About the Study Guide

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The U.S. Coast Guard requires you to carry a certain number and type of personal flotation devices (PFDs) on your boat, depending upon the boat and the number of people on board. Find out your state's requirements well in advance of any trip.

  • Equipping Your Boat With PFDs: The Minimum Requirements
    • All boats must have a wearable PFD for each person on board.
    • PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition, be readily available, and must fit the wearer correctly.
    • Boats at least 16 feet long must carry a Type IV throwable device in addition to a wearable PFD for each person.
    • In determining what type of PFDs you need, consider these factors as they relate to you and your passengers:
      • Weight
      • Body fat
      • Chest size
      • Clothing
      • Typical range of water conditions
  • Trying on Your PFD
    • Make sure it fits comfortably snug.
    • Test it in shallow water by relaxing and letting your head tilt back.
      • You should be able to keep your chin comfortably above water and breathe easily.
      • If not, replace with a more buoyant PFD.
  • Inspecting Your PFDs
    • Inspect the PFDs on your boat before each trip to make sure each device is in good and serviceable condition. Replace any that are not.
      • There are no rips or tears.
      • Straps, buckles, and zippers work properly.
      • Inflatable PFDs have no leaks.
      • Inflation cylinders on inflatable PFDs are the proper type and are fully charged.
  • Caring for Your PFD
    • Don't alter your PFD.
    • Don't place heavy objects on top of the PFD or use it as a kneeling pad or boat fender.
    • Let the PFD drip dry before stowing it in a well-ventilated place.
    • Don't leave the PFD on board for long periods when the boat is not in use.
    • Don't dry your PFD on any direct heat source.
    • Label the PFD with your name if you are the only wearer.
    • Practice throwing your Type IV device. Cushions throw best underhand.
  • Using a PFD in Real-World Conditions
    • A PFD that you've tested in calm summer waters will not behave the same way on a stormy day when you're outfitted in hunting gear. Factors that can affect your PFD's performance include:
      • Weather and water conditions
      • Your clothing
      • Items in your pockets