Life Jacket Wear / Wearing your Life Jacket (2023)

There's no excuse not to wear a lifejacket on the water!

Boaters enjoy the feel of sun and spray. So it's tempting to boat without wearing a lifejacket especially on nice days. But most boating related drownings happen on nice days.

Lifejackets are available in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. Many are thin and flexible. Some are built right into fishing vests or hunter coats. Others are inflatable as compact as a scarf or fanny pack until they hit water, when they automatically fill with air.

How to Choose the Right Life Jacket Brochure - PDF

Life Jacket Wear / Wearing your Life Jacket (1)

Things to Know:

  • The best lifejacket is the one you will wear.
  • Certain lifejackets are designed to keep your head above water and help you remain in a position that permits proper breathing.
  • Some styles of lifejackets are not intended for weak or non-swimmers (read the label and be honest).
  • To meet U.S. Coast Guard requirements, a recreational vessel must have a U.S. Coast Guard Approved lifejacket for each person aboard.
  • Lifejacket wear regulations for children may vary by state.
  • Adult-sized lifejackets may not work for children. Child size lifejackets are available.
  • When worn correctly a foam filled lifejacket will fit snugly, and will not allow the lifejacket to rise above the wearer's chin or ears.
  • Foam filled lifejackets should be tested for wear and buoyancy at least once a year. Waterlogged, faded, or otherwise damaged lifejackets should be discarded.
  • Inflatable lifejackets should be maintained per the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Most adults only need 7 to 12 pounds of buoyancy (31 to 53 Newton) to keep their heads above water.

How Do Lifejackets Save Lives?

  • By providing buoyancy if you unexpectedly find yourself in the water.
  • By providing buoyancy if you purposely jump into the water to save someone else.
  • By providing buoyancy when you are no longer able to keep yourself afloat due to fatigue, injury, or cold.
  • By providing buoyancy if you are a weak or non-swimmer.

Lifejackets must be

  • the appropriate size for the intended user,
  • appropriate for the intended activity,
  • in good and serviceable condition, and
  • Coast Guard approved to meet carriage requirements.

Size and Fit

  • Check the label for user weight and chest size.
  • Different body types float differently.
  • Try your lifejacket on in the water to ensure your airway is clear.
  • A good fit is secure, comfortable, and adjustable.


  • Though not always required by law, a lifejacket should be worn at all times when the vessel is underway. A wearable lifejacket can save your life, but only when you wear it.
  • Wearable lifejackets must be readily accessible.
  • You must be able to put your lifejacket on in a reasonable amount of time in an emergency (vessel sinking, on fire, etc.).
  • Lifejackets should not be stowed in plastic bags, in locked or closed compartments or have other gear stowed on top of them.
  • Throwable devices must be immediately available for use.

Inflatable Lifejackets

  • Inflatable lifejackets may be more comfortable to wear.
  • Inflatable lifejackets require the user to pay careful attention to the condition of the device.
  • Inflatable lifejackets must have a full cylinder and all status indicators on the inflator must be green, or the device is NOT serviceable, and does NOT satisfy the requirement to carry lifejackets.
  • Inflatable lifejackets are not appropriate for weak or non-swimmers.

Child Lifejacket Requirements:

  • Federal Law requires that when a vessel is underway, children under 13 years of age must wear their lifejacket.
  • exceptions for when below deck or within an enclosed cabin.
  • State laws may vary.Check with your state boating safety officials.

The Coast Guard recommends and many states require wearing lifejackets:

  • For water skiing and other towed activities (use a lifejacket marked for water skiing).
  • While operating personal watercraft (PWC) (use a lifejacket marked for water skiing or PWC use).
  • During white water boating activities.
  • While sailboarding (under Federal law, sailboards are not "boats").

If you are boating in an area under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers, or a federal, state, or local park authority, other rules may apply.

Personal Flotation Device (PFD) Design:

There are four basic design types: Inherent, Inflatable, Hybrid, and Special Purpose.

There are two main classes of PFDs.

  • Those which provide face up in-water support to the user regardless of physical conditions (lifejackets).
  • Those which require the user to make swimming and other postural movements to position the user with the face out of the water (buoyancy aid).

Wearable PFDs are categorized by performance Type and/or performance Level.

  • Type I, II, III, V
  • Level 50, 70, 100, 150

The number in performance Level Devices (Level 70) indicates the minimum buoyancy of the device. Buoyancy of Level Devices is measured in Newton (N). 70 Newtons equals 15.74 pounds of buoyancy.

