A Course for Safe Boating
You must have safety equipment to operate any boat or vessel safely. Some
safety equipment is required by law, while other equipment is strongly
recommended. In this chapter, we will cover the most important piece of
equipment for personal safety—the personal flotation device (PFD), which
most often means a life jacket. In Chapters 2, 3, and 4, we will cover
equipment for general boating safety and for specific vessels.
The most important piece of equipment for safe boating and general water
safety is the life jacket which can be a throwable or wearable device.
Wearables are better known as life jackets. Most boating deaths happen when
people don’t wear life jackets and drown. Boat operators must be alert to
changing boating conditions and should tell all passengers to wear their life
jackets, especially in dangerous conditions—such as heavy boat traffic, severe
weather or dangerous water conditions.
Today’s life jackets are colorful, comfortable and easy to wear. Wearing a
life jacket is important, no matter how well you swim or operate a boat. You
never know when your boat may overturn or when you may fall overboard.
Once you are in the water, it is very difficult for even the most athletic and
coordinated individuals to put on a life jacket while trying to stay afloat.
When using a life jacket, make sure it fits well and is well
maintained so it works properly.
A life jacket should keep you afloat until help comes—so make sure it’s the
right one for your weight and chest size. To choose the correct life jacket:
the type of boating you will do.
the type of activities you will do.
the clothing you will most likely wear.
for Coast Guard-approved use instructions on the label.
To make sure that you have chosen the right life jacket for yourself:
Check for a snug fit. Adjust straps and buckles to ensure a proper fit that
does not restrict your breathing. If someone lifts your life jacket by the
shoulder straps, the jacket should not cover your ears. Readjust the straps
and buckles, and if it still doesn’t pass the lift test, try a different size.
Check how well your life jacket keeps you afloat by relaxing on your back
in safe, shallow water and tilting your head back. To stay safe, your life
jacket should keep your chin and mouth out of the water, and allow you to
breathe easily. If your life jacket doesn’t turn you face up in the water, you
may want to replace it with one that does.
The clothing you are wearing and
the items you may be carrying will
affect how well your life jacket keeps
Every person on board a personal
watercraft (PWC) and any person
being towed behind a vessel must
wear a Coast Guard-approved
life jacket. (For exceptions, see