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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.
  • Boat-towed watersports 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.
  • Cold Water Wear Required -Life jackets are required to be worn by each person onboard canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and all boats less than 16 feet in length from Novembe​​r 1 through April 30.
  • Pittsburgh Army Corps Lakes - On Pittsburgh District U. S.  Army Corps of Engineers lakes (only), everyone in boats less than 16 feet in length and in all canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must wear a life jacket. 


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.

Wear the right jacket.

Life jacket options are abundant. Get one that fits comfortably and matches the activity and water conditions you anticipate. Check the label for size and approved uses.

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

Size right.

To find the right fit, check the life jacket label for user weight and chest size. Make sure the zippers, straps and buckles are adjusted to provide a snug fit.

Different body types float differently. Try your life jacket on in calm water to ensure it is properly adjusted and keeps your head well above water.

In an emergency, let the life jacket do its job. Relax, put your head back and DO NOT PANIC!

​​Check your fit with the touchdown test:


Choose the right type.

Life jackets are generally characterized as wearable or throwable.  Newer style wearable life jackets are labeled with their performance level (i.e., Level 50, 70, 100, 150) which indicates the minimum buoyancy of the device. Older style wearable life jackets are labeled with their type (i.e., Type I, II, III and V) which indicates their performance characteristics. Regardless of the level or type, always read the label to choose the most appropriate life jacket for your intended activities.

A throwable device (may also be labeled as Type IV) is required for boats 16 feet or more in length. Throwable devices must be immediately available, within arm's reach of the operator or passenger while the boat is being operated. Practice tossing your throwable device. Cushions throw best underhand.


Life jackets for children.

All children 12 years old and younger must wear a USCG-approved life jacket while underway on any boat 20 feet or less in length and all canoes, kayaks and paddleboards.

To select a child's life jacket, look for the correct weight range on the label. Try it on the child to ensure a good fit. Adjust the straps then lift up on the shoulders of the life jacket. If the jacket comes up to the child's chin and ears, it is too loose or too large and the child may slip out of it in the water. Re-adjust the straps or try another size or style.

Help children feel comfortable in a life jacket. Put it on them and assist them with floating in calm water. Children's life jackets are designed to turn the child face-up. This may feel awkward to a child so they should be instructed to relax and lay back. The life jacket will support them and keep their face out of the water. This will help them know what to expect if they do fall in the water.

Pool floats, inflatable toys and rafts, and swimming aids are not USCG-approved life jackets.  And life jackets are not babysitters. Even children in life jackets should be well supervised in water.

Inflatable life jacket options.

Traditional life jackets use buoyant materials, such as foam, to stay afloat. Inflatable life jackets use inflatable chambers that create buoyancy when inflated. Inflatable lifejackets can have automatic, manual, or hybrid inflation.

Inflatable life jackets are less bulky and come in a variety of styles. Inflatables are only legal when worn, however they are not legal for boat-towed watersports or personal watercraft. They are not recommended for weak or non-swimmers.

Learn more about inflatables before making them your life jacket option. 

All about Inflatable life jackets

Life jacket care and tips. (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.​
    • Adjust your life jacket for a snug fit. If yours doesn't fit or is uncomfortable, get a different size or find one with more adjustable straps.
    • Carefully inspect your life jacket at the beginning of each season. If it's an inflatable, pay attention to the owner's guide for maintenance and care.
    • Hang your life jacket to dry after each use and store it away from the sun to make it last longer.
    • Wear your life jacket at all times on the water and keep a throwable device close at hand
    • Clip a coach's whistle to your life jacket to summon help in an emergency.

Buckle up your dog.

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 (

Were you saved by the jacket?

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​


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


Life jackets can save lives, it's a fact. Hear the stories from families who learned firsthand how important it is to always wear your life jacket.  WATCH YOUTUBE PLAYLISTOpens In A New Window


Each year, nearly 650 people die during recreational boating activities. In order to prevent boating and open water tragedies, families and friends of victims have come together to create Waves of Hope.Opens In A New Window