Performance Type Devices:

  • Type I - has the greatest required inherent buoyancy and turns most unconscious persons in the water from a face down position to a vertical and slightly backward position, therefore, greatly increasing one's chance of survival.
  • Type II - intended to turn some unconscious persons from a face down position in the water to a position where the wearer's respiration is not impeded.
  • Type III - intended to support a conscious person in the water in an upright position. This type of device is not required to turn an unconscious person in the water from a face-down position to a position where the wearer's respiration is not impeded.
  • Type V - is approved for restricted uses or activities such as boardsailing, or commercial white water rafting. These devices may not be suitable for other boating activities. The label indicates whether a particular design of Type V can be used in specific application, what restrictions or limitations apply, and its performance type.

Performance Level Devices:

  • Level 50 - intended for use by those who are competent swimmers and who are near to bank or shore, or who have help and a means of rescue close at hand.
  • Level 70 - intended for use by those who have help or a means of rescues close at hand, or who are near bank or shore. These devices have minimal bulk, but cannot be expected to keep the user safe for a long period of time in disturbed water.
  • Level 100 - intended or those who may have to wait for rescues, but are likely to do so in sheltered water. The device should not be used in rough water.
  • Level 150 - intended for general application or for use with foul weather clothing. It will turn an unconscious person into a safe position and requires no subsequent action by the user to maintain this position.
  • Level 275 - intended primarily for offshore use under extreme conditions.

Lifejackets are separated into four broad categories based on weight:

  • Adult - users with a weight greater than 88 lbs.
  • Youth - users with a weight over 55 lbs. and less than or equal to 88 lbs.
  • Child - users with a weight over 33 lbs. and less than or equal to 55 lbs.
  • Infant - users with a weight less than or equal to 33 lbs.

Inherent - built-in flotation (always buoyant)

  • Adult, Youth, Child, and Infant sizes
  • For swimmers & non-swimmers
  • Wearable & throwable styles
  • Some designed for water sports
  • usually filled with foam
Minimum Buoyancy
Wearable Size Type/Level Inherent Buoyancy (Foam)



22 lb.
15.5 lb.
15.5 to 22 lb.

70 N

Youth II & III
11 lb.
11 to 15.5 lb.
Child and Infant II 7 lb.
Ring Buoy
IV 20 lb.
16.5 & 32 lb.


  • Compact and comfortable
  • Sizes only for adults
  • Not recommended for weak or non-swimmers
  • Often approved only when worn
  • Some with the best in-water performance
Minimum Buoyancy
Wearable Size Type Inherent Buoyancy
Adult I & II
34 lb.
22.5 lb.
22.5 to 34 lb.

Hybrid (Foam & Inflation)

  • Reliable
  • Adult, Youth, and Child sizes
  • For swimmers & non-swimmers
  • Some designed for water sports
Minimum Buoyancy
Wearable Size Type/Level Inherent Buoyancy Inflated Total Buoyancy



10 lb
7.5 lb.

40 N

22 lb.
22 lb.

70 N

Youth II & III
9 lb
7.5 lb.
15 lb.
15 lb.
Child II 7 lb. 12 lb.

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Life Jacket Wear / Wearing your Life Jacket (7)


Can you wear a jacket over a life vest? ›

Make sure you wear your life jacket as the outermost layer, and avoid putting clothing or your coat over your life jacket.

When should life jackets be worn? ›

We recommend that everyone wear a life jacket at all times when near, on or in the water: when wading, swimming, fishing, boating or during any other water-related activity. You may not have time to put on your life jacket if you encounter a water hazard, slip while fishing or fall out of your vessel.

Why are you wearing a lifejacket? ›

1- Wearing a lifejacket or a PFD can prevent 90% of boating-related drownings. 2- It reduces the initial impact when you first fall in the water (shock from the cold water on your muscles), which can help prevent hypothermia, which is not a pleasant experience.

What is the difference between a life jacket and a life vest? ›

The basic difference:

The terms PFD, lifejacket, life vest, life preserver, buoyancy vest and buoyancy aid are used interchangeably for the same item, all with the same key purpose; to prevent persons drowning. A PFD is a garment designed to keep a conscious person afloat and to assist with buoyancy in the water.

Do you have to wear a life vest for the rest of your life? ›

The length of time you need to wear the LifeVest is specific to your situation and should be discussed with your doctor. The LifeVest is intended to be worn while you are at high risk of sudden death.

How many seconds do you wear a life jacket? ›

The automatic inflation mechanisms must inflate the lifejackets sufficiently to float the wearers within 10 seconds after the subjects enter the water. Within 20 seconds after entering the water each subject must be floating in the position described in paragraph (d)(3) of this section.

