Paddle Board Life Jacket Requirements by the U.S.C.G

What are the paddle board life jacket requirements that you must know about? Before you get started on any surface or underwater sport, you must know all the requirements.

This is a very common question especially with beginners in paddle boarding. Most people ask this to know whether they are contravening any laws. Some also ask it from the perspective of safety.

So, do you need a life jacket on a paddle board? If you will be paddle boarding with a child below 12 years of age, the law requires them to wear life jackets all the time. When using a solid or inflatable paddle board outside the zone designated for swimming, bathing or surfing, you are legally required to have a life jacket.

The sport of stand up paddle boarding is growing fast. Many people who live along the coastline in Santa Cruz, California or those who live close to big water bodies are taking up this sport fast.

It is a fun sport, especially with the challenge of standing up and paddling on the buoyant board.

What the U.S Coast Guard Says on Paddle Board Life Jacket Requirement

Most people do not know it, but the U.S Coast Guard classifies stand up paddle boards in the category of non-motorized or human powered water vessels.

This is the same way the USCG classifies canoes and kayaks. As a result, you are required to have the same safety gear on your paddle board as you would have on a kayak or canoe.

Following this, it is important to note where you are using your board. Better yet, for maximum SUP safety, it is better to have the life jacket all the time.

If you have a minor on your board (riding along), you need to ensure they are in their life jacket all the time. The same applies even when they are riding on their own SUP board.

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A sound making device/whistle

The USCG requires you to have a sound making device on your person all the time you will be on your board, again, outside the aforementioned safety area.

You are also required to have a sound producing device when you are on the board. If you have a minor alongside, ensure they too have a sound making device on their person.

The sound it makes should be heard for up to 0.5 nautical miles.

Depending on where you are having your SUP adventure, the life jacket rule may differ slightly. For instance, in Florida, say, when paddle boarding in San Diego, you do not have to wear the life jacket unless you are 6 years or younger.

However, you are still required to have the life jacket on board your SUP if you are outside the surfing, bathing or swimming areas.

White light lantern or flashlight for night rides

If you are paddle boarding in lowly lit conditions, you are required to have a flashlight or a lantern that produces white light.

You should not display this light all the time, but you should display it in good time to approaching vehicles to avoid accidents.

It would seem that there are quite a handful of rules for paddle boarding safety. You can always ask the SUP rental shops at the SUP destinations in the USA.

They will let you know the regulations that you should follow in addition to the Coast Guard rules.

Remember, these rules are the same for canoers and kayakers, and indeed all other hand operated vessels.

What type of life jacket is required for paddle boarding?

Now that we have established that it is the law to have a life jacket on your paddle board, a whistle and a lantern/flashlight, we need to know the kind of life jacket you should have.

Again, according to the U.S.C.G, this life jacket must be approved by the Coast Guard. Luckily, these personal flotation devices (PFD) are easy to buy on different online marketplaces.

The Coast Guard says you should wear a Type I, II, III and V life jacket. There are other guidelines for your life jacket.

It should be in good shape, what they call serviceable condition, so that means it is not ripped or punctured anywhere.

To understand what you should use on your paddle board, here are the different types of life jackets common in the market:

Type I life vests – Offshore

This is a lightweight, buoyant life jacket that can be worn in many conditions. The most special thing is that by design, they turn the user face up in the water if you fall off the board.

The buoyancy regulation for this PFD is 22lbs. This is also called an off-shore life jacket.

Type II Close to shore life vest

This one is different from the Type I vest because it is supposed to be worn near the shore, where the danger of staying too long in the water unnoticed is minimal. The buoyancy requirement for these life vest types is 15.5lbs.

Type III – minimum buoyancy rating

This is the most common type of life jacket used for close-to-the-shoe water sports. Thus, it is also the most popular with stand up paddle boarding enthusiasts.

They work by keeping you upright in the water but they cannot turn you over if you fall in the water face down. The buoyancy requirement is 15.5lbs.

