It’s true. Other countries have made lifejackets or PFDs mandatory for recreational boats.

Some countries have even made it mandatory for all ages. One thing they have in common is strict requirements for children.

In the Unites States, almost every State has a requirement for children to wear a lifejacket or PFD. The laws vary only by age. Where no law is in place, the U.S. Coast Guard interim rule requires children under 13 on moving boats to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket that fits.

In Ireland, life jackets or PFDs must be worn by anyone on an open recreational craft (other than personal watercraft) that is less than 7 meters (22.9 ft) in length while on board or on the deck of a decked craft, except when the craft is “made fast to the shore.” In addition, the master or owner of a craft is required to take all reasonable steps to ensure that anyone under the age of 16 wears a lifejacket or PFD on all recreational crafts (other than personal watercraft) while on board an open craft or on the deck of a decked craft, other than when it is “made fast to the shore” or at anchor.

In Australia several states have mandatory wear regulations including the State of Tasmania where lifejackets or PFDs are required to be worn on boats < 6 meters (19.7 ft) in length when under power. It’s also mandatory for children under the age of 12 years to wear a life jacket in a recreational motor boat or motor-propelled tender of any length while under power.

A study was done in Tasmania comparing boating related drowning fatalities before the regulatory change in 2001 and after until 2010. The average annual number of fatalities before the regulation went into effect was 9.83, compared to an average of 3.2 fatalities post regulation, a 67 % decrease. 

In the Australian State of New South Wales, lifejacket laws were amended to require mandatory lifejacket wearing in a number of high-risk situations, especially by people in small vessels and particularly children under the age of 12.

Other states in Australia have requirements to wear lifejackets or PFDs for certain vessels or under certain conditions. The State of Queensland, for example a lifejacket or PFD must be worn when crossing a designated coastal bar in an open boat that is less than 4.8m (15.7 ft). In addition, lifejackets and PFDs are mandatory for children from 12 months to under 12 years old at all times when in an open boat that is less than 4.8m (15.7 ft) in length and underway. Similar regulations are in place in South Australia.

In New Zealand, certain municipal council by-laws make wearing lifejackets or PFDs mandatory. In the Auckland region for example, a by-law requires all people on vessels under six metres to wear lifejackets or PFDs, unless the skipper decides it’s safe to remove them. The skipper is accountable and could face charges if something goes wrong. A similar by-law exists in the Waikato region.

Change the law. Save a life. It’s that simple. Other countries have taken the lead. Canada should be next.

Daniel Maxim, President Everest Consulting Associates, a member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, and the National Safe Boating Advisory Council (NBSAC). Summary of Relevant Life Jacket Research;

For the U.S.:

For Ireland:

For Australia:

For New Zealand:

Maritime New Zealand; Facts Sheet: Life Jackets; and