MD Regulations for kids wearing a life jacket – age and life jacket type requirements for kids on boats

MD life jacket lawsLife jacket laws in Maryland for infants, toddlers and kids while boating has gotten stricter in recent years to protect children on Maryland’s many waterways.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has developed specific state laws for kids wearing life vests while boating. Although there are federal life vest requirements, they do not supersede state laws. Not following MD life jacket age and type (i.e. U.S. Coast Guard approved) requirements could lead to fines (penalties for the first offense are $500) and risk children’s safety while boating.

According to the state of Maryland, the state averages 12 boating fatalities a year. In 2009 there were 17 boating related deaths and 16 of the victims were not wearing life jackets or vests.

Here are the specific life jacket regulations and laws for kids boating in Maryland.

Life Jackets and Boating Regulations for Kids

As of April 1, 2010, Maryland state laws require that all kids under the age of 13 must wear a United States Coast Guard approved life jacket (Type I, II, III or V) while a boat is underway. Make sure that the life jacket or vest fits properly and is a designated life jacket for kids.

The life jacket law for kids applies to any recreational vessel under 21 feet in length. Recreational vessels include: motorboats, sailboats, canoes, kayaks, rowboats, and any other vessel capable of being used for transportation on the water.

In my opinion (as a boater with a young child), the MD requirement of kids wearing a life jacket only on boats less than 21 feet in length is not stringent enough. Even on our 41 foot cruiser we require all kids under 13 to wear a life jacket or vest while cruising.

The Maryland life jacket law for kids does not apply when boats are anchored or on a mooring (docked) or when children are below deck in an enclosed cabin.

In addition to life jacket laws and requirements for kids in Maryland, anyone born on or after July 1, 1972 must have a certificate of boating safety education in order to operate a motorized boat or vessel on the water. Information on Maryland boating safety certificates can be found at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Life Jackets Requirements for Infants and Toddlers on Boats

There are additional life jacket requirements for infants and toddlers under the age of 4. These additional safety precautions are mainly due to the fact that most kids under the age of 4 cannot swim – or cannot swim well – if they fall in the water.

Infant and toddler life jackets requirements must:

  • hold the child securely within the PFD, including a strap that is secured between the child’s legs to fasten together the front and back of the PFD;
  • maintain the buoyancy of the child, including an inflatable headrest or high collar; AND
  • ensure the ready accessibility of the child from the vessel, including a web handle.

U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets that are labeled as “infant” or “toddler” should meet these safety requirements for infants and toddlers on boats. Be sure to select the proper weight range (such as “less than 30 lbs” or “30-50 lbs”) for the best life jacket or vest fit.

In my opinion, I also think that babies and toddlers that are walking down a dock at a marina should wear a proper life jacket. A wandering toddler is too unpredictable and doesn’t clearly understand water safety.

Also check out my personal review of Sterns Puddle Jumper Life Jackets for Toddlers that are U.S. Coast Guard approved and are great at helping toddlers learn how to swim.

More life jacket options and recommendations can also be found in the Amazon Boater Life Online Store:

Baby and Infant Life Jackets on Amazon

Toddler Life Jackets on Amazon

Kids Life Jackets on Amazon

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Diane Seltzer

Founder & Editor at My Boat Life
Diane is the founder of MyBoatLife.com as well as the boating lifestyle site for kids BoaterKids.com. She is also active in the boating industry, serving as the marketing director for a marine sunshade product, SureShade, and founder of Marine Marketing Tools, a collaborative site for sharing marine marketing best practices. Diane is also the author of the children's book The Amazing Adventures of Boat Girl.

2 Comments

  1. Regarding the paragraph about special PFD requirements for infants and toddlers. The article says they must “maintain the buoyancy of the child, including an inflatable headrest or high collar; or
    ensure the ready accessibility of the child from the vessel, including a web handle”.

    This is lightly, but significantly incorrect, he wording is AND, not OR.
    So life jackets for toddlers and infants must have both a collar or headrest AND a web handle as I read the regulations

    Ref: http://dnr2.maryland.gov/boating/Documents/recreationvessels.pdf page 10, second column.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Skip! Yes, you are right… all 3 are requirements and I have corrected the article to say AND before the last bullet.

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