Type V Life jacket – check the label to see its uses

Not all Type V life vests are approved for paddle boarding. It is best to check what these jackets are approved for SUP activities, usually indicated on the label.

With a buoyancy rating of 15.5 to 22lbs, you are required to wear a specialty use device with the jacket. If they are the auto-inflating models, they have a buoyancy rating of 22.5 to 34lbs.

You will notice that we have not included the Type IV life vest here. The Coast Guard does not approve it for use by paddle boarders. Type 4 life vests are throwable, so they are mostly used in rescue operations. 

Choosing the life jacket type is only one thing. You still need to ensure that the vest fits you well. Actually, a fitting vest is also one of the requirements of the Coast Guard.

If you have a belt type personal flotation device, the Coast Guard only considers it a life jacket for paddle boarding if you wear it.

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When should you wear a life jacket for SUP?

You are supposed to wear the PFD when you are paddle boarding in an area that is beyond the surfing, bathing or swimming area.

Kids younger than 12 years are required to wear their PFD all the time even when they are paddle boarding in surfing, swimming or bathing areas.

If you are paddle boarding within the swimming or surfing area, you can just wear your swimsuit, board shorts or trunks.

If you are wearing the PFD, make sure you secure it properly on your person. That way, it will keep you safe effectively.

Paddle board life jacket requirements FAQ

It is good to be clear about the rules governing paddle boarding. This section on frequently asked questions will shed more light on the use of PFD when paddle boarding.

Do I need to register my paddle board?

Classified as a human powered vessel, three states now require you to license a paddle board. Other states do not require you to register your SUP board as long as you do not add a sail or a motor. The three states that require you to register a paddle board are South Dakota if the board is longer than 12 feet, Minnesota if your SUP is longer than 10 feet and Iowa if your board is longer than 13 feet.  

As you can see, it is pretty easy to wriggle your way out of the whole registration “debacle” if you know the length requirements and buy a shorter board.

Do you need a life jacket on a paddle board?

You need to wear a Type I, Type II, Type III or Type V life jacket if you will be paddle boarding beyond the areas designated for swimming, surfing or bathing.

You also need to have a sound making device (whistle) on your person and a lantern if you will be paddle boarding in low light hours.

Do you have to wear a life jacket on a paddle board?

If you are younger than 12 years, you need to wear a life jacket all the time when you are on a paddle board.

This also applies when you are paddle boarding in swimming, surfing and bathing areas. If older than that, you do not need to wear a vest in the swimming, surfing and bathing areas.

What kind of life jacket do I need for paddle boarding?

Types I, II, III and V are good for SUP safety. However, check the label of the life vest to see whether you can use it for paddle boarding, just to be sure. Also, the life vest must be in great shape and has to fit you snugly.

What color life jacket is best?

The most visible color is the best for a life vest. Get a yellow, red or orange life vest as these are more visible. Ensure the jackets have plastic buckles to avoid corrosion.

What should I look for when buying a life jacket?

First, the jacket must be U.S.C.G – approved. Secondly, it must have plastic buckles to prevent rusting and thirdly, it must have working adjustable straps.

Check the label to see whether it is rated for the water activity that you want to engage in. Lastly, the buoyancy rating is so important with most starting at 15 lbs to 22 lbs.

Do you need a life jacket on a paddle board in Florida?

In Florida, there must be a PFD – personal flotation device per person on board the SUP board. Also, anyone who is under 6 years must wear the PFD all the time. Paddle boards are not required to be registered.

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Wrapping Up

The paddle board life jacket requirements are pretty simple. To recap, you need to wear a life vest for SUP safety when you are having fun outside the swimming, surfing and bathing areas.

If you are paddle boarding within these areas, just wear your swimsuit, board shorts or wet suit.

As a matter of safety, remember to wear sunscreen in summer. The sun can get a bit too hot. Also, just enjoy SUP adventure within your capability and limits.

If you are a beginner, keep close to the shore and only SUP when the water is calm and flat. If you have skills, take chances for more fun.

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