How long can you stay afloat with a life jacket? ›

1 Hour Until Hypothermia

Keep in mind that most cold water deaths occur well before this point -- only those wearing a life jacket will survive longer than 10 minutes in most cases.

Will a life jacket flip you over? ›

A lifejacket holds the person wearing it upright. It can turn the person over from face down to face up. A personal flotation device (PFD) will keep a person floating, but not necessarily face up.

When should you wear a life jacket on a boat? ›

Life Jackets and the Law

Under California law, every child under 13 years of age on a moving recreational vessel of any length must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket in serviceable condition and of a type and size appropriate for the conditions and the activity.

What should you do after wearing the life jacket? ›

What should I do with them after use? Life jackets: As soon as possible after use, deflate the life jacket and prepare it for its next user. Follow the manufacturer's instructions to make sure you do this correctly.

Why is it important to wear a life jacket at night? ›

While you should always wear your PFD, it is particularly important to wear your PFD during the following times: Boating at night, or at times of reduced visibility - When it is hard to see, it will take that much longer to find you if you fall overboard.

Why can't you wear a life jacket at the beach? ›

An unapproved devices can slide off, pop, or float a child face down. Water wings can actually slide off and even trap a drowning child underwater. With any device a child can easily float away and into deep water.

What are life jackets called now? ›

It is the job of the boat owner to ensure that their vessel has all of the legally required equipment on board. All recreational vessels must have at least one Type I, II, or III personal flotation device (life jacket) that is U.S. Coast-Guard-approved and of the proper size for each person on board or being towed.

Do life jackets work if you can't swim? ›

Most people associate life jackets with boating, but they can also help provide support for inexperienced and non-swimmers in or around water, including open water, such as lakes, oceans, ponds, reservoirs and rivers, as well as controlled environments, such as a pool, waterpark or lifeguarded beach.

Do life jackets expire? ›

PFDs, life vests and Life Jackets do not have official expiry dates. However frequent use, wear and tear, and prolonged exposure to the elements eventually make life jackets unfit for use. In traditional life jackets, the foam progressively loses its buoyancy and ability to effectively keep the head above water.

Can you take off a LifeVest? ›

Q: Is it ever appropriate for patients to remove the LifeVest WCD? A: Patients should wear the LifeVest WCD at all times, including while sleeping. LifeVest should only be removed when a patient is showering or bathing.

Can you do CPR on someone with a LifeVest? ›

CPR can be performed as long as the device is not broadcasting “Press response buttons to delay treatment,” or “Bystanders, do not interfere.” If external defibrillation is available, a decision can be made to remove the LifeVest wearable defibrillator and monitor/treat the patient with the external equipment.

Can I travel with a LifeVest? ›

You may bring a life vest with up to two CO2 cartridges inside, plus two spare cartridges in your carry-on or checked bag. You may not transport CO2 cartridges without the associated lifejacket. For more prohibited items, please go to the 'What Can I Bring?'

How many times can a life vest shock? ›

After the shock, if your heartbeat returns to normal, the alarms stop and the LifeVest returns to its normal monitoring mode. However, if your heartbeat doesn't return to normal and the arrhythmia continues, the treatment cycle repeats. You can get up to five treatment shocks.

Can you jump in water with life jacket? ›

Buoyancy aids and life jackets are NOT designed for jumping into the water from great height.! On the contrary, jumping from great height may cause injury (and spinal injury in particular), because of the impact jolt caused by the "brake action" when the buoyancy material hits the water and will not immerse.

Will a life jacket keep you above water? ›

Life Jackets / Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) Most adults need an extra 7 to 12 pounds of buoyancy to keep their heads above water. A life jacket (PFD) can provide that “extra lift” to keep you afloat until help comes. Your weight isn't the only factor in how much “extra lift” you need.

Do all life jackets keep your face out of the water? ›

Standard Type lifejackets are approved for all vessels, except SOLAS vessels. They: turn you on your back to keep your face out of the water, even if you are unconscious.

Should you cliff jump with a life jacket? ›

Most water-related fatality victims would have survived if they were wearing a life jacket, but for those who jump from any height into open water, wearing a life jacket might only help rescuers find their body.

Can I trust a life jacket? ›

The USCG estimates that life jackets could have saved the lives of over 80 percent of boating fatality victims. One cannot count on the security of their boat to protect them from the water, nor should they fall into the trap of believing they have enough time to don a life jacket.

Can you jump into a pool with a life jacket? ›

The answer is yes. If a life jacket/vest is an approved one and properly put on a non swimmer can jump safely with water.

