Boating for kids

Do I Have to Wear a PFD?

Christa from Illinois asks, "Do I always have to wear my PFD?" The easy answer to that question is that Illinois has a law that says anyone 13 or younger must wear a PFD when underway on a boat. Also, a Federal law requires that children 12 and under must wear a PFD when onboard and underway in states that don't have PFD wearing requirements. pfd3.jpg (10065 bytes)

But, Christa, what we like to do here is explore the questions so that you learn the reasons behind the laws and regulations. It's good to know when you HAVE to do something, it's even better to know why it's a good idea even if there is no law (or adult) telling you you HAVE to. When you understand how important it is to wear your PFD, we think you'll always wear it whether you HAVE to or not.

Some of the reasons we have already covered include:

  • PFDs keep you floating. Even if you are a good swimmer, a PFD helps you avoid getting too tired to swim. If you should hit your head or lose consciousness, a PFD can make all the difference.
  • PFDs help you avoid hypothermia, which is a life-threatening condition in which your body rapidly looses heat.
  • PFDs in bright colors, or with reflective tape, make you easier to find in the water.

Nobody expects to have an accident. (If they did, they wouldn't be there!) Even if you are the safest, most competent skipper, you can't predict what other boaters will do. A boat speeding by can create a wake that can easily tip a smaller boat. If you are in the smaller boat, you could find yourself in the water through no fault of your own.

Sometimes mechanical things go wrong with your boat. Or bad weather comes up. Or you hit a submerged object.  Or pirates! (Just joking.) The point is, you can't control everything when you are on the water. If you are wearing your PFD, and have learned some basic safety rules, you will bepfd4.jpg (6686 bytes) prepared to handle just about anything that might happen.

Wearing your PFD says that you are a smart and knowledgeable boater, and that you know what you're doing out there. Learning what to do as a boater means you can take care of yourself and help others who might require assistance. And asking questions is a great way to start!

If a PFD is uncomfortable, it probably doesn't fit right. There are some very nice PFDs now available for kids, so check them out. Just make sure you get a PFD designed for the type of boating you do.

Thanks for the question, Christa.

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Other articles about life jackets:
How life jackets work
Why are life jackets orange?
What kind of life jacket do I need?
How to read PFD labels
Care and maintenance of PFDs
Boat Smart from the Start

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