Venturing out on a kayak is one of the most fun ways to explore nature.
If you’re ready for a new adventure on a kayak but aren’t sure if you need a life preserver on board, you’re not alone.
All fifty states in the U.S. have different laws regarding life jackets.
Wearing a personal flotation device (PFD), regardless of how strong of a swimmer you are, can keep you safe while out on the water.
Ignoring these laws can result in a fine or even injury or death.
The million-dollar question is, do you have to wear a life jacket on a kayak?
Below you’ll find a list of all life jacket laws for each state and the penalties you may face if you don’t abide by them.
Types of PFDs
There are five types of life jackets that you can wear when you’re out on the water.
Depending on the state you’re in, the law may be different, surrounding which PFDs are acceptable for kayaking.
The five types of PFDs are:
- Type I: Offshore life jackets
- Type II: Near-shore
- Type III: Flotation aids
- Type IV: Throwable devices
- Type V: Special use devices (often used for kayaking)
PFD Laws by State
While PFD laws vary depending on the state you’re in, almost all states require that there be one life jacket on board per person in case they need it.
In Alabama, any person under the age of eight is required to wear a life jacket while on boats, canoes, and kayaks.
After a person turns eight, no law says you have to wear a life jacket on a kayak or other water vessel.
If you are not following the law where children under eight must be wearing a life jacket, you can face a fine of up to $100.
Anyone operating a boat or human-powered vessel, such as a kayak, is required to have one life jacket on board per person.
Adults are not required to wear the life jacket at all times as long as they have one on board.
The law states that children under 13 must wear a life jacket at all times while on board a kayak.
Something to keep in mind is that even though it’s not required for most people, the waters in Alaska are freezing.
86% of drowning victims were not wearing a flotation device.
Wearing a coast guard approved floatation device can help keep you safe if you were to fall into the ice-cold water.
Alaska has fines in place for violations of PFD laws.
You can face up to a $100 fine for anyone under 13 who is not wearing a life jacket or not wearing it properly.
If you’re over 13 and don’t have a PFD on board that you can use, you can face a fine of $100 and an additional $50 if two people are on board but only one PFD.
Before you take your kayak out in Arizona, you’ll need to make sure that you have a United States Coast Guard (USCG) approved life jacket on board.
If you’re over 12 years old, you do not have to wear the jacket at all times while paddling.
Anyone under the age of 12 must wear a life jacket at all times while on the kayak.
Not only must they be wearing a life jacket, but children must also wear them in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Unlike the other states mentioned at this point, Arizona does not have any penalties in place for violations of its PFD laws.
Arkansas has a very similar, if not the same, law as Arizona.
When operating a kayak, any child under the age of 12 must be wearing a coast guard approved life jacket at all times.
Adults are not required to wear it while paddling but must have one available on the kayak.
While the law is the same in Arkansas and Arizona, unlike Arizona, Arkansas does enforce PFD penalties.
Anyone who does not follow these rules can face a fine between $100 and $250.
California offers some of the best kayaking in the country.
Anyone under the age of 13 cannot be on a kayak without wearing a properly fitting life jacket.
Anyone over that age is not required to wear one but must have one on the kayak.
Failure to abide by this law is considered an infraction, and you will face a fine that is no more than $150.
Colorado changed their PFD law in 2003.
The new law states that any person who is 12 years old and younger must be wearing a PFD at all times when their kayak is in the water.
You can be fined up to $50 for not following this law in Colorado.
When you’re on a guided river kayaking trip, and you’re not abiding by this rule, your fine will be a minimum of $100.
Connecticut always requires that a PFD be accessible to anyone over the age of 13 on a kayak.
If you’re 12 and younger, you have to be wearing a life jacket at all times on the kayak.
Due to the rough waters that you can experience in the state from the fall into the spring, everyone operating a kayak, regardless of age, must be wearing one from October 1st until May 31st.
Failure to comply with any of these laws can result in a flat rate, $75 fine.
Any child 12 years of age and younger is required to wear a USCG-approved life jacket at all times while on a kayak.
Older children and adults don’t have to wear them, but they have to have one on board they can access if necessary.
Delaware has one of the most minor fines for PFD, besides not having one at all.
You can face a fine of $25 for a PFD violation.
Florida is known for water activities year-round.
While most states require children to be in the double digits before they don’t have to wear a life jacket, Florida only requires children six and under to wear a life jacket on a kayak or other vessel under 26 feet.
