Should Every Child Wear A Lifejacket On A Boat?

Florida law requires children under 6 to wear pfd's

Florida law requires children under 6 to wear pfd's


Name: Tory G
Subject: lifevests

Message: Watched show this sat. AM, fishing for mahi with 2 young boys. Didn't see any PFDs on the kids . do y'all have different set of regs then us in Louisiana?


Thanks for watching the show and for reaching out with your question.  We have received many emails and other correspondence about the first show of the season where we took Rich's boys fishing.  Neither of the boys were wearing a life vest in the show. Your email was probably the nicest of them all. 

To answer your question directly, yes, Florida regulations are different.  The Florida law states:

A child under the age of 6 must wear a USCG-approved Type I, II or III personal flotation device while onboard a vessel under 26 feet in length while the vessel is underway. "Underway" is defined as anytime except when the vessel is anchored, moored, made fast to the shore or aground. (Source:

Reed is 7 years old and Austin is 11.  Rich felt as though both boys would be safe without a PFD in a 32 foot boat with high sides taking into account the amount of supervision, the temperature and sea conditions.  Both boys are required by Rich to wear PFDs on the bay boat and skiff with low sides.

Many people have very strong opinions on the use of PFDs for children and rightly so.  Small children should wear PFDs at all times on boats.  Florida law states that a child over 6 does not have to wear one so by not wearing a PFD, we were within the law. 

At some point, a person becomes competent enough on a boat that a lifejacket is no longer required under most conditions.  Florida deems this age at 6, other States have different regulations.  Certain dangerous areas such as whitewater rivers make lifejackets mandatory at all times for everyone.  Is it a good idea to wear one...yes...always.  Can anyone be too careful on the water, probably not. 

In this situation, the boys were safe and in a large enough boat that there was no chance that they might go in.  If your children are over the legal age for PFDs, it is the parent or Captains decision as to whether or not the child should wear a life jacket.  This decision can be influenced by a number of factors.  Some of which may include:

1. Does the child have boating experience/How well do they swim

2. Do the parents have boating experience

3. Sea Conditions

4. Fishing style

5. Size and style of boat

6. Supervision and professionalism of Capt. and Crew

If a child has little experience on a boat, I may require them to wear a PFD even if they are 14 or 15 years old.  Some kids don't know how to walk around a boat and are shaky at best. Many children are not comfortable in the water or do not know how to swim.  (Sidenote: My own children were taught to swim at 8 , 10 and 12 months old.  Rich's children routinely spearfish in 30 feet of water and swim every day) Others are not mature enough to behave properly on a boat yet.   I have turned around and seen a client's child running down the gunnel or swinging from the hard top in spots that no one wants to swim.  Behavior like this is the result of lack of experience and lack of maturity.  At this point it becomes a judgement call.

In the case of the Tudor boys, you would have definitely seen a PFD on them if we were in a smaller boat.  On this day it was a judgement call and Rich chose to allow them to fish without a PFD. 

It is a safe, blanket statement to say that everyone should wear a PFD while on a boat.  The reality is that few do.  There is a time that the individual, Capt or parent became comfortable without a PFD and each case is different. 

My advice to everyone is to make sure that you are within the law.  Check the regulations and abide by them.  Beyond that, if you have any doubt about the safety of your child or other children, make them wear a PFD regardless of their age.  This is a serious subject and you can not be too careful.

Be safe,

Tom Rowland

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