The best way to stay safe on the water is to wear a life jacket (personal flotation device). Many boating fatalities can be avoided if every passenger wears a life jacket at all times. Don’t just have one within reach because life jackets are very difficult to put on once you are in the water. An emergency situation such as rough water, rapid onset of bad weather, or dangerous boating traffic can occur suddenly, leaving you little or no time to put on a life jacket.
All vessels must have U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jackets (PFDs) on board. The quantity and type depend on the length of your vessel and the number of people on board and/or being towed. In addition to the requirement for life jackets, one Type IV (throwable) USCG–approved PFD must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer.
Each PFD must be:
- In good and serviceable condition.
- The proper size for the intended wearer. Sizing for PFDs is based on body weight and chest size.
- Readily accessible, though wearing your PFD is a much safer idea.
- Readily accessible means you must be able to put the PFD on in a reasonable amount of time in an emergency (vessel sinking, on fire, etc.).
- PFDs should not be stowed in plastic bags or in locked or closed compartments, and they should not have other gear stowed on top of them.
TYPE I: Offshore Life Jackets
These vests are geared for rough or remote waters where rescue may take awhile. They provide the most buoyancy, are excellent for flotation, and will turn most unconscious persons face up in the water.
TYPE II: Near-Shore Vests
These vests are good for calm waters when quick assistance or rescue is likely. Type II vests will turn some unconscious wearers face up in the water, but the turning is not as pronounced as with a Type I.
TYPE III: Flotation Aids
These vests or full-sleeved jackets are good for calm waters when quick assistance or rescue is likely. They are not recommended for rough waters since they will not turn most unconscious persons face up. Type III PFDs are used for water sports such as water-skiing. Some Type III PFDs are designed to inflate when you enter the water.
TYPE IV: Throwable Devices/Not Wearable
These cushions and ring buoys are designed to be thrown to someone in trouble. Since a Type IV PFD is not designed to be worn, it is neither for rough waters nor for people who are unable to hold onto it.
TYPE V: Special-Use Devices
These vests, deck suits, hybrid PFDs, and others are designed for specific activities such as windsurfing, kayaking, or water-skiing. Some Type V PFDs are designed to inflate when you enter the water. To be acceptable, Type V PFDs must be used in accordance with their label.
You can learn more about boating safety by taking an online boater safety course at www.boat-ed.com. The training offered at this site is approved by the state agencies responsible for boating safety education, and it’s the same material that’s taught in the classroom.
Studying at boat-ed.com is free. Those who must be certified before they can buy a boating license and/or jet ski (personal watercraft) license pay a one-time fee, which is due only if they pass the test. Students can take the test as many times as they need to pass it. Online boater safety courses are available in participating states, so visit www.boat-ed.com to take a course specific to your state.