rules may also apply.
The U.S. Coast Guard recommends that you always wear a life jacket while underway
on a boat and require passengers to do the same.
There are five types of life jackets and they are based on three kinds of flotation:
Inherently Buoyant (Primarily Foam)
Hybrid (Foam and Inflation)
A Type I, Off-shore Life Jacket:
A Type II, Near-Shore Buoyancy Vest:
A Type III, Flotation Aid:
Some examples of this type are float coats, fishing vests and vests designed with
features suitable for various sports activities.
A Type IV, Throwable Device:
Some examples of this type are buoyant cushions, ring buoys and horseshoe buoys.
A Type V, Special-Use Device:
Varieties include deck suits, work vests, sailboarding vests, and sailing vests with a
safety harness. Some Type V devices provide significant hypothermia protection.
An Inflatable with Safety Harness is approved only as a Type V, Special-Use Device
because its use to prevent falls overboard presents several risks. The U.S. Coast Guard
has not assessed its potential for injury from suddenly stopping a fall and, in case of
capsizing or sinking, the boat may take the wearer down, resulting in death. Do Not
attach the harness to the boat unless it is being worn with a tether of less than 6.5 feet in
length with quick-release-under-load hardware.
Read the safety harness section of the owner's manual for intended use. Under no
circumstances should the safety harness be used for any climbing activity. U.S. Coast
Guard approval does not apply to this harness used under those circumstances.
Life jackets come in many designs, colors, styles, and materials. Some are made
to stand up to rugged water sports, others to protect the wearer from cold-water
temperatures. It is important to choose one that is appropriate for your body size,
planned activities, and the water conditions you expect to encounter.
Start with a life jacket that is U.S. Coast Guard approved. When you try it on, it should
fit comfortably snug. Then do this test: with all straps, zippers, and ties securely
fastened, raise your arms over your head. The jacket should stay in place and not ride
up. Next, have someone lift your life jacket straight up at the shoulders. Again, the
jacket should stay in place. If the zipper touches your nose or the jacket almost comes
off, it is too loose.
In a shallow water or a swimming pool, under supervision and with all straps, zippers,
and ties fastened, see how the life jacket floats you. Relax your body and let your head
tilt back. Your chin should remain above water so that you can breathe easily. If not,
you may need a different size or model, one that provides more buoyancy.
Be sure to choose a child's life jacket that is U.S. Coast Guard approved. Check to make
sure your child's weight falls within the range shown on the label. While some children
in the 30-50 pound weight range who can swim may ask for the extra freedom of
movement that a Type III provides, note that most children in this weight range should
wear a Type II, especially those who cannot swim. Pick the child up by the shoulders of
the life jacket, if it fits correctly, the child's chin and ears will not slip through.
A child's life jacket should be tested in the water immediately after purchase. Children
may panic when they fall into the water suddenly. Float testing not only checks the fit
and buoyancy but also provides an important opportunity to teach them to relax in the
Most deaths from drowning occur near shore in calm weather, not out at sea during a
storm; 9 out of 10 drowning fatalities occur in inland waters, most within a few feet of
safety. Worse still, many of these victims owned life jackets and may have survived had
they been worn.
Reference: A Boater's Guide to the Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats and Safety tips
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