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California Boating 

A Course for Safe Boating

Chapter 1


Personal Safety


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.

Life Jackets

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

you afloat.


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

Water Skiing.