November 24, 2021 9 min read

One of the most common queries that we come across is if adults need a life jacket while kayaking. 

The simple answer to this question is that most of the states don’t require adults to wear the life jackets but there is a requirement for life jackets to be worn by children under a particular age which differs from state to state. But in our opinion there are some very good reasons that anyone who is on the water should wear it. These reasons are as below -

1) It Saves Lives – There have been several cases wherein experienced kayakers and swimmers have lost their lives as they were not wearing the life jacket.

2) The Rescue is Easier – It becomes much easier to pull someone back into their kayak due to the shoulder straps on the Life Jacket. This is a very critical feature that a Life Jacket provides.

3) Improved Visibility– If you are Kayaking to a place where motorized vessels are also allowed, then visibility is super critical for your safety. That is why most of the life jackets are made with bright color that improves the visibility.

4) Provides Functionality – Most of the Life Jackets have large pockets that allows you to carry hooks, utility tools, small baits or other useful fishing tools that you want to keep handy. You can also keep items such as your smartphone and other accessories.

A Life Jacket is also called as a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) & there are 5 types of PFDs which you can wear while you are out on the water

The five types of PFDs are: 

  • Type I: Offshore life jackets
  • Type II: Near-shore
  • Type III: Flotation aids
  • Type IV: Throwable devices
  • Type V: Special use devices (often used for kayaking)
Types of PFDs

All the 50 states have different laws regarding the life jackets. Depending on the state you are in, the law may be different.

While doing our research, we wondered if there was a better way to concise the regulations for all the 50 states in one simple table. Anyone looking for information regarding the Life Jacket requirement will be able to get it just by a quick glance.

