Where To Store Life Jackets On A Boat

Where To Store Life Jackets On A Boat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

April 4, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Life jackets need to be stored in readily accessible place or ideally worn at all times
  • Coast guard regulations require boaters have life jackets or personal flotation devices
  • Before disaster strikes, boaters should talk with crew to locate boating safety equipment
  • Each person on board should be properly fitted with a life jacket before heading out

While sailing is a fun experience, safety should be top priority. Do you know where to store life jackets on a boat?

Life jackets can be stored at many locations such as the bow sides, the starboard side behind the console, under the gunwale caps within the hull area, and beneath the open bow area. It is crucial to pick a spot accessible to all and familiar to everyone as the designated life jacket storage area.

According to US Coast Guard standards, personal flotation devices have to be readily accessible for anyone to use and life jackets must fit the individual appropriately. As you will see, it is important that everyone knows exactly where to grab a life jacket while on a boat.


Table of contents

Ideal Places to Store Life Jackets on a Boat

Storing a personal flotation device (throwable PFD) or life jacket below deck is highly discouraged. Despite meeting safety requirements, many boat owners place a "Coast Guard kit" bag filled with essential safety gear in the salon or under a berth, which can prove problematic in emergencies.

Retrieving the bag would require someone to leave the deck and divert attention from the water, jeopardizing the safety of everyone onboard. Additionally, in the event of a fire or breach, the bag may be inaccessible, leaving individuals without crucial boating equipment.

Instead, boaters should opt for a neutral location that is easily accessible somewhere on the top deck. These include storage near the bow, behind the console (if on center console boats), or even somewhere on deck that you build for this. No matter what location you choose, the important thing is to tell your crew where the life jackets are being store at.

Can You Build Storage on your Boat for Life Jackets?

One solution to the problem of storing life jackets in lockers or other areas of the boat is to use overhead storage bags, if applicable. These bags keep the life jackets out of the way and allow for easy access with a simple zipper pull.

If your boat is older and does not have overhead canvas stowage for life jackets, you can install overhead storage on a hardtop, fabric T-top, or Bimini top. This equipment covering will help keep your extra life jackets out of the way and out of direct sunlight.

Life Jacket Rules for Your Boat

Ensure that the dedicated spot is solely reserved for life jackets and easily accessible. As a captain or boat owner, it is your duty to inform passengers of the location of safety items, including life jackets, and enforce their use.

Personal experience has shown that being handed a life jacket without asking does not detract from the boating experience. Wearing your life jacket every time on the boat is better than nothing at all.

If they sit and gather mildew, they can be useless in emergencies. This is another reason to wear them and not store them in a dark place or leave them in direct sunlight. For extra safety, some boaters will have PFDS stored where life jackets could also be, as long as it is not in direct sunlight constantly.

Who Needs a Life Jacket?

Life jackets are provided for a wide range of activities on the water such as cruising, paddling, waterskiing, hunting, angling, and racing, catering to both swimmers and non-swimmers. They are also available for men, women, children, and even pets, regardless of the size of the boat.

Properly fitting life jackets are essential to keep your head above water. If it is too big, it may rise around your face, and if it is too small, it will not be able to keep your body afloat. It is important to note that life jackets designed for adults are not suitable for children.

Trying on Your Life Jacket

When you think you have the correct sized life jacket, you need to make sure it not only fits comfortably, but properly. To ensure the perfect fit of your life jacket, follow these steps:

  • First, check the label for sizing suitability
  • Second, fasten the jacket securely
  • Third, raise your arms straight up above your head
  • Fourth, have someone tug on the arm openings while ensuring that there is no extra room above the openings and that the jacket does not ride up over your face.
  • Finally, for optimal fitting, test the life jacket in shallow water with proper supervision

Taking Care of Your Life Jacket

To ensure the longevity and effectiveness of life jackets, it is important to take certain steps after each water outing. These steps include:

  • Avoid leaving them in direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time as this can cause fabric deterioration and fading.
  • Rinse them with clean water if used in saltwater and remove any mud, sand or stains.
  • Let them drip dry out of direct sunlight and check for any rips, tears, or hardware malfunctions.
  • Store them in a dry, cool, and dark location, avoiding bending or placing heavy objects on top.

Additionally, it is best to remove life jackets from potentially damp storage areas if not in use for an extended period of time. Avoid storing heavily soiled jackets to prevent mold and mildew growth.

Cleaning Your Life Jacket

It is crucial to promptly clean life jackets when stains like food, mud, or sunscreen are present to maintain their effectiveness. Even if they look clean, it is recommended to clean them monthly or at season's end due to oil accumulation from skin and sun care products.

Choose a dry day, mix two tbsp of mild laundry detergent with cool water, spread a drop cloth, and place the jacket unfastened on it. Scrub with a soft brush and rinse thoroughly.

Hang to drip dry in a shaded area, using a fan to speed up drying, but avoid using a dryer. For mold or mildew, brush spores away before adding oxygen-based bleach to the cleaning solution to remove dark stains.

When to Get a New Life Jacket

By taking good care of them, life jackets can serve for years. Nonetheless, there will be a time when a PFD must be substituted. Testing PFDs at the beginning of each season is recommended, or periodically for those residing in year-round water-friendly regions. In addition, children that are growing need to have their life jackets checked in case they grow out of a size.

In case the outer fabric of a life jacket is ripped, split, or breaking down, it is unsafe for use as the flotation material may escape, leading to an accident. Highly faded material that appears weak should be checked by tugging on a strap or pinching the fabric to see if it tears; if it does, discard the jacket.

The foam or padding should also be inspected by gently squeezing it. If it feels hard, brittle, or broken, the jacket should be replaced. Mold-infested jackets must be thrown away to avoid inhaling spores as the mold can permeate into the padding, making the jacket unsafe.

Where To Store Life Jackets On A Boat
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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