If you end up needing to be towed by another vessel, you need to be wearing a PFD regardless of age.
Violations vary throughout the state based on the county you’re in.
The offense is considered non-criminal and can be anywhere between $50 and $80.
All children under the age of 13 are required to wear a proper PFD while on a kayak that is in the water.
For those over 13, you don’t need to be wearing one, but you must have a type I, II, III, or V PFD on board at all times.
The fines for not following these PFD laws in Georgia aren’t explicitly defined.
Violations of these laws are considered a misdemeanor, but the fine amount is up to the courts.
Regardless of which body of water you’re kayaking in, ocean or inland waterways, anyone under the age of 13 must be wearing a life jacket in Hawaii.
Adults must have appropriate PFDs on board, whether they’re wearing them or not.
Hawaii has some of the most strict PFD violations of the fifty states.
Other states have fines that cannot be more than a couple of hundred dollars.
In Hawaii, the penalty for violating any of the PFD laws can result in a fine from $50 to $1,000.
The courts may decide to penalize the offender by prohibiting them from operating any vehicle for some time and a monetary fine.
If you violate these laws a second time within five years, the fines can go up to $5,000 and rise based on the number of offenses.
If you plan on kayaking in Idaho, you’ll need to have a life jacket on if you’re under 14 years old and if the vessel is under 19 feet in length.
Anyone over 14 can have a PFD on board without wearing it if they choose.
The fine for violating any part of the PFD law in Idaho is a flat-rate fee of $84.
Anyone under 13 years old must wear a life jacket while onboard a kayak in Illinois if the vessel is under 26 feet in length.
Violating Illinois’ PFD law is considered a petty offense.
The fine most people face is $75, but it has gone up to $1,000 before.
Anyone operating or being towed on a kayak under 13 years old must be wearing a life jacket in Indiana.
If you violate the PFD law, it is considered a Class C infraction.
A Class C infraction of this law constitutes a maximum of a $500 fine.
In Iowa, anyone under 13 has to be wearing a USCG-approved life jacket at all times.
If you’re over 13, you’d just need to make sure you have one on board.
Violation of the PFD law in Iowa is considered a misdemeanor with a fine of only $20.
While the penalty is only $20, you’ll also face court fees which are $56.40.
The addition of court fees brings your total fine to $76.40.
Kansas follows the same PFD law as Iowa.
You must be wearing a life jacket on a kayak if you’re under 13 years old.
The difference between the two states is their penalties.
If officials catch you violating the PFD law in Kansas, you may face a fine.
The fine amount in Kansas can be up to $500 or as low as zero.
If you’re kayaking in Kentucky, you only have to be wearing a life jacket if you’re under 12 years old.
Remember, all adults must have one per person over 12 onboard to avoid potential penalties.
Any violation of the PFD law in Kentucky will result in a $50 fine. You can expect to pay a little more depending on what the court fees are in the area of Kentucky you’re kayaking in.
The age limit for wearing a Life jacket while kayaking in Louisiana is a little higher than in some states.
You have to wear a life jacket while kayaking in Louisiana until you reach 16 years old.
While most states don’t consider a PFD violation a criminal offense, it is considered a criminal offense in Louisiana.
Some counties will fine $50, but it does depend on where the violation occurs.
For those ready to kayak the waters of Maine, you have to be wearing a life jacket if you’re under ten years old.
Everyone older than ten must have a class I, II, III, or V PFD onboard.
If you’re planning on kayaking in whitewater areas, everyone must be wearing a life jacket.
When you’re kayaking on the Saco River from January 1st until June 1st between the Hiram Dam and the Atlantic Ocean area, all kayakers must wear a life jacket at all times.
Violating either of their PFD laws can result in a civil violation.
You can expect your fine to be around $100 per offense.
Everyone under seven years old must be wearing a life jacket while on a kayak that is less than 21 feet in length.
This law only applies if the kayak is being operated, not when it’s docked in the water.
The fines for violating the PFD law in Maryland are not defined.
You can face a potential fine and additional fines per violation.
All persons under 12 years old must wear a life jacket at all times when on a kayak in Massachusetts.
Due to the rough waters in New England, from mid-September through mid-May, all kayakers must wear an approved PFD regardless of age or skill level.
Whether you violate the PFD law regarding children under 12 wearing a life jacket at all times or you’re older and did not wear one on your outing between September and May, you will face a flat rate fee of $50.
