Lifejackets are the most important piece of safety equipment on any recreational vessel.
An approved lifejacket must be carried for each person on board most vessels. It must be the correct size for the wearer, in good condition and, if an inflatable lifejacket, properly serviced.
Penalties may apply to the owners and masters of vessels found not carrying lifejackets, or if there are not enough lifejackets for everyone on board. Penalties may also apply if occupants are not wearing lifejackets when they are required to do so.
More importantly, if you are not wearing your lifejacket, it cannot save your life.
Every year lives are lost in recreational boating incidents. Tragically, many could have survived had they been wearing a lifejacket, especially in smaller vessels.
What lifejackets must I carry on my recreational vessel?
It is a legal requirement that most recreational vessels in NSW must carry an appropriate size and type of lifejacket for each person on board. They must be stored or placed to allow quick and easy access. Lifejackets must be either visible to passengers or their location clearly marked by an unobstructed and clearly visible sign saying LIFEJACKETS (red lettering on a white background). Stickers are available free from registries and service centres.
Open (ocean) waters (including crossing ocean bars)
For general boating, a Level 100 lifejacket is the minimum required for open waters and must be worn when crossing coastal bars. Depending on the type of vessel, a Level 50 or 50S lifejacket may meet the requirements (see the table for details).
Enclosed and alpine waters
Unless there is a requirement that a lifejacket must be worn, a lifejacket 50S or greater must be carried.
Level 100+ inflatable lifejacket
Similar to the former Type 1 category
Level 100+ lifejackets provide higher levels of buoyancy. There are two options: inflatable or non-inflatable.
Inflatable lifejackets rely on CO2 for buoyancy, which means they are lighter and less cumbersome to wear than the equivalent foam lifejackets. Once inflated, these lifejackets display high-visibility colours.
Generally, adult inflatable lifejackets are rated at 150+ and are designed to help keep the wearer’s head face-up and above the water even if unconscious.
There are two kinds of Level 100+ inflatable lifejackets, those that are inflated by manual activation or those that inflate automatically when the lifejacket comes in contact with water.
Level 100+ lifejackets are required in certain situations, for example when boating on open (ocean) waters.
The inflatable types are becoming more popular because they are comfortable to wear, but boaters must be aware of the added maintenance and service requirements that come with this style of lifejacket, and the need for detailed crew and passenger briefing on their operation.
There are now many different brands on the market so it is important to choose one that suits your needs. Whether it is a jacket or vest, a yoke or a belt bag inflatable style, ensure you read and understand all the instructions. Familiarise yourself with the inflation procedures and the care required for your jacket while not in use.
Manual or automatic inflation?
This will depend on what you are most comfortable with and what activity the lifejacket is being used for. The benefit of an auto inflating jacket is that as soon as the inflation mechanism gets wet the jacket will inflate, whereas a manual jacket's CO2 inflation is only activated by hand.
Poor swimmers may be more comfortable with an auto jacket, but remember a large amount of spray may activate the jacket while on deck.
See Selecting a 100+ lifejacket for more information.
Level 100+ non-inflatable lifejacket
Similar to the former Type 1 category
Level 100+ lifejackets are generally available as non-inflatable garments with in-built foam buoyancy, including neck support.
These lifejackets must be high-visibility colour and are bulkier to wear than the inflatable equivalent. However, they do not require the additional operation and servicing of an inflatable lifejacket.
See Selecting a 100+ lifejacket for more information.
Selecting a 100+ lifejacket
The lifejacket category 'Level 100+' covers a range of buoyancy and performance levels. When making your selection, consider the locations you will go boating, the conditions you are likely to encounter and the type and weight of clothing you will be wearing.
Australian Standard 4758 provides the following guidance on selection and use:
- Level 100 lifejackets are intended for people who may have to wait for rescue, but are likely to do so in sheltered and calm water. They are not intended for use in rough conditions, or when there is wave splash
- Level 150 lifejackets are intended for general offshore and rough weather use where a high standard of performance is required. They are designed to turn an unconscious person in swimming attire into a safe position, and maintain a fully clothed person in a safe position with no subsequent action by the wearer
- Level 275 lifejackets are intended primarily for offshore use and by people who are using items of significant weight or wearing clothing which may trap air and adversely affect the lifejacket’s self-righting capacity. They are designed to ensure that the wearer floats with their mouth and nose clear of the surface.
Level 50 lifejacket
Similar to the former Type 2 lifejacket
These are designed to support the wearer in the water, but without the neck support required to keep the wearer’s head face-up and above the water if unconscious.
They are made using high-visibility colours and in comfortable styles. They are mainly used when boating in more sheltered areas such as enclosed or inland waters.
Level 50S lifejacket
Similar to the former Type 3 lifejacket
These are buoyancy vests with the same overall buoyancy as a Level 50 lifejacket, however they are not required to be made in high-visibility colours. This makes them popular for use in aquatic sports such as wakeboarding and water-skiing, where style is important and assistance is on hand.
