Life Jackets Save Lives – Wear It!

Life jackets are one of the single most effective piece of safety gear in a boat. Study after study show that if you wear your life jacket, you're more likely to survive if something goes wrong.

Boating and paddling is often a fun activity, but it's not without any risks. In Washington, many of our waterways are cold year-round. People that drown are often victims of cold-water shock. Anyone can drown regardless of age and swimming capabilities. Protect yourself by always wearing a life jacket. 

Many people assume merely having life jackets onboard is sufficient. However, accidents happen rapidly and without warning. Usually, there is not enough time to grab a life jacket, so they should always be worn.


WearIt-Partner_Washington State Parks

Life Jacket Laws

State law requires all vessels (including canoes, kayaks and stand up paddleboards) must carry at least one properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket (personal flotation device) for each person on board a vessel.

Additional state laws:

  • Children 12 years old and younger must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times when underway in a vessel less than 19 feet in length, unless in a fully enclosed area.
  • Each person on board a personal watercraft (PWC) and anyone being towed behind a boat must wear an appropriate U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
  • A U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type IV (throwable) flotation device must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer. Canoes and kayaks are exempt from this requirement.

Contact your local police or sheriff's department or home owner's association to find out if there's additional ordinances. If you're on federal waterways, be sure to know the life jacket laws that may apply.

choosing a life jacket

Life jackets, life vests, personal flotation devices, PFDs, float coats, life belts, lifesavers, life preservers, inflatable belt pack, inflation vests, buoyancy aids, etc., are all terms that have been used to describe something you wear to keep yourself afloat in water. Most people around here call it a life jacket.

You have a variety of options available when choosing a life jacket. Choosing the right one will usually require a little thought and research. Following are tips to consider:

  • Read the label. The label has information identifying: size (weight class), warnings and intended uses, maintenance requirements, approval codes and manufacturer’s information. It must be U.S. Coast Guard approved.
  • The best choice is the one that fits properly, is the right type for the activity (fishing vs. kayaking vs. water-skiing) and is comfortable enough to be constantly worn.
  • Life jackets made for adults will not fit children.
  • Inflatable life jackets are not for children under 16 years old.

Which life jacket is right for me? Read the Coast Guard’s recommendations about
How to Choose the Right Type of Life Jacket (PDF).

What do I need to know about inflatable life jackets? Watch the following U.S. Army Core of Engineers’ video:

How do I read the label? Visit the Coast Guard’s website at


Fitting a life jacket is as easy as 1... 2... 3!


  • Identify the size and verify it fits your weight class and chest size. 
  • Check and understand the warnings and intended uses, maintenance requirements, approval codes and manufacturer’s information.
  • Verify it is U.S. Coast Guard approved and marked with an approval number.

2... TRY IT ON

  • Fasten buckles, straps, zippers, etc. Don’t forget the crotch strap if there is one! If they don’t close, it’s too small. 
  • Make adjustments. The life jacket should be snug but not too tight.
  • For inflatables, read the owner’s manual for the correct adjustment of straps. A looser fit may be preferred to allow space for the inflation chamber.
  • Move around in it. Make sure it’s comfortable enough to be worn constantly.


  • Hold your arms straight up over your head, then have a friend or family member grasp the tops of the arm openings and slowly pull up. If it rides up over your chin, it’s too big.
  • Check to see if it works. Test it in shallow water under safe and supervised conditions. Do the same for family members, especially children.

Watch a video on how to properly fit a life jacket.

Learn more about properly fitting a life jacket (and more!) by visiting the U.S. Coast Guard’s website at


The Washington State Parks Boating Program makes it easier for boating families to access life jackets and stay safe with a Life Jacket Loaner Program. We provide life jackets to boaters at public boating locations throughout the state.

If you discover your family doesn't have enough properly fitting life jackets on board, you can simply visit a loaner site and check out an infant, child, youth or adult life jacket for the day or the weekend - at no charge. When you're finished, you return the jackets to the same location. Life jacket loaner stations are located at marinas, near boat ramps and at various state parks.

This program and the life jackets purchased for loaner stations is made possible through a grant from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund which is administered by the U.S. Coast Guard's Recreational Boating Safety funds.


Help SAVE LIVES by promoting life jackets and the 'Wear It' campaign. 

  • Get involved – there is POWER in NUMBERS. Support local boating safety education efforts and lead by example.
  • Be an example for others – always wear a life jacket and boat responsibly and encourage others to do the same! Take the pledge!
  • Make an impact on #safeboating. Share photos on social media of you, your family or friends in life jackets. Use hashtag #WearItWA and #WearItOut
  • Contact us for resources and outreach ideas.

"Wear It" is a program of the Washington State Parks Boating Program in partnership with the National Safe Boating Council.