Coast Guard Approved Life Jackets [Rules of Use]

Certain life jackets are designed to keep your head above water and help you remain in a position which permits proper breathing. To meet U.S. Coast Guard requirements, a boat must have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III, or V life jacket for each person aboard.

Boats 16 feet and over must have at least one Type IV throwable device as well. All states have regulations regarding life jacket wear by children. Adult-sized life jackets will not work for children. Special life jackets are available. To work correctly, a life jacket must be worn, fit snugly, and not allow the child’s chin or ears to slip through. Life jackets should be tested for wear and buoyancy at least once each year. Waterlogged, faded, or leaky jackets should be discarded. Life jackets must be properly stowed.

All recreational boats must carry one wearable lifejacket (Type I, II, III or Type V lifejacket) for each person aboard. A Type V lifejacket provides performance of either a Type I, II, or III lifejacket (as marked on its label) and must be used according to the label requirements. Any boat 16ft and longer (except canoes and kayaks) must also carry one throwable lifejacket (Type IV lifejacket). Life jackets must be Coast Guard approved, in good and serviceable condition, and the appropriate size for the intended user.


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

Inflatable Life Jackets

  • Inflatable life jackets may be more comfortable to wear.
  • The best life jacket is the one you will wear.
  • Inflatable life jackets require the user to pay careful attention to the condition of the device.
  • Inflatable life jackets 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 life jackets.
  • Coast Guard Approved Inflatable life jacket's are authorized for use on recreational boats by person at least 16 years of age.

Child Life Jacket Requirements

  • applies to children of specific ages
  • applies to certain sizes of boats
  • applies to specific boating operations

Some states require that children wear life jackets. Check with your state boating safety officials. Child life jacket approvals are based on the child's weight. Check the "User Weight" on the label, or the 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 __ lbs". They can be marked "less than 30", "30 to 50", "less than 50", or "50 to 90".

Source: U.S. Coast Guard