Everyday Law: Life Jackets
Sacramento’s local rivers and lakes are very popular weekend destinations. Unfortunately, they can also be very dangerous. Studies have found that those wearing life jackets are far less likely to suffer a fatal boat accident. According to the California Department of Boating and Waterways, in 2009, 84 percent of fatal drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket.
Federal, State, and local governments have all enacted “personal floatation device” laws to help prevent tragedy on the water. Under both Federal (33 CFR 175.19) and California law (14 CCR 6565.5), there must be at least one floatation device (Type I, II, or III) for each person on the vessel. Vessels over 16 feet long must also have a floatation device intended for throwing (Type IV), such as a ring, cushion or horseshoe. Canoes and kayaks over 16 feet are exempt from carrying a Type IV device.
Neither Federal nor California requires adult boaters to wear their lifejackets, unless they are using a personal watercraft such as a jet ski, or being towed behind a boat (like a water skier or wake boarder.) For adults, Federal (33 CFR 175.19) and California (14 CCR 6565.7) laws simply require the floatation devices to be “readily accessible.”
Although adult boaters are not required to wear lifejackets, both Federal (33 CFR 175.15) and State (Harbors and Navigation Code section 658.3) law require all boaters under the age of 13 to wear a lifejacket while the boat is underway, unless the child is below deck or in an enclosed cabin. Sacramento City (Section 12.72.250) and Sacramento County (section 13.08.301) laws are even more restrictive. Under these laws, no one under the age of 13 may enter the water (on a boat or otherwise) without a life preserver. These laws apply only to public waterways in the City of County of Sacramento. Violations of these codes are a misdemeanor, punishable with a fine of up to $500 and up to six months in jail.
Under California law, violations of the personal floatation device requirements are considered infractions, with a total bail of approximately $229. Violations of the Federal Law may incur a civil penalty of $50-$1000.
To encourage the use of personal floatation devices, the California Department of Boating and Waterways has partnered with our local fire stations to provide loaner life jackets to the public. Both child and adult life jackets are available from life jacket loan stations around the Sacramento area.