Life Jackets Save Lives – Wear It!
Life jackets are the single most effective piece of safety gear in a boat. Study after study show that if you wear a life jacket, you are more likely to survive if something goes wrong. Anyone can drown regardless of age and swimming capabilities. Especially in cold water, which Washington's waterways are cold year-round.
Life-saving tip: A life jacket only works if you wear it.
Many people assume merely having life jackets on board is sufficient. However, accidents happen rapidly and without warning. There is not always enough time to grab a life jacket, which is why they should always be worn. Today's life jackets are designed to be more comfortable. We encourage you to shop around and find a comfortable life jacket you'll actually use. Although the state only requires children to wear a life jacket, adults are encouraged to wear one, especially on vessels less than 21 feet long, which are at a higher risk of capsizing. Adults set a good example for children by wearing life jackets.
Know the following about life jackets:
- Make sure you know the federal and state laws in addition to local ordinances.
- Understand the different types of life jackets. The most appropriate one for you to wear depends on your location and water activity.
- Learn how to properly fit life jackets for you and your family.
- Know where to find an extra life jacket. There are free loaner stations throughout the state.
- Learn about the Wear It campaign, and pledge to always wear your life jacket while on the water.
State law requires all vessels (including canoes, kayaks and stand up paddle boards) must carry at least one properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket (Personal Flotation Device) for each person on board a vessel.
Additional state laws:
- 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 in a fully enclosed area.
- Each person on board a personal watercraft (PWC) and anyone being towed behind a boat must wear an appropriate U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
- A 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.
Contact your local police or sheriff's department or home owner's association to find out if there's additional ordinances. If you're on federal waterways, be sure to know the life jacket laws that may apply.
One half of recreational boating fatalities happen on calm water. Nine out of ten drownings happen on inland waters and a few hundred feet from shore. In many incidences, life jackets were on board, but were not worn.
- There are multiple types of life jackets.
- The best choice is the one that fits properly and is the right one for the activity.
- It needs to help keep your head above the water. If it's too big, the life jacket will ride up around your face. If it's too small, it won't be able to keep your body afloat.
- Life jackets made for adults will not fit children.
- Inflatable life jackets are not for children under 16 years old.
Read the U.S. Coast Guard recommendations about How to Choose the Right Type of Life Jacket Brochure (PDF)
Make sure life jackets are appropriate and fit properly by doing the following:
- Check the label to verify it is U.S. Coast Guard approved and marked with an approval number.
- 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.
- Check the label to make sure it is the right size.
- Sizing is always based on your body weight and chest size.
- Check to make sure the life jacket can properly fasten/buckle up.
- The life jacket should be snug but not too tight.
- Check the fit by holding your arms straight up over your head, then
- Have a friend or family member grasp the tops of the arm openings and slowly pull up,
- Make sure there is no excess room above the openings and that the jacket doesn't ride up over your chin, and
- Check to see if it works - test it in shallow water under safe and supervised conditions. This way you will know how it will feel when needed. Do the same for family members, especially children.
- Watch a video on how to properly fitting a life jacket.
The Washington State Parks Boating Program makes it easier for boating families to access life jackets and stay safe with a Life Jacket Loaner Program. We provide life jackets to boaters at public boating locations throughout the state.
If you discover your family doesn't have enough properly fitting life jackets on board, you can simply visit a loaner site and check out an infant, child, youth or adult life jacket for the day or the weekend - at no charge. When you're finished, you return the jackets to the same location. Life jacket loaner stations are located at marinas, near boat ramps and at various state parks.
This program and the life jackets purchased for loaner stations is made possible through a grant from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund which is administered by the U.S. Coast Guard's Recreational Boating Safety funds.