Kayak Life Jacket Laws By State (50 State PFD List)

Kayak Life Jacket Laws by State

While researching and reviewing the kayak life jacket laws for all 50 United States, I wondered if there wasn’t a better way to summarize all that legal jargon down to it’s original purpose—save your life on the water. Because the state life jacket laws are just the tip of the iceberg of kayak rules, and regulations that are coming to all 50 United States.

And because the laws are a bit confusing as they’re written, the question people keep asking over and over again is:

Do you have to wear a lifejacket in a kayak? In most states the laws read that there must be at least one U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type I,II, or III lifejacket (PFD) per person onboard the vessel (your kayak). That lifejacket must be in good serviceable condition, be sized appropriately for the person intended to wear it, and is must be readily available. In addition, lifejackets must be worn by children according to that state’s minimum PFD age law.

Each state has a slight variation on the minimum age that must wear a lifejacket, and a few states have specific rules about when adults must also physically wear a lifejacket. So please read your state’s individual life jacket laws for specific detailed rules and regulations.

But let’s pause for a moment… Because though you may not have to wear your life jacket by law, you might just want to wear it. Don’t believe me? Ask these fishermen on the Columbia river.

You’ll notice that the two men aren’t wearing life jackets before they were run over by a 36′ boat, but they certainly are afterward. The trouble is, by then, most of the time it’s too late.

Kayak Life Jacket Laws Summary

In general, all life jackets, and this pertains to most states, must:

  • Be U.S. Coast Guard approved
  • Be in good serviceable condition
  • Be the proper size by weight for the intended wearer
  • Fit properly when worn
  • Be worn by children according to that state’s minimum PFD age law
  • And most of all be readily available

PFDs “While Being Towed”

An interesting use case that I kept coming across over and over again, was the “PFD must be worn while being towed” verbiage that many states had. You’d think, as I did, that means on an inner-tube or waterskiing or wake boarding.

But let’s say your paddle breaks and a friend throws you a rope from their boat and “tows” you back to the dock. You’re being “towed” and now you need to take that life vest off the bow of your kayak, canoe or SUP and put it on “while being towed”.

Kayaks and Canoes Are “Vessels”

You might groan over kayak life jacket laws, I did at first, but the boating injury statistics are clear—paddle sports related deaths and injuries are on the rise just as law enforcement was reducing recreational motorboat injuries.

Partially this is due to the explosion in recreational kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding participation. However, it’s also due to the fact that we tend to think of our kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards as “toys” instead of what they are and what law enforcement considers them—”vessels” on the public waterways.

And as our “vessels” are smaller, harder to see, and less able to avoid collision by steering clear of trouble, we actually need to be more aware of safety than power boaters.

10 Kayak “Laws” to “Live” By

After sifting through state life vest laws, boating statutes, codes, injury and death statistics and online boater education information, I came up with ten simple rules you can follow in order to keep you kayaking safely and legally.

  1. Wear a USCG-approved PFD (Personal Floatation Device).
  2. “Non-powered” and “non-motorized” do not mean non-lethal.
  3. Don’t drink alcohol and kayak, canoe or SUP … period.
  4. Complete a Boater’s Education Course for your state.
  5. Teach your kids to paddle a kayak and drive a power boat.
  6. The tiniest thing, like a whistle, might just save your life.
  7. At night … you need a light.
  8. It’s called a Visual DISTRESS Signaling device for a reason.
  9. If you put a motor on it, you gotta register it.
  10. And finally, have fun but don’t be a fatality.

But by no means are those the “legal” requirements for you to kayak, canoe or SUP in your state. So, we decided that instead of a project that started out as a way to help you find the kayaking life jacket laws by state, we’d create a monstrous resource to help you interpret all the state boating laws as they’re being applied to kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding.

The information on life jacket laws below is a great place to start for any new paddler. However, by following the links below to each state’s individual kayaking laws article, you’ll get a practical summary of information about how your state applies its boating laws to paddlers.

DISCLAIMER: The information collected and provided in this article and on this website has been researched and written to the best of our knowledge about current boating laws, rules, and regulations as they pertain to the paddling sports. We are not legal professionals nor are we experts on boat laws. The information provided below does not reflect current legislation and is provided for informational purposes only. Please confirm all laws with local government offices and/or law enforcement officials to verify the information found below. For more information, see our Disclaimer page.

