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Life Jacket Rules for Water Activities

Improve safety on the water by selecting and wearing the appropriate gear.

They’re called life jackets for a reason. In 2017, drowning accounted for more than three quarters of fatal boating accidents. Of those victims, nearly nine in 10 weren’t wearing life jackets.

Before you go out on the water, make sure you’re familiar with state laws regarding life jackets. In most states, they are mandatory for children under 13. Even if not required to wear one, it’s a good idea for all on board to do so. Use this guide to find a life jacket that fits your needs.

To find the perfect fit, try on a few at a store. A salesperson should be able to help you select a Coast Guard-approved life jacket based on your chest size and weight. If possible, test the life jacket on shallow water.

You also should check the fit regularly — especially for children. Parents often buy life jackets too big, thinking their children will grow into them, but a child can slide right out of an ill-fitting life jacket. If the jacket rides up over the chin or face, it’s too big. If you have trouble clasping your life jacket or if it feels uncomfortably tight, it’s time to buy a larger size.

Life jackets are often specialized for different types of water sports. You can find them with higher torsos for paddle sports and wide-cut arms for action sports such as skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing. A salesperson can help you select the right type of life jacket for your activity.

Keeping your life jacket in good condition helps preserve its effectiveness. Check life jackets every season for rips and faulty zippers. Inflatable life jackets need extra inspection to ensure that the inflatable chambers are intact and damage-free and that the carbon dioxide cylinder and firing mechanisms are in working order.

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