Life Jacket Facts

California State Parks Division of Boating & Waterways (DBW)

Click the image below to view or print a PDF on how to clean a life jacket.

DBW_May20_FBAccidents on the water can happen much too fast to reach and put on a stowed life jacket. Life jackets save lives. There is no excuse not to wear one.


The good news is that modern life jackets are more comfortable, lightweight and stylish than the bulky orange style most boaters are familiar with. Newer style inflatable life jackets powered by a CO2 cartridge (replaceable once used), are comfortable to wear all day while boating. Some inflate automatically when they are submerged in water. Choose a life jacket that’s right for YOU and consider your planned activities and the water conditions you expect to encounter.

Life jackets save lives!

If you’re wearing one, your chances of survival from a capsize or a fall overboard will dramatically increase. The same is true for your passengers, which is why it’s critical for you to make sure everyone on your boat, including you, wears a life jacket.


Life jackets are the law.

In California, boaters must carry life jackets for every person on board their vessel. Also, a Coast Guard approved life jacket must be worn by everyone on a personal watercraft, everyone being towed behind a vessel and all children under 13 (unless they are tethered with a harness on a sailboat, they are below decks or in an enclosed cabin).


Knowing how to swim does NOT drown-proof you.

Even the best swimmers can (and do) get into trouble by being knocked unconscious and drown if they’re not wearing a life jacket.


Life jackets that don’t fit properly put you at risk.

If they’re too big, they can push up around your face and interfere with your breathing. If they’re too small, they won’t keep you afloat.


Make sure your life jacket is approved by the U. S. Coast Guard.

You should see the U.S. Coast Guard official approval printed or displayed on the inside of the life jacket.


Make sure your jacket fits properly.

To find out, zip/buckle your life jacket, raise your arms over your head, and have a friend gently pull up on the tops of the arm openings. If the jacket rides up over your chin, it’s too big!


Make sure you use the right type of life jacket.

Specific styles of life jackets are available for almost any kind of water activity, including fishing, personal watercraft riding, cold weather/hunting and paddling. There are even special life jackets for pets!


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