In Michigan, all children younger than six years old must be wearing a life jacket at times on a kayak.
Per the law, there must be at least one PFD on board for every person older than six and one type IV PFD if the vessel is longer than 16 feet.
If you violate the life jacket law for children, you can face a fine that is up to $100 per infraction.
For each violation regarding those older than six, it is a fine of up to $500.
Anyone under the age of ten in Minnesota must wear a life jacket while on a kayak.
Anyone older than ten must have easy access to one on board.
Minnesota has some of the strictest PFD penalties.
Anyone caught violating these laws can face up to a $1,000 fine and even 90 days in county jail.
If you’re over 13 years old, you do not have to wear a life jacket while kayaking in Mississippi.
Anyone younger than 13 must be wearing a PFD at all times unless the kayak is tied to a dock.
The penalty you can face in Mississippi for violating this law is a fine between $25 and $100.
You may have to pay court fees as well.
For those planning on kayaking in Missouri, you will not want to forget your life jacket.
All operators and passengers on kayaks are required to wear a life jacket.
Anyone found in violation of the Missouri PFD law will face a fine that is no more than $1,000.
You may face up to a year in jail too.
When you’re ready to explore the beauty of Montana by kayak, make sure you have one life jacket on board for everyone over 12 years old.
If you have passengers under 12, they have to wear one at all times when the kayak is in motion.
Breaking the PFD law in Montana is classified as a misdemeanor.
Officials can punish you with a fine anywhere from $15 to $500, imprisonment for a maximum of six months, or both.
You only have to wear a life jacket in most states if you’re under a certain age.
In Nebraska, everyone must wear a life jacket while kayaking.
Some might find this law unnecessary, but life jackets save lives, regardless of age.
Anyone caught not wearing a life jacket while kayaking can face a fine of $50.
Nevada has an age requirement for life jackets while kayaking that is similar to many other states.
Anyone under 13 must wear a properly fitting PFD while onboard.
Currently, there are no official penalties in place for those who do not follow Nevada’s PFD law.
In New Hampshire, children under 12 years old need to be wearing a life jacket on a kayak while it is in motion.
If the kayak is tied to a dock, they don’t have to be wearing one until it begins moving again.
If you end up stranded and getting towed back on your kayak, everyone, regardless of age, must be wearing a life jacket.
Any violation of the PFD law in New Hampshire can result in a fine of up to $60.
Anyone who is younger than 13 has to wear an appropriate life jacket while kayaking in New Jersey.
This law applies to when the kayak is in motion and when docked.
Fines for violating the PFD law in New Jersey consist of a fine anywhere from $25 to $100.
In addition to this fee, you will also pay any court cost associated with it.
Life jackets are mandatory for those operating a kayak as well as any passenger.
This law applies to any body of water you’re kayaking in the state of New Mexico.
For those who are discovered in violation of the life jacket law, you can face a misdemeanor charge from $50 to $500.
In addition to the fee, the court can decide to imprison you for no more than 30 days.
They will usually choose one of these charges, but in some cases, you could receive both.
In other cases, the court has issued probation for offenders.
In the state of New York, they have a few specifications regarding their PFD law.
Any child must be wearing a life jacket on any vessel that is less than 65 feet if they’re younger than 12 years old.
Adults and older children must be wearing a life jacket on any personal watercraft, such as a kayak, at all times.
Anyone found in violation of New York’s PFD laws is subject to a charge between $25 and $100.
For those looking to kayak in North Carolina, you are not legally allowed to operate or ride in a kayak without wearing an appropriate life jacket.
According to North Carolina state law, acceptable life jackets include type I, II, III, and V.
Inflatable life jackets are not allowed.
If you choose to kayak without a life jacket in North Carolina, officials can charge you with a class 3 misdemeanor.
Your fine will be $25, and when whatever the court costs are.
Currently, the court costs are around $135.
In North Dakota, the only people who are required to wear a life jacket at all times when the kayak is moving are those under ten years old.
There are no official fines listed for those who do not require children under ten to wear a life jacket while kayaking in North Dakota.
The lack of penalty regarding PFD laws may or may not change in the future.
Ohio’s PFD laws are a little different than the other states.
Usually, children up to a certain age have to wear life jackets, and adults don’t, or everyone does.
In Ohio, anyone under ten must be wearing a life jacket on a kayak that is less than 18 feet in length.