Should you wear a life jacket when swimming in a lake? ›

Children, teens and adults should wear life jackets for boating and while swimming in lakes, rivers or the ocean. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about ten people die every day from unintentional drowning, and of these, two are children age 14 or younger.

Do you need a life jacket for every person on a boat? ›

The Requirements for Life Jackets

There must be a properly fitting life jacket for each and every person aboard a recreational vessel. Life jackets must be Coast Guard-approved, in serviceable condition and the appropriate size for the intended user.

Do you need a life jacket in a row boat? ›

All vessels (including canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards) must have at least one USCG-approved wearable life jacket for each person on board. All vessels 16 feet or more in length must have one USCG-approved throwable personal flotation device onboard that is immediately accessible.

Would a life jacket work in a tsunami? ›

Drowning is the main cause of death during a tsunami. Thus, use of PFDs during a tsunami could potentially save numerous lives.

Should you wear a life jacket in the pool? ›

When and Where to Wear a Life Jacket. For everyone: Around cold water and ice. For small children and weak swimmers: Any time they are near water, including pools and waterparks. For everyone: When on or in oceans & open water.

What are the 4 types of life jackets? ›

Intended Use:

Restricted to the special use for which each is designed, for example: sailboard harness, deck suit, paddling vest, commercial white water vest or float coats.

What color life jacket is best? ›

Fluo Green is the Most Visible Color for Swimmers, Triathletes, Cyclists and Runners for Road and Waterway Safety.

Which lifejacket is appropriate for adults only? ›

Inflatable PFDs are available in adult sizes only, are comfortable for continuous wear in hot weather and provide high flotation when inflated. They are good for adult swimmers involved in general boating activities.

Can I take a LifeVest on a plane? ›

Checked Bags: Yes

You may bring a life vest with up to two CO2 cartridges inside, plus two spare cartridges in your carry-on or checked bag. You may not transport CO2 cartridges without the associated lifejacket.

How long can you survive with a LifeVest? ›

1 Hour Until Hypothermia

Keep in mind that most cold water deaths occur well before this point -- only those wearing a life jacket will survive longer than 10 minutes in most cases.

How long can a patient wear a LifeVest? ›

How long can you live with a LifeVest? People have worn a LifeVest for as long as about seven years. However, many people wear them for a few weeks or a few months.

How long do you wear a LifeVest? ›

Typically you'll wear a LifeVest® for 90 days, then your doctor will do an ultrasound to see if you need a defibrillator. You should always wear the defibrillator vest, although it's fine to remove the vest for showers.

Can you take LifeVest off to shower? ›

A: It is critical that you wear LifeVest at all times – even while you sleep. The only time you should remove your LifeVest WCD is while taking a short shower or bath. This should only be done when someone is home with you, if possible.

How much does a LifeVest wearable defibrillator cost? ›

How much does a LifeVest defibrillator cost? A LifeVest costs about $2,000. There may be additional costs associated with the fitting of the device and follow-up visits with a healthcare professional. The wearable cardioverter defibrillator is a lightweight and unobtrusive garment that can save lives.

What happens when a LifeVest shocks you? ›

LifeVest is a device that can detect abnormal heart rhythms. When it detects these abnormalities, it sends a shock or electrical pulse to the heart to restore it to the normal rhythm. A LifeVest does not require another person to be present as a standard automated external defibrillator (AED) does.

Can someone still drown with a life jacket? ›

First of all, let's get one thing clear: a life jacket is an essential tool to prevent drowning. According to a 2017 U.S. Coast Guard report, 80% of the drowning fatalities that year were preventable if the victims wore life jackets. However, wearing a life jacket does not mean becoming impervious to drowning.

How much weight can a LifeVest hold? ›

Infant PFDs: 8–30 pounds. Child PFDs: 30–50 pounds. Youth PFDs: 50–90 pounds.

Can you drive with a defibrillator? ›

Usually, you'll be discouraged from driving until you've been shock-free for several months. If you have an ICD but have no history of life-threatening arrhythmias, you can usually resume driving about a week after your procedure if you've had no shocks.

What does it mean when your defibrillator vibrates? ›

Depending on the manufacturer and/or the programming of your device, your device may beep or vibrate. This may occur when the battery power is low, lead impedances are out of range or for other reasons.

Do you need a harness on a life jacket? ›

Crotch straps are strongly recommended by the RNLI. Harness: A harness will provide a secure tether point to your life jacket, allowing you to use a strap to attach a secure point - preventing a man overboard situation.


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