Spinnaker Sailing, Redwood City - An ASA Certified Sailing School

Should You Wear A PFD?

By: Equipment, Safety

The question that is asked most often when going on a daysail has to be: Should I wear a lifejacket?

The answer is YES, you should wear a life jacket or Personal Flotation Device (PFD)  while sailing. 

Is the answer clear?

The data suggest that drowning is the leading cause of death aboard vessels.  An overwhelming majority of these victims were not wearing life jackets. Capsizing and falling overboard are leading causes for boaters unexpectedly entering the water. Increasing the proper use of lifejackets can lessen the chances of drowning.

PFD -Personal Flotation Device

It is a simple statement but life jackets save lives. All vessels underway must carry USCG-approved life jacket for every person aboard. These jackets must be readily available for use and the correct size for the individual user.

In the official language of the USCG, a wearable device that will keep you afloat should you fall in the water is a “personal flotation device” or “PFD.” PFDs are officially classed as Types I, II, III, IV, and V, according to their design, construction, and intended use. The specific type required aboard depends on the type of vessel, its use, and the waters in which it sails. Aboard our small vessel, each person’s life jacket must be Type I, II, or III. Any boat over 16 feet must also carry one Type IV throwable device.


  • Type I Offshore Life Jacket – Most Buoyant, WILL roll unconscious person face-up, used in rough water and required on commercial vessels.
  • Type II Near-Shore Buoyancy Vest – Foam vest MAY turn an unconscious person face-up.
  • Type III Flotation Aid (Inland Use) – Intended for light use, presumes a conscious person. More comfortable than Type I. Examples: waterski vests, fishing vests, belt-pouch inflatables.
  • Type V Special-Use Device – Hybrid devices such as hypothermia suits, work vests, commercial deck suits, and inflatable life vests.
Spinnaker Sailing Students

PFD Requirements:

No person may use a recreational vessel unless :

  • At least one wearable PFD is on board for each person;
  • Each PFD is used in accordance with any requirements on the approval label;  and  
  • Each PFD is used in accordance with any requirements in its owner’s manual,  if the approval label makes reference to such a manual.  

No person may use a recreational vessel 16 feet or more in length unless one throwable  PFD is onboard in addition to the total number of wearable PFDs required per person.

No person may operate a recreational vessel under way with any child under 13 years old  aboard unless each such child is either – 

  • Wearing an appropriate PFD approved by the Coast Guard; or  
  • Below decks or in an enclosed cabin.  

All boat occupants must know where the PFDs/life jackets and throwable devices are located,  how to readily access them, and how to put them on for proper performance. Wearable PFDs must be readily accessible (can be reached within a reasonable time).  Throwable PFDs must be immediately available (instant access).