Life jackets and personal flotation devices
It is compulsory to wear a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD):
- when crossing a designated coastal bar in an open boat that is less than 4.8m in length
- if you are under 12 years old (from 12 months old and up to, but not including, 12 years old) in an open boat that is less than 4.8m in length and underway.
Legislation also requires that:
- boat owners or skippers must give each person on board information about where safety equipment is kept and clearly sign where life jackets are stowed. The labels must have the words ‘life jacket’ in red text on a white background or white text on a red background
- life jackets must comply and display information about which Australian Standard (AS) applies. The current standard is AS 4758, which has replaced AS 1512-1996, AS 1499-1996 and AS 2260-1996. You do not have to upgrade your current PFD that meets the old standards—they will still be acceptable to use for as long as they are in good condition.
Types of life jackets/personal flotation devices
There are 5 different types of PFDs.
For use in smooth, partially smooth and open waters
- To comply with Australian Standard 4758 it must be marked 'Level 100', 'Level 150' or 'Level 275'.
- To comply with Australian Standard 1512–1996 it must be marked 'PFD type 1'.
- Not to be used by personal watercraft (PWC) riders, skiers or people being towed.
For use in smooth and partially smooth waters
- To comply with Australian Standard 4758 it must be marked 'Level 50'.
- To comply with Australian Standard 1499-1996 it must be marked with 'PFD type 2'.
- Keeps you afloat but does not have a collar to keep the head above water.
- Can be used by skiers or people being towed in smooth or partially smooth waters.
- Can be used by PWC riders in smooth and partially smooth waters or beyond those waters.
For use in smooth waters
- To comply with Australian Standard 4758 it must be marked 'Level 50 special purpose'.
- To comply with Australian Standard 2260-1996 it must be marked with 'PFD type 3'.
- May be a specified buoyancy wet suit.
- For use in smooth water and only where the user is likely to be in the water for a short time.
- Can be used by skiers or people being towed in smooth waters.
- Can be used by PWC riders in smooth waters.
Coastal and SOLAS
These jackets have more flotation than a Level 100 life jacket under AS 4758 or a PFD type 1 under AS 1512–1996. They are bulky life jackets designed to keep the body afloat for long periods. They have reflective tape and a whistle to attract attention. These jackets are mostly carried by commercial boats and recommended to be carried by boats operating long distances offshore.
Inflatable PFDs / life jackets
Inflatable life jackets are approved equipment and must comply with the same standards for foam PFDs. They must be gas inflated and not rely on oral inflation only.
Inflatable PFDs used on a recreational boat must show an expiry date and be serviced by the manufacturer or authorised service centre annually. Instead, if the manufacturer has established a documented servicing program the owner or master can service the PFD themselves, but must produce documentary evidence showing they followed the servicing program.
Quick safety tips
- Keep life jackets in good condition and accessible at all times. You must clearly sign where life jackets are stowed on your boat.
- Life jackets must fit the wearer; PFDs that don’t fit won’t meet the safety equipment requirement.
- Make sure everyone knows how to put life jackets on quickly.
- Life jackets should be marked correctly to make sure they comply with standards.