FAQs

Browse frequently asked questions
When should I wear my life jacket?

The National Safe Boating Council recommends wearing your life jacket at all times when the boat is underway. Accidents on the water can happen much too fast to reach and put on a stowed life jacket.

What life jackets are required to be carried on my recreational boat?

Federal law requires that you must have a U.S. Coast Guard-approved, wearable life jacket that is in good and serviceable condition and of the appropriate size for each person onboard your vessel. The National Safe Boating Council recommends wearing your life jacket at all times when the boat is underway. In addition, boats greater than 16 feet in length must carry a U.S. Coast Guard-approved throwable device. A throwable device is not required on canoes or kayaks regardless of length. For more information, please see the U.S. Coast Guard’s “A Boater’s Guide to the Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats.”

What are the federal regulations for life jacket wear for children?

On a vessel that is underway, children under 13 years of age must wear an appropriate U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable life jacket unless they are below deck or within an enclosed cabin. Do not buy a life jacket for your child to “grow into.” If a state has established a child life jacket wear requirement that differs from the U.S. Coast Guard requirement, the state requirement will be applicable on waters subject to that state’s jurisdiction. Contact your state boating authority for more information.

What are inflatable life jackets?

Inflatable life jackets rely on CO2 cylinders that provide buoyancy when inflated vs. inherently buoyant life jackets that use foam or other buoyant materials to stay afloat. Inflatable life jackets are a less bulky, comfortable alternative to inherently buoyant life jackets. There are three inflatable life jacket styles – belt pack (worn around the waist like a fanny pack), suspender or stole (worn over the shoulders) and vest (fuller body coverage with pockets). Each features a lightweight, compact design that provides comfort, range of motion and is cooler to wear in warmer weather.

Who can wear an inflatable life jacket?

Inflatable life jackets are generally intended for persons over 80 lbs (39kg). To meet life jacket carriage requirements, the intended wearer must be over 16 years of age. See the life jacket’s label for more information. People under the age of 16 must have an inherently buoyant or hybrid life jacket in their size range, and it should be properly worn.

How do inflatable life jackets work?

An inflatable life jacket uses compressed air, or CO2, to fill itself with air and provide 45 percent more buoyancy when inflated. This causes the person to float higher and be more visible when the life jacket is inflated. Always read the owner’s manual that accompanies the life jacket for instructions or contact the manufacturer.

I do not know how to swim. Should I use an inflatable life jacket?

No. A poor or non-swimmer could panic in an unexpected fall into the water and may forget they need to activate the manual “jerk to inflate” cord. Please use an inherently buoyant or hybrid life jacket (has both inherent and inflatable system of buoyancy) that provides flotation without any action on your part.

Are inflatable life jackets approved for all boating activities?

No. Full inflatable life jackets are not approved for high-speed activities such as riding on a personal watercraft, waterskiing or tubing, participating in whitewater activities, or working in commercial boating activities (please wear an inherently buoyant life jacket).

Will any CO2 cylinder work from a store for an inflatable life jacket?

No. It is important to use a rearm kit that includes a cylinder that is supplied by the maker of the life jacket. The correct cylinder to use will be indicated on the life jacket itself and in the owner’s manual, and can be obtained by contacting the life jacket manufacturer.

Can I use my CO2 cylinder more than once on my inflatable life jacket?

No. Once the cylinder has been punctured, all of the gas will escape into the chamber. This is why you need to check to see if the cylinder is full before each outing. If your device has a Cylinder Seal Indicator, it will show GREEN if the cylinder is full. If it shows RED, you must replace the cylinder.

How do I dispose of inflatable life jacket cylinders/cartridges?

To safely dispose of the CO2 cylinders, you must ensure that the head of the cylinder has been pierced. Following this the cylinder can be disposed of. Alternatively, CO2 cylinders made of 100% steel may be recycled; please check with your local recycling services.

Can I carry inflatable life jackets on an airplane?

Most airlines will permit you to check in or carry on up to two cylinders in the life jackets and two spares. However, you should check with your individual airline to confirm its policy. To avoid an accidental discharge, it is advisable to disarm your inflatable before carrying it on board or checking in with the airlines.

Can an inflatable life jacket be worn under clothes?

It’s important to know that inflatable life jackets can never be worn under clothing, including coats or jackets. If so, the life jacket would function ineffectively and could lead to serious injury, discomfort or difficulty breathing.

How do I maintain my inflatable life jacket?

Frequent inspections are important. Inspection would include orally inflating the life jacket and ensuring it holds air for 16-24 hours, inspecting the cylinder (not discharged and no corrosion), and checking that the cylinder is screwed in tight. Always refer to the owner’s manual.

How do I store my inflatable life jacket?

Please store an inflatable life jacket in a cool, dry area, out of direct sunlight and away from exposure to gas or oil.

