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Are You Paddle Boarding Legally Under USCG Regulations?

Paddle Boarding & Life Jackets

When I first started paddle boarding I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t think much about using a life jacket. I grew up in a small town where nobody was patrolling the local reservoirs and I didn’t even know life jackets were required. I went on a trip to a large lake and that’s where I found out about USCG regulations for the first time.

I was paddling around when the lake’s police informed me that I was required to at least have a life jacket on the paddle board with me at all times. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about doing that before and I now wear an inflatable belt life jacket at all times.

Life jackets are important and it’s especially nice to have a life jacket when paddle boarding on large lakes you’ve never been to before. You never know what could happen.

What are the rules?

Unless you are paddle boarding in a designated swimming or surfing area your paddle board is considered a personal watercraft (PWC) and certain regulations put in place by the United States Coast Guard must be followed.

Paddleboarders 13 Years And Over:

Any paddle boarder 13 years and older must have a type I, II, or III life jacket (PFD) on the board with them while paddle boarding. You don’t have to wear it but it must be with you.

If you use an inflatable life jacket, like me, you are required to wear it at all times.

Paddleboarders 12 Years or Younger:

It’s no surprise that children are required to wear life jackets at all times when paddle boarding.

Other Requirements:

You are also required to have a whistle with you at all times in case you need to warn other boaters of your presence or you need help in an emergency.

If you are paddle boarding at night you need a flashlight or light beacon to show other boaters where you are.

Those are the USCG rules on life jackets but there can be more rules depending on where you are. Certain areas have their own rules and you may be required to wear your life jacket at all times. Make sure you know the rules and follow them.

There are differet levels of life jackets according to the USCG.

What are type: I, II, III, & V life jackets?

Not all life jackets are made to be equal. Some are there to assist you and others will keep your head above water even if you are unconscious. Paddleboarding is a sport that is not likely to knock you out (unless you are paddle boarding down a rough river). That’s why you are allowed to wear type I, II, III, and certain type V life jackets when paddle boarding.

So what do the different life jacket types mean according to the United States Coast Guard and what do they do?

Type I: Type I life jackets are the most buoyant and must have the ability to turn an unconscious person from a face-down position to a vertical and slightly backward position. Basically, almost your entire head will be out of the water so you can breathe even if you got knocked out.

Type I is the most extreme kind of life jacket for paddle boarding and a good option if you don’t know how to swim.

Type II: Type II life jackets will also turn you from a face-down position to a face-up position if you are unconscious. The only difference between type II and type I life jackets is they aren’t quite as buoyant and your face may be the only thing above water.

Type II life jackets are a good option if you are a low-level swimmer who needs a little help swimming for a long time. These are also a good option if you will be far from shore and may not be rescued right away. You want to have at least a type II life jacket on board with you if you paddle board alone on the ocean or far away from shore in a remote location.

Type III: A type III life jacket will not turn you from a face down to a face-up position if you are unconscious. They are an aid to help a conscious swimmer stay afloat until help arrives. If you are a good swimmer and you know you can either swim to shore or receive help relativity fast this is a good option for you.

Type III life jackets are the most common type and the easiest to find in a store or online.

Type V: A type V life jacket is mostly meant for special activities like boardsailing or white water rafting. You can use one for paddle boarding if the type V lifejacket says it is appropriate for paddle boarding on the label.

Children 12 years and younger are required to wear life jackets at all times.

Conclusion

When you buy a life jacket for paddle boarding the tag on it will usually say what the life jacket is intended for and what type it is. Paddleboards are considered to be personal watercraft (PWC) and life jackets labeled for water skiing and PWC will be appropriate for paddle boarding.

As I said before make sure you read the rules of the area you are planning on paddle boarding in. Certain state parks, national parks, and local parks have more rules. Most of the time the only difference between United States Coast Guard Regulations and local laws is if you have to wear a life jacket or just have it on the board with you.

See Also: Best Life Jackets (PFD) For Dogs

Normally my inflatable life jacket is approved everywhere I go but I also have a standard type III life jacket with my paddle board just in case. It’s never fun to head out to the lake only to find you aren’t allowed to paddle there because you forgot your life jacket.

If this ever happens to you a lot of state parks have loaner life jackets you can borrow or rent because forgetting a life jacket happens and normally parks are prepared.

For more information about USCG rules about life jackets (PFDs) check out this article here.

Have any more questions about life jackets (PFDs)? Leave a comment below.

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