Making good choices on the water doesn’t have to be complicated. With boating season just around the corner, it’s always a good idea to brush up on boating safety. The United States Coast Guard offers a plethora of helpful information for all types of boaters. Here are some great questions and guidelines to follow…
How many life jackets do you need?
The United States Coast Guard requires USCG-approved life jackets on all recreational boats, however the number and type depends on how many passengers are aboard, the size and type of your boat and your boating activities.
Federal regulations require children under age 13 to wear an appropriate Coast guard approved life jacket at all times, 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 for specifications.
Boats 16 feet or longer (excluding canoes and kayaks) must also have at least one throwable flotation device (Type IV) like cushions, buoys, or life rings.
How do I choose a life jacket?
Today’s life jackets offer comfort, style and flexibility, with a wide range of models, sizes and colors. You can find life jackets tailor-made for specific activities like paddle sports, water sports, angling/hunting, recreational boating and sailing. Although there are four basic life jacket types, not all life jackets are suitable for all activities. Choose your life jacket based on your planned activities and anticipated water conditions. Always look for the United States Coast Guard approval number before you purchase any life jacket. Keep in mind that fact that life jackets are not “one-size-fits-all” garments, in fact, you need to taking into consideration body weight and fat, lung size, clothing and water conditions (rough or calm). Check your life jacket label to be sure it’s made for your weight and size.
Life Jacket Basics
Life jackets are split into five categories. Depending on your needs, you will have at least one of these jacket types for each person aboard your vessel.
TYPE I PFD – Off-Shore Life Jacket
This PFD is designed for extended survival in rough, open water. It usually will turn an unconscious person face up and has over 22 pounds of buoyancy. This is the best PFD to keep you afloat in remote regions where rescue may be slow in coming.
TYPE II PFD – Near-Shore Buoyant Vest
This “classic” PFD comes in several sizes for adults and children and is for calm inland water where there is chance of fast rescue. It is less bulky and less expensive than a Type I, and many will turn an unconscious person face-up in the water.
TYPE III PFD – Flotation Aid
These life jackets are generally considered the most comfortable, with styles for different boating activities and sports. They are for use in calm water where there is good chance of fast rescue since they will generally not turn an unconscious person face-up. Flotation aids come in many sizes and styles.
TYPE IV PFD – Throwable Device
These are designed to be thrown to a person in the water. Throwable devices include boat cushions, ring buoys, and horseshoe buoys. They are not designed to be worn and must be supplemented by wearable PFD. It is important to keep these devices immediately available for emergencies, and they should not be used for small children, non-swimmers, or unconscious people.
TYPE V PFD – Special use devices
Special use PFDs include work vests, deck suits, and hybrids for restricted use. Hybrid vests contain some internal buoyancy and are inflatable to provide additional flotation.
How do I care and maintain my life jacket?
1. Don’t alter your life jacket. If your jacket does not fit, get one that does. An altered life jacket is no longer U.S. Coast Guard-approved and may not save your life.
2. Don’t put heavy objects on your life jacket or use it for a kneeling pad or boat fender. Life jackets lose buoyancy when crushed.
3. Let your life jacket drip dry thoroughly before putting it away. Always stow it in a well-ventilated place.
4. Don’t leave your life jacket on board for long periods when the boat is not in use.
5. Never dry your life jacket on a radiator, heater or any other direct heat source.
6. If the life jacket does not have a cylinder seal indication, remove the cylinder, and check for puncture and rust.
7. Check all components for dirt or corrosion.
8. Check the mouth inflation valve for blockages and tears.
9. Store in a cool dry place.
10. Replace the bobbin on an automatic model every 12 months, unless specified otherwise.
Please feel free to download our handy safety checklist: NBOA Safety Checklist