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Pennsylvania Boating Safety Laws

Canoe and Kayak Safety - Personal Floatation Device Requirements

Personal flotation devices  - (PFDs, life jackets, life preservers, life vests and throwable devices) are the most important piece of equipment on a boat; they are the best defense against drowning. 


Each person in the boat must have a wearable, USCG-approved life jacket, NO EXCEPTIONS! 

It is highly advisable to wear life jackets at all times, especially in dangerous conditions. Since boating conditions can change quickly and without warning (increasing your chance of unexpectedly falling into the water), boating without wearing a properly fitted life jacket is dangerous. Trying to put on a life jacket while in the water is difficult and nearly impossible in moving water.

Personal floatation devices
  • All boats must have a USCG-approved wearable life jacket on board for each person. No Exceptions!

  • Life jackets must be the appropriate size for the person intended. Check the life jacket label to ensure it’s the appropriate size for the person wearing it. Also, make sure the jacket fits. (See below.)

  • Life jackets must be appropriate for the activity for which they are worn. See the United States Coast Guard USCG approval label for information.

  • Wearable life jackets must be “readily accessible.” This means they should be stowed where they can be easily reached or in the open, ready for wear. Throwable devices must be “immediately available.

  • PFD shall be within arm’s reach of the operator or passenger while the boat is operated. A life jacket that is sealed in its original packaging is not readily accessible or immediately available.

  • All life jackets must be in good and serviceable condition and legibly marked showing the USCG approval number. This means the life jacket must be functional, free of       tears or defects in the material, and all buckles, straps, zippers and other closures must be operable.

  • In addition to wearable life jackets, boats 16 feet and over must have a throwable device (ring buoy, life ring or buoyant seat cushion) on board. Canoes and kayaks, regardless of length, are not required to carry a throwable device.

  • A throwable device may not be used as a substitute for a wearable device.

jet boats clarion river
Beer Cans

It is illegal in Pennsylvania to drink alcohol or be under the influence while operating a boat, even a non-motorized one. You can be charged with boating under the influence (BUI), Fined, and up to 60 days in jail.

Sounding whistle

In Pennsylvania, all unpowered water vessels must have some means of making an efficient oral or mechanical sound that could be heard by another vessel operator in time to avoid collision.


Owners of unpowered boats can launch their boats at Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) lakes and access areas if their boats display a PFBC launch use permit, OR boat registration OR PA state Parks launch permit, OR mooring permit. These river access areas are indicated in all River Fun Guides offered for sale on this website.

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