Begin Main Content Area


It's a fact.

Life jackets save lives. Eighty percent of boating fatalities happen to boaters who are not wearing a life jacket.

It's the law.

In Pennsylvania life jackets are a must for…

Everyone on a boatAll boats must have a good, serviceable, United States Coast Guard-approved (USCG) life jacket on board for each person. Life jackets must be readily accessible and appropriately fit for each person.

Assisting in rescue - Boats 16 feet and over must have a USCG-approved immediately available throwable device on board.

Kids 12 and under - Children 12 years of age and younger on PA waters underway in all canoes, kayaks and paddleboards and boats 20 feet or less must wear a life jacket.

Skiers and PWCs - All water skiers and anyone towed behind boats, personal watercraft operators and passengers, and sailboarders (windsurfers) are required to wear a life jacket. Inflatable life jackets are not acceptable for these activities.

Kayakers and Canoers - A USCG approved life jacket is required for each person on board a boat and must be worn between November 1 and April 30 on canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and boats less than 16 feet in length.

Pittsburgh lakes - On Pittsburgh District United States Army Corps of Engineers lakes (only), everyone in boats less than 16 feet in length and in all canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards. 


It's simple.

Getting a life jacket that fits and works properly is paramount, but it won't matter if you don't wear it. Wear life jackets when participating in activities in and around water.

The right Jacket

Life jacket options are abundant. Some are made to last, some to hold body heat in cold water, and others for comfort and ease in certain activities. Get one that fits and that matches the activity and water conditions you anticipate.

All jackets should be United States Coast Guard approved and in good working order.


Most adults only need an extra 7 to 12 pounds of buoyancy to keep their heads above water. (In general, the more physically fit you are, the more buoyancy you need from a life jacket.)

Read the label to be sure it is right for your weight and size. If an emergency strikes, let the life jacket do its job. Relax, put your head back and DO NOT PANIC!


Boaters and water enthusiasts can choose from five distinct types of personal flotation devices (PFD), each designed for specific uses. Make sure the PFD you choose, matches the intended use.

For inland activities most common in Pennsylvania like paddling, lake/river fishing, and boating wearable life jackets (that may be labeled as Type I, II and III jackets) are good options. A throwable device ( may be labeled as Type IV) is required for boats over 16 feet. (Practice tossing your throwable device. Cushions throw best underhand.)


Check your fit with the Touchdown Test


Like for adults, size children's life jackets by matching the weight range listed on the jacket and ensuring a good fit. You will know it fits right if when the child is wearing the jacket is picked up by the shoulders of the life jacket, and the child's chin and ears will not slip through. If they do slip, check the cinching on the straps and/or try another style.

All children 12 years old and younger must wear a life jacket.

Before relying on the life jacket to work, teach children how to use a life jacket. Put it on them and make them float in the water. Children should understand how it feels and that a life jacket works best when they relax their arms and legs. Then they will know what to expect if they do fall in the water.

Life jackets are not babysitters. Even children in life jackets should be well supervised in water. And inflatable toys and rafts are not life jackets.

CARE (adopted from

At the start of each season, follow these tips to ensure your life jacket is in good working condition:

Check for rips and holes and that seams, fabric straps and hardware are okay. Make sure belts and tie tapes are secure. You should find no signs of waterlogging, mildew odor or shrinkage of the buoyant materials.

Throw away life jackets if buoyant material leaks or is waterlogged. Faded and weathered life jackets may indicate loss of strength and buoyancy and may need to be replaced. Store life jackets in a dry, cool, dark place.

Life jackets in poor shape should be cut up and thrown away.

Follow the washing instructions on the label. Most life jackets can be washed by hand in a mild detergent and hung to dry in a well-ventilated area out of any direct sunlight.


...alter your life jacket. If yours doesn't fit, get one that does. An altered life jacket may not save your life.

...put heavy objects on your life jacket or use it for a kneeling pad or boat fender. Life jackets lose buoyancy when crushed.

...put your life jacket away wet. Always stow it in a well-ventilated place.

...leave your life jacket on board for long periods when the boat is not in use.

...dry your life jacket on a direct heat source.

Inflatable Life Jackets

Traditional life jackets use buoyant materials, such as foam, to stay afloat. Inflatable life jackets use inflatable chambers that create buoyancy when inflated.

Inflatable life jackets are less bulky and come in a variety of styles. Inflatables are suitable for shore, wading or boat fishing. Inflatable life jackets are not legal for boat-towed watersports or personal watercraft.

Inflatable lifejackets have different inflation mechanisms; automatic, manual, and hybrid. Learn more about inflatables before making them your life jacket option. 

All about Inflatable life jackets 

Dog Life jackets

Dogs love water and make great companions in some boating and water activities, but do not sacrifice human  (or canine) safety for the fun of bringing a dog along for an adventure on the water. If it is safe to bring your dog along, a dog lifejacket is a good idea. Even the best canine swimmers can use the support of a good lifejacket.

The American Kennel Club offers expert advice for dog life jackets.

Life jacket information adapted from: Life Jacket Association (


Sea Tow Foundation and BoatUS Foundation provide free life jacket loans at locations across the state. 

Borrow a life jacket from Sea Tow Foundation

Borrow a life jacket from BoatUS Foundation


Share your experience with us so that others may learn the importance of wearing a life jacket on and around the water. We want to take your real-life story and show others that life jackets really do save lives.

Email your 150 word or less saved on Pennsylvania waterways story to