When kayaking or using paddleboards, not everyone understands the requirement for wearing a life vest. It can get confusing as all the states vary in their rules and regulations.
In addition to this, some rules say life jackets should be on board, but there is no stipulation of needing to wear them. So it can leave you wondering, do I have to wear a life jacket while kayaking?
We will add more about what you need to know about life jackets on your chosen personal watercraft in our guide. By the end, you’ll see when and where you are required to wear a U.S coast guard approved life jacket.
By the end, you should know better, do you have to wear a life jacket in a kayak for your kayaking sessions and stop you drowning. (Learn How to Store a Kayak)
Do I Need to Wear a Life Jacket in a Kayak?
As it stands, kayaking laws are changing for boaters, kayakers, and anyone using a vessel on the water.
Do you need a life jacket to kayak is a question often asked. Most states require at least one U.S. Coast Guard Approved life jacket Type I, II, or III life jackets (PFD) per person onboard the vessel, which would be the kayak in question.
The life jackets must be in good working order, be appropriately sized for the person intended to wear them, and be readily available. In addition, under the state’s minimum PFD age law, youngsters must wear life jackets.
Each state has a different minimum age for wearing a lifejacket, while some have specific rules about when adults must physically wear a lifejacket.
Ensure you read your state’s individual life jacket laws for more information on specific rules and restrictions.
The state life jacket laws for all 50 states are the first signs of changing with many kayak rules and regulations. The law states there must be at least one U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type I, II, or III life jackets per person onboard the vessel.
As you can see here, so long as you are old enough, it doesn’t physically state you must wear one? It does, however, make sense to wear a USCG-approved wearable life jackets.
Currently, each state uses different kayaking rules and regulations compared to each other. Most states consider kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards to be vessels, and as such, they are subject to boating laws. (Read Is Kayaking Good Exercise)
The following are only summaries of each state’s life jacket laws.
|Life Jacket law||Minimum Age||Vessel Length|
|Alabama||1 per person||8||All lengths|
|Alaska||1 per person/ readily available||13||All lengths|
|Arizona||1 per person/ readily available||12||All lengths|
|Arkansas||1 per person/ readily available||12||All lengths|
|California||1 per person/ readily available||12||All lengths|
|Colorado||Vessel under 16 feet. 1 per person/ readily available||13||All lengths for children|
|Connecticut||1 per person/ readily available. Manually propelled must be worn October thru May||12||All lengths for children|
|Delaware||1 per person and children under 12 must wear||12||All vessel lengths|
|Florida||wearable PFD for each person||6||Vessels less than 26 feet|
|Georgia||wearable USCG Type I, II, III, or V PFD for each person & accessible||12||All lengths|
|Hawaii||All vessels to have USCG-approved for each person||12||All lengths|
|Idaho||1 life jacket on board per person||14||Vessels 19 feet and less|
|Illinois||Type I, II, III personal flotation device on board per person||13||Vessels less than 26 feet|
|Indiana||Type I, II, III, or V USCG approved PFD on board per person||13||All vessel lengths|
|Iowa||Type I, II, III, or V life jacket on board per person in all kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards||13||All vessel lengths|
|Kansas||Type I, II, III, or V life jacket on board per person||12||All length vessels|
|Kentucky||Type I, II, or III PFD on board per person||12||All length vessels|
|Louisiana||Each person on board must wear a USCG–approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD while underway on a motorboat less than 16 feet||16||Vessels less than 26 feet|
|Maine||Type I, II, III, or V USCG-approved PFD on board per person||10||All vessel lengths|
|Maryland||Type I, II, III or V USCG-approved PFD on board per person||13 Children under 4 must wear a PFD that has additional safety features||Vessels under 21 feet|
|Massachusetts||Type I, II, III USCG-approved PFD on board per person||12||All vessel lengths|
|Michigan||Type I, II, or III USCG-approved PDF on board per person. On kayaks and canoes can have a Type IV throwable on board||6||All vessel lengths|
|Minnesota||All vessels must have one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device of Type I, II or III for each person||10||All vessel lengths|
|Mississippi||must have one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device of Type I, II or III for each person||12||Vessels less than 26 feet|
|Missouri||All vessels must have at least one wearable life vest for each person||7||All vessels|
|Montana||two or more persons are on a sailboard, each person must wear a PFD||12||Vessels less than 26 feet|
|Nebraska||All vessels must have one life jacket for each person||13||All vessel lengths|
|Nevada||All vessels must have one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device for each person||13||All vessel lengths|
