We encourage all boaters, adults and children, to wear a life jacket when boating. The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that life jackets could have saved the lives of more than 80 percent of boating fatality victims.
It's the Law
Choose the Right Life Jacket
- All vessels (including canoes and kayaks) must have at least one U.S.Coast Guard–approved Type I, II, or III life jacket for each person on board.
- One U.S. Coast Guard–approved Type IV (throwable) flotation device must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer. Canoes and kayaks are exempt from this requirement.
- Children 12 years old and younger must wear a U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jacket at all times when underway in a vessel less than 19 feet in length, unless they are in a fully enclosed area.
- Each person on a personal watercraft and anyone being towed behind a vessel must wear a Type I, II, or III U.S.Coast Guard–approved life jacket. Inflatable life jackets are not recommended for these activities.
The right life jacket for you and your crew depends on your activity, vessel, and the body of water. The good news is that when you find one that suits your needs, and fits you like a pair of comfortable shoes, you may not even know you have it on. This site will give you some tips on how to find the one for you.
See detail and pictures of different types of life jackets.
- Life jackets must be U.S. Coast Guard approved and the right size for the intended wearer.
- Sizes are not standard and vary by manufacture.
- Approval is shown by a stencil marking or tag. It shows the amount of flotation, the type, the size, and approved activities or any limitations for use.
Remember: Size Matters
Watch this video for some helpful tips WEAR IT RIGHT: Choosing and Fitting a Life Jacket
If a life jacket fits properly, it will help keep your head above the water. If it’s too big, the life jacket will ride up around your face. Too small and it will not be able to keep your body afloat.
Life jackets designed for adults are not designed or legal for children to wear.
Adults – The Touchdown Test
With the jacket on, raise your arms as though signaling a touchdown. Look to the left and then to the right, making sure the jacket doesn’t hit the chin.
Children – “Three-inch Rule”
With the child standing normally, arms at side, grab the shoulders of the life jacket and lift up. If you can move the life jacket more than three inches up (or above the ears), it doesn’t fit properly. How high the jacket rides is how it will fit them in water. Straps should be snug.
Life Jacket Loaner Program
- The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission’s Boating Program provides life jackets to boaters throughout the state. You can check out life jackets for a day or a week. Life Jacket Loaner Stations are in marinas, near boat ramps, and at some parks. Boaters and swimmers may borrow the life jackets to replace missing or damaged life jackets, or use for them extra guests aboard their boats. See the map.
- Local county sheriff's departments and some police departments also have life jackets to loan.
- Largest map of life jacket loaner sites in the U.S. at BoatUS.org/loanermap.
- Seattle Children’s Hospital offers information on free or discounted life jackets.