Lifejackets and boats

Protecting your children while boating

  • Always have your children wear a life jacket approved by the U.S. Coast Guard while on boats or around open bodies of water or participating in water sports. The life jacket should fit snug and not allow the child’s chin or ears to slip through the neck opening.
  • Take a boating education course that will teach safe boating practices.
  • Get a courtesy vessel safety check every year for free from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadrons.
  • Never drink alcoholic beverages while boating.
  • At select lake access sites, life jackets are made available for boaters to borrow at no charge while they are on the lake.

Getting the appropriate fitted life jacket

If a life jacket fits properly it will help keep your head above the water. Too big, and the life jacket will ride up around your face. Too small, it will not be able to keep your body afloat. Life jackets designed for adults will not work for children!

Try it on for size

  1. Check the manufacturer’s label to ensure that the life jacket is a proper fit for your size and weight.
  2. Make sure the jacket is properly fastened.
  3. Hold your arms straight up over your head.
  4. Ask a friend to grasp the tops of the arm openings and gently pull up.
  5. Make sure there is no excess room above the openings and that the jacket does not ride up over your chin or face.

For the best fit, try the life jacket in shallow water under safe and supervised conditions.

Be sure you have all legally required equipment on board

  • When preparing to go out on a vessel, the operator must check that the legally required equipment is on board.

Personal flotation devices (PFDs) regulations for South Carolina

  • All vessels must have at least one Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device (life jacket) that is U.S. Coast Guard–approved, wearable, and of the proper size for each person on board or being towed. Sizing for PFDs is based on body weight and chest size.
  • South Carolina law requires all children under 12 years of age to wear a U.S. Coast Guard–approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD while on board a Class A (less than 16 feet long) vessel. The life jacket must be fastened and of the proper size for the child.
  • One U.S. Coast Guard–approved Type IV PFD must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer and readily accessible in addition to the above requirements.
  • One Type V personal flotation device may be substituted for any other type if it is specifically approved by the U.S. Coast Guard for the activity at hand. Type V PFDs may not be substituted on children weighing less than 90 pounds.
  • Each person riding on a personal watercraft (PWC) must wear a U.S. Coast Guard–approved Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device.
  • Each person being towed behind a vessel must wear a U.S. Coast Guard–approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD.
  • All PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition and must be readily accessible.
Source: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

Types of personal flotation devices

Read and follow the label restrictions on all personal flotation devices.

Type I - Offshore life jackets - These vests are geared for rough or remote waters where rescue may take awhile. They provide the most buoyancy, are excellent for flotation, and will turn most unconscious persons face up in the water.

Type II - Near-shore vests - These vests are good for calm waters when quick assistance or rescue is likely. Type II vests will turn some unconscious wearers face up in the water, but the turning is not as pronounced as with a Type I.

Type III: Floatation aids - These vests or full-sleeved jackets are good for calm waters when quick assistance or rescue is likely. They are not recommended for rough waters since they will not turn most unconscious persons face up. Type III PFDs are used for water sports such as water-skiing. Some Type III PFDs are designed to inflate when you enter the water.

Type IV: Throwable devices/not wearable - These cushions and ring buoys are designed to be thrown to someone in trouble. Since a Type IV PFD is not designed to be worn, it is neither for rough waters nor for persons who are unable to hold onto it.

Type V: Special-use devices - These vests, deck suits, hybrid PFDs, and others are designed for specific activities such as windsurfing, kayaking, or water-skiing. Some Type V PFDs are designed to inflate when you enter the water. To be acceptable, Type V life jackets must be worn and used in accordance with their label.

Safe Kids USA resources

  • Boating safety brochure - PDF
  • Choosing the right life jacket brochure - PDF
  • Kids don’t float coloring book - PDF

Other resources