|New Hampshire||All vessels, including kayaks and canoes, must have a PFD for each person||12||All vessel lengths|
|New Jersey||All vessels must have one Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device for each person||12||All vessel lengths|
|New Mexico||Anyone on a kayak or canoe must wear a personal flotation device the entire time||13||All vessel lengths|
|New York||All vessels must have one Coast Guard approved wearable life jacket for each person||12||Onboard any vessel 65′ and under|
|North Carolina||All vessels must have one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device for each person||13||All vessel lengths|
|North Dakota||For all non-motorized vessels, there must be a Coast Guard approved||10||All vessels less than 27 feet|
|Ohio||All vessels must have one United States Coast Guard approved wearable personal flotation device for each person on board.||10||All vessels less than 18 feet|
|Oklahoma||All vessels must have one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device for each person on board.||13||All vessels less than 26 feet|
|Oregon||All vessels must be equipped with a PFD for each person||12||All vessel lengths|
|Pennsylvania||All kayakers through the dates of November 1 and April 30 must wear a life jacket. A life jacket must be on board at all times of year.||12||Vessels 20′ or less including kayaks and canoes|
|Rhode Island||All vessels must have one Coast Guard approved wearable life jacket for each person||13||Vessels less than 65′|
|South Carolina||All vessels must be equipped with a wearable, USCG approved life jacket for each person||12||Vessels less than 16 feet|
|South Dakota||All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person||7||All vessels|
|Tennessee||All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person||12||All vessels|
|Texas||All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person||13||Vessels less than 26 feet|
|Utah||All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person||13||Vessels less than 26 feet|
|Vermont||12||Vessels less than 26 feet|
|Virginia||All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person on board||13||All vessels|
|Washington||12||Vessels under 19 feet|
|West Virginia||12||All vessels|
What type of life jacket do I need for kayaking?
Your on-the-water safety tool is your life jacket. Find one that is made to fit and is comfortable enough to wear every time you kayak.
A U.S Coast Guard Approved life jacket is called a Personal Flotation Device (PFD). Type III and Type V approved life jackets are the most commonly selected by kayakers. Kayaking jackets are type IIIs. Type V’s will have rescue jackets and pullover jackets.
Kayaking is physically demanding. Find a jacket with multiple adjustment straps. Keeping pouches close at hand as well as hand warmers are recommended. High seatback: Choose a jacket with either a mesh or thin-foam back.
Type I PFDs are the most suitable option for open, rough, or remote waters. Type II PFD vests are more comfortable but less bulky. Not ideal for prolonged use in rough water; unconscious people cannot be made face-up in the water. (Find the Best Kayak for Dogs)
Calm inland waters will provide the best option for fast rescue. A Type III PFD must tilt the wearer’s head back to avoid facing down in water; the wearer of a Type III PFD must also tilt their head back and avoid going face-down in challenging water.
What Safety Equipment is Required for a Kayak?
PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices) are must-have paddling safety equipment and must be in a serviceable condition. If you capsize, they offer buoyancy to put your head above water. PFDs provide an additional layer of insulation in chilly conditions.
Every boater must wear a certified PFD, according to the US Coast Guard. While paddling, make sure you’re wearing yours at all times. They can be tough to put on after a capsize, especially if the weather is terrible and you’re already attempting to hold on to your vessel and paddle. You also need to check they fit properly as intended.
Flotation bags reduce the quantity of water that accumulates in canoes and kayaks, making them less likely to sink if they capsize. Whitewater kayaks are more likely to employ the bags; sea kayaks typically feature built-in bulkheads to trap air at both the bow and stern.
Helmets are a must-have piece of safety equipment for whitewater and surf kayakers who may be tossed from their boats in shallow water or rocky regions. They should be well-fitting and secure under the chin. Some styles, which are typically employed for whitewater tricks, provide an added layer of protection in the form of a face mask. (Learn How Many Calories Does Kayaking Burn)
Do you need a life vest to kayak in Florida?
Kayaking is one of the most popular water sports for paddlers in Florida. A Type I, II, or III PFD is required as Florida law requires each person on board and must be readily accessible PFD on kayaks and canoes. Every person onboard a vessel shorter than 26 feet must have a wearable USCG-approved personal flotation device.
Life jackets must provide more buoyancy lift, allowing a person to float more easily. While on the water, children under the age of six must wear a PFD; all PFDs must be in excellent working order and be of Type II, III, or III types.