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Do you have the right personal flotation devices onboard?

Having the right personal flotation devices, or life jackets, onboard a boat is not just a requirement under the law, but a necessary life-saving measure.

Exactly what type of flotation devices are needed depends on several different factors:

—The size of the boat

—The weather conditions

—How far out on the water the boat will be going

—How fast the boat will be going

—The ages and general fitness level of the passengers

For example, children need to have child-sized flotation devices and someone who is older and unable to swim may need a different flotation device than someone who is young and a swimmer.

However, many people aren't aware of the differences between one type of life jacket and another:

—Type I is the most versatile. They're suited for rough waters and areas where rescue might take a while. In addition, they have the advantage of being able to turn someone who is unconscious face up in the water.

—Type II is good near the shoreline, when the waters are calm. While they can turn someone unconscious face up, they aren't as powerful as Type I devices.

—Type III is useful for people who are engaged in water sports like waterskiing. They're meant for situations where somebody falling in the water is going to be picked up fairly quickly.

—Type IV devices is typically items like ring buoys, designed for emergency rescues.

—Type V devices are hybrids, designed for special uses only, like windsurfing and waterskiing. They're often designed to inflate once they hit the water.

It's not just important to have the appropriate devices on hand, however. They also have to be used appropriately.

For example, if children under 13 are onboard a boat, they have to be wearing a flotation device all the time, unless they're inside a cabin. They also need to be kept accessible, not buried underneath a pile of other supplies.

The operator of the boat has the most important responsibility—making sure that everyone on the boat has the right type of flotation device either on or within easy reach, depending on what activity is happening and the ages of those involved.

If the operator sets out on the water without the right safety equipment, including enough reliable flotation devices for everyone, that could lead to a claim of negligence if someone is injured.

Source:, "Rhode Island: The Legal Requirements of Boating," accessed Jan. 18, 2017

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