Racing Rules

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)


US Sailing has made the following prescription to rule 40 in The Racing Rules of Sailing for 2017-2020:


US Sailing prescribes that every boat shall carry life-saving equipment conforming to government regulations that apply in the racing area. Go to and click the ‘Life Jackets’ link for more information.

Each sailor, therefore, must ensure that his or her boat carries the required life-saving equipment. There are relevant government regulations at the federal, state and local levels. Regulations vary from place to place and change frequently.

This document aims to provide an overview of the relevant regulations. However, it is not definitive, and the responsibility lies with each sailor to ensure that he or she knows about and complies with the relevant government regulations and The Racing Rules of Sailing.

Federal Regulations

Federal law (46 U.S.C. §4302) delegates to the Coast Guard the authority to make regulations concerning safety equipment on recreational vessels. The Coast Guard has issued the following regulation (33 CFR Subpart B 175.15):

Except as provided in §§175.17 and 175.25:

(a) No person may use a recreational vessel unless—

(1) At least one wearable PFD is on board for each person;

(2) Each PFD is used in accordance with any requirements on the approval label; and

(3) Each PFD is used in accordance with any requirements in its owner’s manual, if the approval label makes reference to such a manual.

(b) No person may use a recreational vessel 16 feet or more in length unless one throwable PFD is onboard in addition to the total number of wearable PFDs required in paragraph (a) of this section.

(c) No person may operate a recreational vessel under way with any child under 13 years old aboard unless each such child is either—

(1) Wearing an appropriate PFD approved by the Coast Guard; or

(2) Below decks or in an enclosed cabin.


There are several exceptions to this regulation (in 33 CFR Subpart B 175.17):

-It does not apply to sailboards. It is presently unclear whether it applies to kiteboards:

(c) Sailboards are exempted from the requirements for carriage of any PFD required under §175.15.

-It does not apply to “Foreign boats temporarily using waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction.” Instead:

(d) Vessels of the United States used by foreign competitors while practicing for or racing in competition are exempted from the carriage of any PFD required under §175.15, provided the vessel carries one of the sponsoring foreign country’s acceptable flotation devices for each foreign competitor onboard.

State Laws

The Coast Guard has put together a helpful guide to state regulations concerning personal flotation devices.

Suggested Language for Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions

Organizing authorities may find the following language helpful when writing the Notice of Race or Sailing Instructions. (But be advised, this is suggested language. OAs are advised to check with their own legal counsel if they have questions about this matter.)

“Competitors shall wear a personal flotation device (PFD) approved by the U.S. Coast Guard (or for international competitors, the equivalent authority of their home country)…”