The other part of this PFD law is that whoever is operating the kayak must also be wearing a life jacket, regardless of age.
For example, if an adult steers the kayak with a nine-year-old on board, both will be wearing life jackets.
If there are two 20-year-olds on board, but only one is paddling, then the passenger does not have to wear one, but the paddler does.
If found in violation of any part of the PFD law in Ohio, you can be charged with a class 4 misdemeanor.
All children under 12 years old must be wearing a properly fitted life jacket when on a kayak or other vessel under 26 feet.
The law continues to include anyone operating or manipulating the kayak in any way must be wearing a life jacket.
This extends to passengers as well.
As far as a flat-rate fee for PFD violations, Oklahoma has a higher one than other states.
You can be fined $201 for not wearing an appropriate life jacket on a kayak.
Oregon has some beautiful things to see, and kayaking is a great way to do so.
If you’re planning a kayaking trip, if you have anyone in your group that is younger than 12, they must be wearing a life jacket while the kayak is operational.
Operational means while you’re kayaking or if you’re being towed by another vessel.
Failure to follow Oregon’s PFD law is a class B violation.
Officials can fine you $237 for violating the life jacket law if you’re not involved in an accident.
If officials notice the PFD law is being violated when you’ve been in an accident, you will be fined $273.
Kayakers who are under 12 years old must be wearing a USCG-approved life jacket at all times while kayaking or being towed by another vessel.
Adults are free to go without as long as they have one available to them on the kayak.
Pennsylvania officials will only charge a flat rate fee for PFD law violations in the state.
This fee is $50.
Rhode Island’s life jacket laws are very straightforward.
Regardless of age, anyone who is a passenger or operating a kayak must be wearing a life jacket when the vessel is in motion.
The penalty you can face if you’re not wearing a life jacket while kayaking in Rhode Island is a fine of $100.
In South Carolina, children under 12 years old must be wearing a life jacket while on a class A boat.
Class A just means that the vessel is under 16 feet in length, like many kayaks.
In addition to those under 12, anyone operating the kayak must be wearing a PFD regardless of age.
You can face a fine if you fail to abide by one or both parts of South Carolina’s PFD law.
The fine is anywhere from $25 up to $200.
Before you set out on a kayaking adventure, if you’re traveling with a child under seven, you’ll need to make sure you have a life jacket for them.
Those under seven are required to wear the PFD throughout the outing.
Adults who do not have their child under seven in a life jacket are subject to a Class II misdemeanor and a fine up to $100.
Thirty days in county jail is also a potential penalty.
Anyone 12 years of age and younger has to be wearing a PFD while kayaking in Tennessee.
People 13 and older are only required to wear a life jacket in a kayak if they’re being towed by another boat or vessel.
The fine for not following this law is only a fine that cannot be more than $50.
Often, it’s less than the maximum amount.
When the kayak is not in motion, no one on the kayak needs to be wearing a life jacket.
Once the kayak is in motion, operators and passengers must be wearing one until stopped, regardless of age.
The penalty in Texas is a fine like other states.
The fine in Texas can be from $25 to $500.
If you’re planning on kayaking in Utah, a life jacket is a must.
Everyone who is on a kayak must be wearing one at all times.
The consequences of not wearing one are hefty.
A PFD law offense in Utah can cost you up to $1,000 or six months in jail.
In Vermont, all persons on a kayak must be wearing a PFD.
The fine you can face for not is $84.
Virginia is similar to Vermont in that everyone who is on a kayak must be wearing a life jacket.
The fine you can face in Virginia is up to $250.
While kayaking in Washington state, everyone must be wearing a life jacket.
To be fined for not wearing one, a law enforcement officer must witness you not wearing one.
If they do, the fine is $87.
Kayaking in West Virginia requires that all participants wear a life jacket.
If you do not, the fine is only $20, but the court fees are the most expensive part.
Court fees can be around $160 per charge.
Wisconsin follows suit with the last few states.
All passengers and operators of kayaks must be wearing a life jacket.
The fine for not wearing a PFD is around $148.
Wyoming requires that all kayaks have a life jacket on board for each person over 12 years old.
Anyone under 12 must be wearing their life jacket at all times.
You can face a $110 fine for violating either part of the Wyoming PFD law.
Life jacket laws vary from state to state. Some require only children under a certain age to wear there, where others require everyone to.
Even though you may not legally have to wear one, a life jacket can save your life if something happens to you out on the water.