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Boating Safety and Equipment Requirements

Three examples of the different types personal flotation devices.Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

Most adults need an extra seven to 12 pounds of buoyancy to keep their heads above water. A Personal Flotation Device (PFD) can provide that "extra lift" to keep you afloat until help comes. Your weight isn't the only factor in how much "extra lift" you need. A person's body fat, lung size, clothing, and water conditions are also important.

When selecting a PFD, read the label to make sure it is for a person of your size and weight. You also need to consider the type of boating you will be doing and where you plan to do it. Try your PFD on to make sure it fits properly and check to make sure it is US Coast Guard approved.

For more information, view the styles and types of PFDs These helpful hints on PFDs explain the advantages of each type, and the number you will need, depending on the type of boat and the amount of people on board.


Try on the PFD: it should fit comfortably snug. Test it in shallow water to see how it handles.

To check the buoyancy of the PFD in the water, relax your body and let your head tilt back. Make sure that your PFD keeps your chin above water and that you can breathe easily. If your mouth is not well above the water, get a new PFD or one with more buoyancy.

Be aware: your PFD may not act the same in swift or rough water as in calm water. The clothes you wear and the items in your pockets may also change the way your PFD works.

PFD Care

The PDF will stay in good condition if you follow these instructions:

  • Don't alter your PFD. If it does not fit, get one that does. Play it safe; an altered PFD may not save your life.
  • Don't put heavy objects on your PFD or use it for a kneeling device or boat fender. PFD's lose buoyancy when crushed.
  • Let your PFD drip-dry thoroughly before you put it away. Always stow it in a well-ventilated place.
  • Don't leave your PFD on board for long periods when the boat is not in use.
  • Never dry your PFD on a radiator, heater, or any other direct heat source.
  • Put your name on your PFD if you are the only wearer.
  • Practice throwing your Type IV PFD: cushions throw best underhand.

Number of PFDs Required

The US Coast Guard requires boaters to have USCG approved PFDs. The number and type depends on the length of your boat and the number of people on board.

All boats must have a wearable type PFD for each person on board or being towed. Each PFD must be in good condition, readily available, and the proper size for the intended wearer. In addition, boats 16 feet in length or longer must carry a Type IV throwable device.

For example, if there are four people on your 16-foot boat, you must have at least five PFDs—four wearable PFDs and one throwable device.

Inflatable PFDs

Coast Guard-approved inflatable PFDs are fairly new. Inflatable PFDs:

  • Are available in adult sizes only
  • Are not recommended for non-swimmers
  • Have both oral and manual inflation at minimum
  • Are not available as throwable types—wearable types only
  • Are not intended for water sports like skiing or for personal watercraft use