A young girl wearing a life jacket. Others in the background are putting life jackets on.

Wear a Life Jacket

Wearing a life jacket is one of the best ways to keep yourself safe on the water.

A life jacket is one of the most effective pieces of safety gear in a boat. Studies show that if you wear a life jacket, you’re more likely to survive if something goes wrong. Remember that anyone can drown, regardless of age and swimming capabilities.

Washington state life jacket laws

All vessels (including canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards) must carry at least one properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket (Personal Flotation Device or PFD) for each person on board a vessel.

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 a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket designed specifically for that activity.

A U.S. Coast Guard-approved throwable flotation device must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer. Canoes and kayaks are exempt from this requirement.

Don’t own a life jacket? Use this map to find a Life Jacket Loaner Station near you!

Life jacket tips

Find one you’ll actually wear

Choosing the right life jacket requires research. Body type, swimming skills, boating activity and environment need to be considered.

Read the U.S. Coast Guard recommendations about How to Choose the Right Type of Life Jacket (PDF).  

Inflatable life jackets

These are comfortable, easy-to-wear options, but require additional maintenance. As with other life jackets, inflatables should be worn at all times. Learn all about inflatable life jackets by watching this US Army Core of Engineers video.

Read the label 

Understand performance levels, warnings, intended use and maintenance requirements. Make sure it’s U.S. Coast Guard-approved. Learn more about reading life jacket labels at wearitlifejacket.com.

Learn how to properly fit a life jacket

A life jacket is designed to help keep your head above water. It should fit snugly and comfortably enough to be worn at all times. Learn how to properly fit a life jacket by watching this video.

Maintain your device

Regularly check your life jacket for wear and tear and service inflatables (replace cartridges, etc.). Always dry and clean your life jacket after each use.  Learn about cleaning and storing your life jackets at lifejacketassociation.org.

Know the laws

Federal and state laws, as well as local ordinances, may vary depending on the body of water and time of year. Contact your local police or sheriff’s department or home owner’s association to learn about additional ordinances. If you’re on federal waterways, be sure to know the life jacket laws that may apply.