State Kayak, Canoe and Paddle Boarding Laws

In general, most states still don’t have specific kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding laws. Instead, they tend to cover their paddlecraft laws, rules and regulations within their state’s individual boating laws.

They’re Deadly Serious About BUI Too

All 50 states are getting more and more serious about regulating and policing paddling with new and targeted kayaking laws. When you read through the laws for your state and realize you can get the equivalent of a DUI, (BUI) Boating Under the Influence, for having a drink and getting on your paddle board…

Let’s just say that the writing’s on the wall for state’s to create more kayaking rules, regulations, and specific laws that pertain directly to paddling.

Kayak Life Jacket Laws By State

NOTE: In states with no life jacket law for children, the U.S. Coast Guard regulations state that children under 13, while on boats that are underway, must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket, sized and fitted appropriately.

State by State Links

In general, all the information on kayaking laws below pertains to kayaks, canoes and stand up paddle boards. Most states now consider them all to be “vessels” and subject to boating laws.

The included state links point to some seriously arduous and painstaking research we did into how boating laws are interpreted and applied to kayaking and the other paddling sports. Each state has slightly different kayaking rules and regulations than the others, but they all point to one main goal—safety, safety, safety!

Another DISCLAIMER: The following are only summaries of each state’s life jacket laws. We strongly suggest you follow the link to your individual state to read more specifics regarding your state’s kayaking laws.

As always, these resources are informational only and not meant to replace your own investigation into state laws, statutes, rules and regulations. Consequently, on those individual pages, we’ve linked to each states legal authority over boating and boating laws for that state.

Alabama Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law: One life jacket per person on board
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Anyone under 8
  • Approved life jackets: USCG Type I, II, or III
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: At all times while onboard any vessel
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Alabama Kayaking Laws – AL

Alaska Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law: One life jacket per person on board, readily available.
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Anyone under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG Type I, II, III, or V in some situations
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: In an open vessel, on deck, or while waterskiing
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Alaska Kayaking Laws – AK

Arizona Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law: One life jacket per person on board, readily available.
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG Type I, II, III, or V in some situations
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway on any vessel
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Arizona Kayaking Laws – AZ

Arkansas Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law: One life jacket per person on board, readily available.
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: At all times
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Arkansas Kayaking Laws – AR

California Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law: One life jacket per person on board, readily available.
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II, III or V
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: On any recreational vessel underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

California Kayaking Laws – CA

Colorado Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law: A vessel less than 16 feet must have one wearable PFD, readily available, onboard for each person
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: All children under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II, or III PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: Children onboard any recreational vessel underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels for children

Colorado Kayaking Laws – CO

Connecticut Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law: one PFD for each person on board. With a rule unique to Connecticut, that anyone in a manually propelled vessel must actually wear their PFD from October 1 through May 31.
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Children 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: Onboard any recreational vessel underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels for children

Connecticut Kayaking Laws – CT

Delaware Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law: One PFD on board per person and children 12 and under must wear a life jacket.
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II, III or V
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: Onboard any recreational vessel underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Delaware Kayaking Laws – DE

Florida Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law: A wearable PFD for each person
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Children under 6
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved I, II, or III
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: On recreational vessel underway
  • Vessel length requirement: Vessels less than 26 feet

Florida Kayaking Laws – FL

Georgia Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law: A wearable USCG Type I, II, III, or V PFD for each person – in good condition and readily accessible.
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Children 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: Onboard a moving vessel
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Georgia Kayak Laws – GA

Hawaii Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Children 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: When a vessel is underway or moored or anchored outside a designated mooring area
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Hawaii Kayaking Laws – HI

Idaho Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 14 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: Vessels 19′ and less

Idaho Kayaking Laws – ID

Illinois Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While vessel is underway
  • Vessel length requirement: Vessels less than 26′

Illinois Kayaking Laws – IL

Indiana Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While vessel is underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Indiana Kayak Laws – IN

Iowa Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: All recreational vessels while underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Iowa Kayak Laws – IA