S. No State Kayak life jacket law Minimum age to wear a life jacket Approved life jackets When a PFD has to be worn by a child Vessel length requirement Fine for not wearing the PFD
1 Alabama  One life jacket per person on board Anyone under 8 USCG Type I, II, or III At all times while onboard any vessel All length vessels Upto $100
2 Alaska  One life jacket per person on board, readily available Anyone under 13 USCG Type I, II, III, or V in some situations In an open vessel, on deck, or while waterskiing All length vessels Upto $100
3 Arizona  One life jacket per person on board, readily available 12 and under USCG Type I, II, III, or V in some situations While underway on any vessel All length vessels NA
4 Arkansas  One life jacket per person on board, readily available 12 and under USCG approved At all times All length vessels $100 - $250
5 California  One life jacket per person on board, readily available 12 and under USCG-approved Type I, II, III or V On any recreational vessel underway All length vessels Upto $150
6 Colorado  A vessel less than 16 feet must have one wearable PFD, readily available, onboard for each person All children under 13 USCG-approved Type I, II, or III PFD Children onboard any recreational vessel underway All length vessels for children Upto $100
7 Connecticut  One PFD for each person on board. With a rule unique to Connecticut, that anyone in a manually propelled vessel must actually wear their PFD from October 1 through May 31. Children 12 and under USCG-approved Onboard any recreational vessel underway All length vessels for children $75
8 Delaware  One PFD on board per person and children 12 and under must wear a life jacket. 12 and under USCG-approved Type I, II, III or V Onboard any recreational vessel underway All length vessels $25
9 Florida  A wearable PFD for each person Children under 6 USCG-approved I, II, or III On recreational vessel underway Vessels less than 26 feet $50 - $80
10 Georgia  A wearable USCG Type I, II, III, or V PFD for each person – in good condition and readily accessible. Children 12 and under USCG-approved Onboard a moving vessel All length vessels Upto the Court
11 Hawaii  All vessels are required to have a wearable USCG-approved personal flotation device for each person. Children 12 and under must wear it USCG-approved When a vessel is underway or moored or anchored outside a mooring area All length vessels $50 - $1000
12 Idaho  One life jacket on board per person Kids 14 years and younger must wear their life jacket on all boats 19′ and under USCG-approved While boat is underway Vessels 19′ and less $84
13 Illinois One Type I, II, III personal flotation device on board per person Under 13 USCG-approved PFD While vessel is underway Vessels less than 26′ $75
14 Indiana One Type I, II, III, or V USCG approved PFD on board per person Under 13 USCG-approved PFD While onboard any vessel All length vessels Upto $500
15 Iowa One Type I, II, III, or V life jacket on board per person in all kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards Under 13 USCG-approved PFD All recreational vessels while underway All length vessels Upto $75
16 Kansas One Type I, II, III, or V life jacket on board per person 12 and under USCG-approved Type I, II, or III, or V PFD Onboard or while being towed. And by children under 14 in USCG jurisdiction waters All length vessels Upto $500
17 Kentucky One Type I, II, or III PFD on board per person Children 12 and under USCG-approved At all times while underway and on deck All length vessels $50
18 Louisiana Each person on board must wear a USCG–approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD while underway on a motorboat less than 16 feet long that’s using an outboard motor and is steered by a hand tiller or steering arm attached to the motor. 16 and under USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V While underway Vessels less than 26′ $50
19 Maine One Type I, II, III, or V USCG-approved PFD on board per person 10 and under USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V At all times All length vessels Upto $100
20 Maryland One Type I, II, III or V USCG-approved PFD on board per person Under the age of 13. Children under 4 must wear a PFD that has additional safety features USCG-approved PFD On a recreational vessel while underway Vessels under 21′ Upto the Court
21 Massachusetts One Type I, II, III USCG-approved PFD on board per person Life jackets must be worn by canoeists and kayakers from September 15 – May 15, and at all times by youth under 12 USCG-approved Type I, II, III While underway All length vessels $50
22 Michigan One Type I, II, or III USCG-approved PDF on board per person. On kayaks and canoes can alternatively choose to have a Type IV throwable on board Under 6 USCG-approved Type I or II While riding on the open deck of a vessel All length vessels Upto $100
23 Minnesota All vessels must have one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device of Type I, II or III for each person on board Under 10 USCG-approved Type I, II, or III When not below deck or anchored All length vessels Upto $1000
24 Mississippi All vessels must have one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device of Type I, II or III for each person on board 12 and under USCG-approved Type I, II, or III While in the open portion of a vessel Vessels less than 26′ $25 - $100
25 Missouri All vessels must have at least one wearable life vest for each person on board Under 7 USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V At all times on any watercraft All vessels Upto $1000
26 Montana If two or more persons are on a sailboard, each person must wear a PFD Under 12: Sailboard operators under 15 must wear a PFD at all times USCG-approved While underway Vessels less than 26′ $15 - $500
27 Nebraska All vessels (motorized and non-motorized, except for sailboards) must have one life jacket for each person on board  Under 13 USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V At all times All length vessels $50
28 Nevada All vessels must have one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device for each person on board  Under 13 USCG-approved While onboard any vessel All length vessels NA
29 New Hampshire All vessels, including kayaks and canoes, must have a PFD for each person on board. 12 and under USCG-approved Type I, II, or III While onboard any vessel All length vessels Upto $60
30 New Jersey All vessels must have one Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device for each person on board 12 and under USCG-approved Type I, II, III or V Underway onboard any recreational vessel All length vessels $25 - $100
31 New Mexico Anyone on a kayak or canoe must wear a personal flotation device the entire time they are in the vessel  Under 13 USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or IV While underway All length vessels $50 - $500
32 New York All vessels must have one Coast Guard approved wearable life jacket for each person on board Under 12 USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD While underway Onboard any vessel 65′ and under $25 - $100
33 North Carolina All vessels must have one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device for each person on board  Under 13 USCG-approved Type I, II or III PFD While underway All length vessels $25
34 North Dakota For all non-motorized vessels, there must be a Coast Guard approved personal floatation device onboard for each person 10 and under USCG-approved Type I, II or III PFD While underway All vessels less than 27′ NA
35 Ohio All vessels must have one United States Coast Guard approved wearable personal flotation device for each person on board Under 10 USCG-approved PFD While onboard any vessel All vessels less than 18′ Upto the Court
36 Oklahoma All vessels must have one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device for each person on board Under 13 USCG-approved PFD While underway All vessels less than 26′ $201
37 Oregon All vessels must be equipped with a PFD for each person on board 12 and under USCG-approved PFD While underway and on open deck All length vessels $237
38 Pennsylvania All kayakers through the dates of November 1 and April 30 must wear a life jacket. A life jacket must be on board at all times of year. 12 and under USCG-approved PFD While underway Vessels 20′ or less including kayaks and canoes $50
39 Rhode Island All vessels must have one Coast Guard approved wearable life jacket for each person on board Under 13 USCG-approved PFD While underway Vessels less than 65′ $100
40 South Carolina All vessels must be equipped with a wearable, USCG approved life jacket for each person on board or being towed Under 12 USCG-approved Type I, II, III or V At all times while onboard Vessels less than 16′ $25 - $200
41 South Dakota All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person on board Under 7 USCG-approved On any vessel operating at more than no-wake speeds All vessels Upto $100
42 Tennessee All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person on board 12 and under USCG-approved Type I,II, III or V PFD While underway and on deck All vessels Upto $50
43 Texas All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person on board. Under 13 USCG-approved While underway and on deck Vessels less than 26′ $25 - $500
44 Utah All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person on board Under 13 USCG-approved While underway and on deck Vessels less than 26′ Upto $1000
45 Vermont All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person. Under 12. Anyone under 16 while sailboarding USCG-approved Type I, II, or III PFD While underway and on deck Vessels less than 26′ $84
46 Virginia All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person on board Under 13 USCG-approved While onboard and underway All vessels Upto $250
47 Washington All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person 12 and under USCG-approved While underway Vessels under 19′ $87
48 West Virginia All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person on board 12 and under USCG-approved While underway All vessels $20
49 Wisconsin All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person U.S.C.G. under 13 USCG-approved While underway All vessels $148
50 Wyoming All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person Under 13 USCG-approved While underway All vessels $110

Is it possible to get a DUI while kayaking?

Yes. With new and targeted kayaking legislation, all 50 states are becoming more serious about regulating and enforcing paddling. When you research your state's regulations you will realize that having a drink and getting on your paddle board can result in the equivalent of a DUI, (BUI) Boating Under the Influence.

Let's just say the writing is on the wall for states to enact more kayaking rules, regulations, and specific legislation.

Summary

The laws concerning life jackets differ from one state to the next. Some states simply mandate children under a specific age to wear them, while others compel everyone to do so.

Even if you are not required to wear one by law, a life jacket can save your life if something goes wrong while you are out on the water.


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