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Boating safety: Life jackets

A couple wearing life jackets enjoying the sunshine and waves on their boating adventure

Boating safety includes wearing life jackets. Life jackets are Important BEFORE they're needed. It would make sense to say that life jackets can save lives, but who is responsible for making sure adult passengers on small vessels are protected in case of an accident that sends them overboard?

It could be argued that you can't make your adult passengers wear life jackets, you just need to make PFDs available. However, who would be held responsible if something were to happen that caused the boat to capsize or someone to fall into the water? Who would be held liable?

In 1996, capsizing incidents and related deaths caused the Coast Guard to consider these questions.

As a result, they included amendments to the Small Passenger Vessel regulations that addressed wearing life jackets.

These boating safety amendments make it the responsibility of the master (captain) of the boat to require passengers to put on life jackets in the event of possible hazardous conditions, including but not limited to:

  1. When transiting hazardous bars or inlets;
  2. During severe weather;
  3. In the case of flooding, fire or other event that may possibly call for evacuation; and
  4. When the vessel is being towed, except a non-self propelled vessel under normal operating conditions.

If there is any doubt about whether a situation is hazardous, it's always better to be safe than sorry and donning a life jacket is the best idea.

Asking your passengers to put life jackets on might cause them to become apprehensive or nervous about the situation, but you can let them know that it is just a precautionary measure.

Wearing a life jacket is just an added boat safety, because after all, the best time to put on a life jacket is BEFORE it is needed – before anyone is in the water.

For more information, visit the U.S. Coast Guard Web site at

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