Kansas Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II, or III PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: Onboard or while being towed. And by children under 14 in U.S. Coast Guard jurisdiction waters.
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Kansas Kayaking Laws – KS

Kentucky Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 12
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: At all times while underway and on deck
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Kentucky Kayaking Laws – KY

Louisiana Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 16 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II, III
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: Vessels less than 26′

Louisiana Kayaking Laws – LA

Maine Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 10 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II, III
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: At all times
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Maine Kayaking Laws – ME

Maryland Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under the age of 13. Children under 4 must wear a PFD that features additional safety precautions (see ” Maryland Kayaking Laws – MD” link below).
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: On a recreational vessel while underway
  • Vessel length requirement: Vessels under 21′

Maryland Kayaking Laws – MD

Massachusetts Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 12
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Massachusetts Kayaking Laws – MA

Michigan Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 6
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I or II
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While riding on the open deck of a vessel
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Michigan Kayaking Laws – MI

Minnesota Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 10
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: Onboard while underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Minnesota Kayaking Laws – MN

Mississippi Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II, or III
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While in the open portion of a vessel
  • Vessel length requirement: Vessels less than 26′

Mississippi Kayaking Laws – MS

Missouri Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 7
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: At all times on any watercraft
  • Vessel length requirement: All vessels

Missouri Kayaking Laws – MO

Montana Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law: If two or more persons are on a sailboard, each person must wear a PFD
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 12: Sailboard operators under 15 must wear a PFD at all times.
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: Vessels less than 26′

Montana Kayaking Laws – MT

Nebraska Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II, or III
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: At all times
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Nebraska Kayaking Laws – NE

Nevada Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While onboard any vessel
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Nevada Kayaking Laws – NV

New Hampshire Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway onboard any vessel
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

New Hampshire Kayaking Laws – NH

New Jersey Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II, III or V
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: Underway onboard any recreational vessel
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

New Jersey Kayaking Laws – NJ

New Mexico Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

New Mexico Kayaking Laws – NM

New York Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 12
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: Onboard any vessel 65′ and under

New York Kayaking Laws – NY

North Carolina Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II or III PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

North Carolina Kayaking Laws – NC

North Dakota Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 10 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II or III PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All vessels less than 27′

North Dakota Kayaking Laws – ND

Ohio Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 10
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While onboard any vessel
  • Vessel length requirement: All vessels less than 18′

Ohio Kayaking Laws

Oklahoma Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All vessels less than 26′

Oklahoma Kayaking Laws – OK

Oregon Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway and on open deck
  • Vessel length requirement: All length vessels

Oregon Kayaking Laws – OR

Pennsylvania Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: Vessels 20′ or less including kayaks and canoes

Pennsylvania Kayaking Laws – PA

Rhode Island Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: Vessels less than 65′

Rhode Island Kayaking Laws – RI

South Carolina Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 12
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II, III or V
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: At all times while onboard
  • Vessel length requirement: Vessels less than 16′

South Carolina Kayaking Laws – SC

South Dakota Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 7
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: On any vessel operating at more than no-wake speeds
  • Vessel length requirement: All vessels

South Dakota Kayaking Laws – SD

Tennessee Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life vest law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I,II, III or V PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway and on deck
  • Vessel length requirement: All vessels

Tennessee Kayaking Laws – TN

Texas Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway and on deck
  • Vessel length requirement: Vessels less than 26′

Texas Kayaking Laws – TX

Utah Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: Vessels less than 26′

Utah Kayaking Laws – UT

Vermont Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 12. Anyone under 16 while sailboarding.
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved Type I, II, or III PFD
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway and on deck
  • Vessel length requirement: Vessels less than 26′

Vermont Kayaking Laws – VT

Virginia Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While onboard and underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All vessels

Virginia Kayaking Laws – VA

Washington Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: Vessels under 19′

Washington Kayaking Laws – WA

West Virginia Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: 12 and under
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All vessels

West Virginia Kayaking Laws – WV

Wisconsin Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: U.S.C.G. under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All vessels

Wisconsin Kayaking Laws – WI

Wyoming Life Jacket Laws

  • Kayak life jacket law:
  • Minimum age to wear a life jacket: Under 13
  • Approved life jackets: USCG-approved
  • When a PFD has to be worn by a child: While underway
  • Vessel length requirement: All vessels

Wyoming Kayaking Laws – WY