What lifejacket am I required to wear on my recreational vessel?
|Boating activity/vessel type||Enclosed waters lifejacket requirements||Open waters lifejacket requirements|
|Children under 12 years of age|| Level 50S or greater:
||Level 100 or greater:
|On all boats less than 4.8m (unless specified)||Level 50S or greater at all times when:
||Level 100 or greater at all times.|
|PWC including tow-in surfer||Level 50S or greater at all times.||Level 50S or greater at all times.|
|Crossing coastal bars||N/A||At all times as per open waters requirement for boating activity/vessel type.|
|Anyone being towed, eg water-skiing, wakeboarding||Level 50S or greater at all times.||Level 100 or greater at all times.|
|Canoes and kayaks
Sailboarding and kiteboarding
Off the beach sailing vessel
|Level 50S or greater at all times when:
||Level 50S or greater at all times.|
|When directed by the master of the vessel#||As per enclosed waters requirement for boating activity/vessel type.||As per open waters requirement for boating activity/vessel type.|
# You must wear a lifejacket when directed by the master of the vessel, for example when the master considers there is a heightened risk of an incident occurring or if an incident was to occur, it might be difficult to help yourself. Examples of heightened risk include (but are not limited to):
- Boating in bad weather such as in a gale warning, storm warning, severe thunderstorm warning or other severe weather warnings issued by the Bureau of Meteorology
- When a yacht does not have safety barriers, lifelines, rails, safety harnesses or jack lines in use
- Boating by the elderly, non-swimmers and people with serious medical conditions
- When the vessel has broken down
- When there is a significant likelihood that the vessel may be capsized or swamped by waves, or the occupants of the vessel may fall overboard or be forced to enter the water
- Other similar circumstances.
Servicing inflatable lifejackets
The emergence of affordable, comfortable and stylish lifejackets is a major step forward in boating safety. Inflatable lifejackets are rapidly gaining popularity because of their convenience and increasing affordability.
As lifejackets spend so much time in a harsh marine environment where they are often exposed to heat, sun and salt, they are subject to damage. One aspect of inflatables that boaters are often unaware of is that NSW regulations require inflatable lifejackets to be serviced at least annually, unless the manufacturer specifies and permits a longer period.
Some manufacturers require you to have your lifejacket serviced by them or by an authorised agent. This will ensure it remains in good working order and functions properly.
When the lifejacket is serviced, checks will be carried out to ensure the bladder, reflective tapes, buckles and straps are in working order and that the inflation system and oral inflation tube are operating correctly. Contact the manufacturer or the place of purchase for further details.
Some manufacturers allow you to 'self service' your lifejacket, provided you do so in accordance with their instructions.
If the manufacturer allows self servicing you should be competent to do so. Otherwise you should get it serviced professionally, which is a higher level of inspection and replacement of parts than 'self service'.
If you are self servicing, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. If there is a service record in the inside of the jacket, sign and date the service record with a permanent marker. If not, make a paper record of your own and keep a copy handy on board the vessel.
Keep all servicing receipts and certificates of servicing as documentary evidence of the service occurring. Failure to do so makes verifying servicing impossible and you could be in breach of the safety equipment requirements.
Keeping a safety equipment log for your vessel is a good way to record service or replacement dates. You can also visit Maritime alerts to register for a free email service reminding you when your safety gear needs to be serviced or replaced.
How to self check your inflatable lifejacket step by step guide
Self checking a lifejacket can be done at any time to ensure the jacket is functioning properly. If you want to 'self service' your lifejacket, follow the manufacturer's instructions for your specific lifejacket model.
Check for visible signs of wear and damage. Ensure all fastenings and buckles are in good working order.
Following manufacturer's instructions, reveal the inflation system and oral inflation tube. Inflate bladder using the oral tube and leave overnight in a room with constant temperature. If the bladder loses pressure, immediately take jacket to an accredited service agent for further tests. Do not attempt to repair jacket yourself.
Use cap attached to the oral inflation tube to deflate bladder. Invert cap and press down on valve at the top of the oral tube. Do not insert other objects into top of tube as they may damage the valve. Roll or press jacket to deflate fully.
Remove CO2 cylinder and inspect. The cylinder should be intact with no rust or corrosion. Weigh cylinder on kitchen or letter scales, ensure weight corresponds to the minimum gross weight engraved on cylinder +/– 2g. If cylinder is rusted, corroded, has been pierced or is not the correct weight it should be replaced immediately. On auto inflation jackets also ensure auto components are armed and in date. Refit cylinder to inflation system, tightening it by hand until firm. Do not over tighten.
Repack jacket as per manufacturer's instructions. Ensure manual inflation toggle is accessible and unlikely to be caught when being worn.