Life jacket, life vest, Personal Floatation Device (PFD) - whatever you call it, it only works if you wear it!

Information reprinted with permission from Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association an affiliate of National Marine Manufacturers Association

Boat smart—Wear your life jacket

Most drownings occur way out at sea, right? Wrong! Nine out of ten drownings occur in inland waters, most within a few feet of safety and involving boats under 20-feet long. Most drowning victims had a life jacket available and chose not to wear it.

Boaters think they will have time to prepare for an accident.

Time to grab a life jacket and put it on. In reality, there often is no time. And once you’re in the water, it may be too late.

Life jackets are designed to keep you afloat in the water and give you extra time. Time for rescue services to reach you. Time that can mean the difference between life and death, because it does- n’t take long to drown. In fact, it only takes 60 seconds for an adult to drown, and 20 seconds for a child to drown.

If you haven’t been wearing your life jacket because of the way it makes you look or feel, there’s good news. Life jacket technology has come a long way—the bulky, ugly, old orange life jacket is a thing of the past. Manufacturers are listening to consumers, refining fit and size options. Radical changes in life jacket design—extra large armholes, shaped fit, flexible panels, pockets, inflatables and more comfortable materials—make today’s life jackets easy to wear.

Before you shove off, make sure everyone on board is wearing a life jacket with all straps, zippers and ties fastened. Tuck in any loose strap ends to avoid getting hung-up.

70% of all boating fatality accidents result from drowning. Almost 85% of those who drown are not wearing a life jacket! Having life jackets aboard does not save lives— WEARING them does! 

How many life jackets do you need?

The United States Coast Guard requires USCG-approved life jackets on all recreational boats. The number and type depend on the number of passengers, the size and type of your boat, and your boating activities.

    YOU MUST HAVE one of the following wearable life jackets for each person on board:

  • Off-Shore life jacket (Type I PFD) 
  • Near-Shore Buoyant Vest (Type II PFD)
  • Flotation Aid (Type III PFD)
  • Wearable Special Use Device (Type V PFD)  

Federal regulations require all children 13 years old and younger to wear a life jacket unless they are below deck or in an enclosed cabin. State laws vary in terms of age; be sure to check with your state’s boating safety office.

Boats 16 feet or longer (excluding canoes and kayaks) must also have at least one throwable flotation device (Type IV) e.g., cushions, ring buoys.

For example: If four people are on your 16-foot boat, you must have four wearable life jackets and one throwable flotation device immediately available. 


Nine out of ten drownings occur in inland waters, most within a few feet of safety and involve boats under 20-ft. long.  


When preparing for an outing, ask yourself: 

  • Do I have U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets? 
  • Have I read this pamphlet to increase my chances of survival?
  • Have I selected the proper life jacket for my boating activity?
  • Is my life jacket the right size according to the label, and does it fit correctly?
  • Have I trial-tested my life jacket in shallow water? 
  • Does my life jacket keep my chin above the water and allow me to breathe easily?
  • If my life jacket is an inflatable, have I checked the status of the inflator and made sure that the CO2 cylinder is not punctured?
  • If my life jacket is an inflatable, have I checked it for leaks in the last two months?
  • If I’m a boat operator, have I checked my passengers’ life jackets? 

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