When should I wear a lifejacket?

When should I wear a lifejacket?

Part of getting out on the water is getting away from people telling you what to do. The RYA has always taken the view that most boaters are perfectly capable of minding their own affairs- but training always helps.

When it comes to safety, however, training combined with a little bit of guidance and advice is important, and the RYA is there to provide this.

After all, the RYA is dedicated to promoting safe boating and obviously lifejackets are pretty fundamentally useful in that area.


PWCs: The RYA strongly recommend that you wear a buoyancy aid if you are using a PWC.

RIBs: The RYA strongly recommend you wear a lifejacket at all times if you are using a RIB.

Sportsboats: This is where it gets a little more complicated: a big sportsboat can be pretty enclosed, and on a calm day it might seem a little over the top to be wearing a lifejacket.

In this case, the RYA advice is as follows:wear a buoyancy aid or lifejacket unless you are sure you don't need to.'

The RYA also strongly recommend that you wear a lifejacket in the following circumstances:

  • If you're a non-swimmer and there is any possibility of entering the water.
  • When the skipper deems it necessary.
  • When abandoning ship.
  • When you feel you want to wear one or if you are not totally sure that you do not need to wear one.


Obviously there is no point wearing a lifejacket or buoyancy aid if it is not suitable for the purpose, so here are a few guidelines.

Buoyancy Aids and Lifejackets- differences

Bouyancy aids are suitable for inshore use on PWC's. The main difference between a buoyancy aid and a lifejacket is that if you fall overboard and are knocked unconscious a lifejacket should turn you over so that you can breathe.

This is dependent on the lifejacket being fitted correctly in the first place. In addition to this, they will be more extensively equipped with a light, whistle, spray hood and crotch straps.

If you are using a RIB or Sportsboat, you should always go for a lifejacket.

Levels of Buoyancy

In addition to selecting between a life jacket and a buoyancy aid, consideration also needs to be given to the level of buoyancy that is required. Buoyancy aids and lifejackets have different levels of buoyancy.

These levels of buoyancy should be considered and influence your choice. There are four main buoyancy levels: 50, 100, 150 and 275.

In general terms, Level 50 is a buoyancy aid designed for when help is close at hand, whereas Level 150 is a general purpose lifejacket used for offshore cruising and motor boating.

The RYA strongly recommends not wearing a 275 lifejacket, as this is very bulky when inflated and will impede you if you are trying to get into a liferaft.

Specialist life-jackets are available for infants and children.

RYA Tick Mark

If you are buying a level 150 lifejacket, it is well worth looking for the RYA tick mark.

The award of the tick mark means that the product has satisfied third party assessment and testing for ISO 12402-3 standard for a performance level 150 lifejacket.

For full guidance on the Tick Mark, click here. The new ISO 12402-3 standard is much more comprehensive than the previous EN standard.

Things to look for

You should also consider fitting or buying a lifejacket that is fitted with:

  • crotch straps to stop the lifejacket riding up over your head
  • spray-hood to stop waves and spray entering your mouth
  • lights, dye-markers and personal locator beacons to aid location
  • harness D ring for harness attachment to stop you falling off in the first place.

NB: If you have a D ring for harness attachment, ensure that you have sturdy crotch straps fitted, otherwise the moment you fall overboard, you run the risk of the lifejacket pulling over your head and leaving you in the water.

Crotch straps, spray-hoods and lights are frequently not fitted as standard to a lifejacket, but are really essential to actually keep you alive in the water and aid your location.


Hopefully this advice is useful to you. Even if you are an experienced boater, it is sometimes easy to overlook something like lifejackets.

After all, you don't go out boating pondering the fact that it is inherently dangerous. And that's the point; it really isn't inherently dangerous.

Recreational boating really does have an excellent safety record, but if there are means to make it safer, then that is great. None of this advice is meant to patronise, but it is always good to take stock of your lifejackets and check that they are of the required standard.