How do I know if my life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard approved?

Always check the label and read the owner’s manual. The life jacket label will have a U.S. Coast Guard approval number. It will indicate icons noting life jacket recommended use.

Am I required to carry a life jacket on my stand up paddleboard (SUP).

Yes, when used beyond the narrow limits of a swimming, surfing or bathing area a SUP is considered a vessel under 46 U.S.C. The National Safe Boating Council recommends wearing your life jacket at all times when the SUP is underway. Accidents on the water can happen much too fast to reach and put on a stowed life jacket.

Can I recycle my life jacket?

There may be local organizations in your area who are looking for gently used life jackets. See the Sea Tow Foundation at http://boatingsafety.com/ to get started.

Do life jackets expire?

Life jackets have no expiration date, however, all life jackets should be tested for wear and buoyancy at least once a year. Waterlogged, faded, or otherwise damaged lifejackets should be discarded.

If I lose my boating safety certificate, how do I obtain a replacement?

You should contact the organization that issued the certificate and request a replacement card. You can also contact your state boating agency’s boater education department for more details.

Is my boating safety certificate valid to operate a boat in another state?

In most cases, yes. However, there are a few states that do not honor a certificate obtained outside of their state. Always check the laws of the state where you will be boating to ensure your current certificate will be accepted. Visit www.nasbla.org

How do I dispose of expired pyrotechnic visual distress signals (VDS) or marine flares?

The disposal of expired pyrotechnic devices should be done in accordance with local county and state hazardous waste regulations. Please check with these local authorities to obtain the correct disposal procedures.

How do I register my emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) and personal locator beacon (PLB) or submit an updated registration form?

You may register online at www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov. For more information visit the NOAA website at http://www.sarsat.noaa.gov/beacon.html.

What visual distress signals must I carry on my boat?

Visual distress signals are required to be carried onboard vessels operating on the Great Lakes, High Seas, Territorial Seas and connecting waters seaward of a point where the width of the entrance exceeds 2 nautical miles, with certain exceptions. For more information, please see the U.S. Coast Guard’s “A Boater’s Guide to the Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats.”

What is a vessel safety check?

A Vessel Safety Check (VSC) is a courtesy examination of your boat (vessel) to verify the presence and condition of certain safety equipment required by state and federal regulations. The volunteer VSC examiner may also make recommendations and discuss safety issues that can make you a safer boater. No citations will be given if the boat does not pass. The examiner will supply you with a copy of the evaluation so that you may follow up with any recommendations. Vessels that pass the examination will be able to display the distinctive VSC decal. The decal does not exempt boaters from law enforcement boarding but indicates to boarding officers that the boat has been examined and found to be in compliance with safety equipment regulations.

What agency is responsible for performing a vessel safety check?

The volunteer Vessel Examiner is a trained specialist and a member of either the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons, or in some cases state volunteer examiners.

How can I find a boating safety course offered by the National Safe Boating Council?

Please visit our Training page to view online, classroom and on-water course options.

What is a float plan?

It’s important to let family and friends know where you are out on the water and when you will return. The sooner rescuers can get on the water and to the location of an overdue boater, the more likely the outcome will be positive. Floatplancentral.org is a great resource from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to create a float plan to share with a reliable friend that can be depended upon to notify the rescue agency should you not return or check-in as planned.

How can I find boating laws applicable to my state?

Please visit NASBLA.org 

What is teak surfing?

Teak surfing is performed by a person hanging onto the swim platform (often made of teak wood) at the back of a boat while the boat is moving forward. Often swimmers will let go of the platform and body surf on the boat’s wake. Although teak surfing is not illegal in some states, it is extremely dangerous due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and sudden loss of consciousness resulting in death. The United States Coast Guard advises boaters not to teak surf. Please help spread this safety message and discourage teak surfing.

What should I know about carbon monoxide poisoning while boating?

Gasoline-powered engines on boats, including onboard generators, produce carbon monoxide (CO), a colorless and odorless gas that can poison or kill someone who breathes in too much of it. Be sure to install and maintain a working CO detector, never block exhaust outlets, and always dock, beach or anchor at least 20 feet away from the nearest boat that is running a generator or engine.

How do I learn more about the Navigation Rules (Rules of the Road)?

Visit our free online video series, Boat On Course, to learn more about navigation rules. The Coast Guard maintains an amalgamated version of the COLREGS and Inland Navigation Rules (collectively referred to together as “Navigation Rules”) on the Navigation Center website. A free electronic copy of the more traditional “Coast Guard Navigation Rules and Regulations Handbook” (ISBN: 9780160925665) is available here. You can also purchase a printed version. NOAA has also included a copy of the Rules in each edition of the Coast Pilot under Appendix B.

Where can I find information about boating abroad?

Information on the steps you must take before boating abroad may be found on the Royal Yachting Association website.