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What Are The Paddle Board Life Jacket Requirements?

Posted on July 5, 2019 by Roxy Ng

What You Need To Know About SUP Life Jacket Requirements

Stand-up paddle boarding is the fastest growing water sport in the country. But did you know that -- much the same way as kayaks and larger boats in the water -- stand-up paddle boards are now classified as “vessels” by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) ? With mass adopt comes a number of paddle board life jacket requirements that are important for you to know if you want to be legal and safe on the water this year.

Do I Need A Life Jacket?

Before you dig too deep into the current life jacket regulations, it’s important to note that the USCG does not require you to wear a life jacket on SUPs operating in surfing, swimming, or bathing areas. But if your next paddle boarding adventure is going to take you outside one of the above areas, you are going to need to understand and follow the USCG’s regulations for life jackets or personal flotation devices (PFDs). Some basic requirements and penalties for violating PFD regulations vary by state, so check out the USCG’s state boating laws to make sure you are in compliance where you plan to paddle board.

paddle board life jacket requirements

Finding The Right Life Jacket

Regardless of the type of life jacket or PFD you decide to wear on the water, it’s important to find a jacket, vest, or inflatable belt that fits properly and offers a range of motion that will allow you to enjoy your time on the water comfortably and safely. It’s always a good idea to try a few styles of jackets while going through some paddling motions to ensure you end up with a personal floatation device you won’t mind wearing for hours at a time. As with any outdoor activity, stand-up paddle board safety is crucial to enjoying your time on the water.

paddle board life jacket requirements

Everything You Need To Know About PFD Regulations

The Life Jacket or PFD

  • The USCG regulations state that each paddler over the age of 12 must have a “USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or appropriate Type V” life jacket. While riders over the age of 12 are not required to wear a life jacket on the water, wearing your PFD certainly the smart approach to staying safe on your paddle board.
  • Paddlers who are 12 years of age and under must wear their USCG-approved life jacket at all times when they’re operating or riding a stand-up paddle board. You will want to purchase a children’s life jacket for those 12 and under to ensure optimal comfort and safety.
  • Every life jacket intended for use by a paddle board rider must be in “serviceable condition.” This means you can’t use a jacket with rips, tears, or any other signs of deterioration that may diminish the jacket’s performance and buoyancy.
  • You must wear a life jacket that is the appropriate size and fit.
  • You are allowed to use a Type V jacket, so long as it is USCG-approved and designed for stand-up paddle boarding.
  • Any inflatable belt pouch-style personal flotation devices can only meet the life jacket requirements when they’re being worn.

woman sitting on a SUP with a PFD

The 5 PFD Classifications

The USCG allows paddlers over the age of 12 to wear one of four types or styles of life jackets or PFDs. If you are not familiar with the terms Type I, II, III, and V, then you’ll want to take a couple of minutes to read through our brief guide to make sure your life jacket meets the USCG’s regulations before you head out to one of the best places to paddle board.

Type I -- The Offshore Life Jacket

Offshore life jackets look very similar to what you see in the safety demonstration when you travel on a commercial airline. They are the most buoyant class of PFDs, making them suitable for use in any conditions on the water. They have a minimum buoyancy requirement of 22lbs. While they can be considered a bit cumbersome to wear when compared to other life jackets, they’re designed to turn an unconscious wearer to the face-up position in the water. This design makes the offshore life jacket a true life-saver in an emergency situation.

Type II -- The Near-Shore Buoyancy Vest

Near-shore vests are designed for use in calm water near the shore where the chance of being stranded in the water for long periods of time is minimal or non-existent. They have a minimum buoyancy requirement of 15.5lbs and typically feature a number of plastic side-release buckles to secure the vest on your torso.

Type III -- The Floatation Aid

When you think of the term “life jacket,” you are likely thinking of a Type III PFD. These popular floatation aids are suitable for calm and near-shore water sports where long wait times for rescue would not be expected. They’re designed to keep the wearer upright or vertical in the water, but wearers are expected to place themselves in a face-up position. They have a minimum buoyancy requirement of 15.5lbs and are popular for recreational water sports like wakeboarding, water skiing, jet skiing, and fishing.

Type IV -- Throwable Device

 These throwable inflatable devices are not approved by the USCG for use by paddle boarders. They generally consist of the flotation rings, cushions, or buoys you’d expect to see handing near a public swimming pool or on a cruise ship. They are designed to be thrown to a conscious individual who has fallen in the water unexpectedly. Unlike the other types of PFDs, they have no buoyancy requirements.

Type V -- The Specialty Use Device

Special use life jackets typically have a buoyancy rating between 15.5 to 22lbs for adults. However, automatic inflation models have a buoyancy rating between 22.5 to 34lbs. In order for a Type V jacket to qualify for the USCG’s paddle board life jacket requirements, a specialty use device must be worn at all times. To know if your Type V jacket will qualify for stand-up paddle boarding, you will need to make sure that stand-up paddle boarding is one of the activities described on the label of the jacket, vest, or belt.

woman paddling with a PFD

Standard Life Jacket Sizes For Adults

  • Extra Small: fits 28-32” chest
  • Small: fits 23-36” chest
  • Medium: fits 36-40” chest
  • Large: fits 40-44” chest
  • X-Large: fits 44-48” chest
  • XX-Large: fits 48-52” chest
  • XXX-Large fits 52-56” chest

Standard Life Jacket Sizing For Kids

  • Infant PFD: 8-30lbs
  • Child PFD: 30-50lbs
  • Youth PFD 50-90lbs

Other Required Gear

  • Stand-up paddle boarders operating outside of surfing, bathing, or swimming areas are required to carry a whistle or alternative sound-producing device capable of warning other boaters on the water.

Procedures To Follow

  • All operators of a “vessel” are required to follow the Navigation Rules as stipulated by the USCG.
  • As the operator of a “vessel,” you are responsible for reporting any and all boating accidents and/or injuries to the local reporting authority.

Now that you've got a good feeling for the latest paddle board life jacket requirements, get yourself onto your favorite body of water and have some fun.

Inflatable Belt Pack Life Jacket


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