Washington Life Jacket Laws

Washington Life Jacket Laws
Washington State has plenty of opportunities for boating and water activities both commercial and personal. Getting out on the water means fun but also means safety precautions need to be taken. This is important and there are state laws that dictate the proper use of Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) to prove it.

Required Boating Equipment

In the State of Washington it is required by law that the proper equipment be onboard a vessel. Whether the vessel is a ferry, yacht, sailboat, motorboat or canoe, there must be at least one PFD for each person along for the ride. These PFDs must be a type I, II or III approved by the United States Coast Guard (USCG). If the vessel is shorter than 19 feet in length, then all children 12 years or younger must be wearing a PFD at all times that the vessel is under way. Ocean, bay, lake, pond or river, the body of water makes no difference, the law is the same. If a vessel is 16 feet or longer (except for man-powered craft like kayaks and canoes), then there must be at least one type IV PFD (one that can be thrown) onboard in case someone falls overboard.

Washington State PFD Standards

Regardless of the vessel, the PFD used on all of them must be one that is approved by the USCG , which is identified by a USCG-approved number imprinted on each one. As listed by Washington State Parks and Recreation, all PFDs must also be in good condition, easily accessible onboard a vessel so that people can put them on quickly if need be, and should properly fit each person wearing them. This is based on weight and chest size. If a life jacket comes up by the wearer's ears when someone gives it a test tug, it may be too big.

Personal Watercraft Laws

Any people on a personal watercraft (PWC) or inboard vessels are still required by law to wear a type I, II or III USCG-approved life jacket at all times as well as anyone being towed behind it such as a skier. It is not required that personal watercraft have a type IV flotation device onboard though it is recommended if the vessel is not man-powered and is more than 16 feet in length. According to Washington State Parks, "Half of all recreational boating deaths in Washington result from capsizing or falls overboard from boats under 16 feet long" and most of those could have been saved had they been wearing a PFD. People in any type of human powered vessel must also wear a PFD at all times.

Article Written By Naomi Judd

Naomi M. Judd is a naturalist, artist and writer. Her work has been published in various literary journals, newspapers and websites. Judd holds a self-designed Bachelor of Arts in adventure writing from Plymouth State University and is earning a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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