Is It Illegal To Kayak Without A Life Jacket? Why Do You Need To Wear A Life Jacket

Fact Checked By James A Rockey | Post Updated On: November 29, 2022
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No, it is not illegal to kayak without a life jacket, but most states will require anyone onboard a water vessel to have a U.S coast guard approved Life jacket. The life jacket should be appropriately sized and in good serviceable condition.

Key Takeaways

  • One very common reason people don’t want to wear a life jacket is that it doesn’t look cool
  • A lifejacket or personal floatation device helps the paddler stay safe on the water in case of a capsize
  • In some states, wearing a PFD is mandatory and if you don’t wear it then you have to pay a fine; for example, in Missouri, the fine is up to $1000, and a year in jail
  • According to the United States coast guard, only 15% of drowning victims had a life jacket at the time of the accident

Do You Have To Wear A Life Jacket When Kayaking?

Do You Have To Wear A Life Jacket When Kayaking

A lifejacket or personal floatation device helps the paddler stay safe on the water in case of a capsize. You can go kayaking without a life jacket in most water bodies, but it is not recommended. In some states, wearing a(personal floatation device)PFD is mandatory, and failure to have one may result in a hefty fine.

It would help if you were conversant with the state’s rules you are kayaking in and know the penalties for life jacket laws. In Missouri, anyone found paddling without a life jacket is liable for a fine of up to $1000 and a year in jail. In some states, you don’t have to be wearing a life jacket, but you must have enough jackets within reach for anyone on board a watercraft.

Most states also require minors and children to wear a PFD at all times. So, depending on your age and the state you are in, kayaking without a life jacket could be illegal.

Life Jacket Laws In Different States Of The U.S.A

Below is a table showing life jacket laws in some states. You can find more information from the state’s website before you head out to kayak. These laws will guide you on the age limits and PFD requirements, and you can also check on the fines for violating the law in different states.

State Kayak life jacket law Minimum age requirementPossible fine
AlabamaOne life jacket per person on boardEight years and belowMinimum $100 fine plus court costs
California Readily accessible life jacket for each person on board12 years and below N/A
New York One coast guard approved life jacket for each person on board12 years and below$250
Illinois One type I, II III PFD per person on board Under 13 years Minimum $100
FloridaWearable PFD for each personSix years and below$500-$1000
Georgia Readily Accessible PFD in good condition for each person12 years and below$300

Five Reasons Why You Need To Have A Life Jacket When Kayaking

Reasons Why Need To Have A Life Jacket When Kayaking

Besides avoiding fines, there are many reasons why every kayaker needs to wear a life jacket while on the water. This section takes you through some tangible reasons why you should wear a personal floatation device on your next kayaking adventure.

1. Life jackets save lives

When you wear your PFD, you are more likely to survive in case of an accident than someone who’s not wearing one. A life jacket helps you stay afloat until help arrives if the kayak capsizes.  Sometimes, accidents happen, and even the most experienced swimmers cannot rescue themselves. According to the United States coast guard, only 15% of drowning victims had a life jacket at the time of the accident. This means that some people would still be alive if they had a life jacket on their adventure.

2. They Make Rescue Much More Effortless

Wearing a PFD ensures you stay afloat as the rescuers come to you. Rescuers will also have an easier time rescuing you if they can grab the shoulder straps of your life jacket. Sometimes your kayak will tip over, and getting back might be a hustle if you don’t have a PFD. When you have a life jacket, you won’t struggle to cling to your kayak in case of a capsize. Wearing one at all times is recommended since it reduces the chances of panicking, and you can figure out a way while still afloat.

3. They Are Functional And Make Your Adventure Much More Enjoyable

 These days, life jackets are designed with additional features that make your adventure better. You will find some with waterproof pockets where you can keep your phone or keys. Some are meant for fishing and have compartments for your baits and hooks. At the same time, others have a place for your beverages and utility knives. All these features combined make your adventure more comfortable and worthwhile.

4. They Make You Visible To Other Paddlers

Your visibility on the water is essential for your safety, and the bright colors on a life jacket guarantee that. Sometimes, you will need to kayak in waterways with motorized vessels, and you must be visible to avoid accidents. Visibility is also essential when you are on a rescue mission. It is easier to identify an oncoming vessel when the occupants have life jackets worn. Visibility is also necessary when kayaking in the ocean since the waves can sometimes overshadow you. We recommend getting a brightly colored PFD and wearing it every time you are out on the water.

5. Wearing A PFD Impacts Others To Wear Theirs Too

Imagine kayaking on a lake where everyone else has a life jacket except yourself. How awkward would that feel? Wearing a life jacket shows that you care about your life and safety on the water. It also motivates other kayakers to look out for their safety and wear theirs. This might not encourage some people to wear their life jackets, but it is still valid. Wearing the right gear for any activity shows that you know what you are doing and care about safety. So next time you are teaching your kids how to kayak, consider wearing that life jacket.

Step By Step Instructions On How To Wear A Life Jacket Correctly 

Most life jackets come with instructions on how to wear them correctly, depending on their design. However, there’s a general style for wearing a life jacket when going for light activities on the water. Below are the easy steps you should follow to guarantee your safety on the water.

1. Put the jacket over your head through the hole and grip the extra collar

2. Fasten the collar and close the vest using the provided fasteners

3. Fasten the click belt across the sides

4. Tighten the belt to ensure a snug fit.

Final Thoughts

Life jackets and personal floatation devices come in handy to save lives in case of an emergency. It is illegal for persons under a certain age to kayak without a life jacket in some states. In most states, there won’t be anyone enforcing this law, but paddlers need to wear a life jacket at all times. We hope that this guide has helped you understand the importance of wearing a life jacket, and you will wear one even when the laws are not strict on that. We wish you safe and enjoyable kayaking adventures.



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