Lifejacket law

A lifejacket can only save your life if you are wearing it

Lifejackets are the most important item of safety equipment on any recreational vessel. In NSW, 7 out of 10 people who drown while boating are not wearing a lifejacket. 

Wearing a lifejacket can save your life. We recommend you wear one at all times. Lifejackets are also known as personal flotation devices or PFDs.

Vessels must carry enough approved lifejackets for everyone on board at all times – even when they do not have to be worn.

Lifejackets must be stored for quick and easy access on board. If they're not easy to see, the storage area must have a sign saying 'Lifejackets' (red lettering on a white background). You can get a free sticker from your nearest service centre.


There are rules for when you must wear a lifejacket and what type. These rules depend on:

  • your age – there are special rules for children aged under 12 years
  • the level of risk
  • the type of vessel you're in
  • where you are – for example, enclosed waters, alpine waters, open waters or crossing coastal bars
  • what time of day you're on the water.

There are different types of lifejackets – for example, Level 50, Level 50S and Level 100. 

Heightened risk

As well as the specific rules for different types of vessels, you must wear a lifejacket when the skipper tells you to. This may be at times of heightened risk, for example:

  • when there's a gale, storm, severe thunderstorm or other severe weather warning from the Bureau of Meteorology

  • when there are passengers who are elderly, are non-swimmers or have a serious medical condition

  • if the vessel is in danger of capsizing or being swamped by waves

  • if people on the vessel are in danger of falling overboard or being forced to enter the water

  • when cold water temperatures are likely

  • if the vessel has broken down

  • on sailing boats without safety barriers, lifelines, rails, safety harnesses or jack lines.

Powerboats and sailing boats

These lifejacket rules cover all powerboats and sailing boats, including tenders and off-the-beach sailing boats. See below for requirements for vessels up to 4.8m long, and over 4.8m long.

Over 4.8m long

Everyone must wear a Level 100 lifejacket or above when crossing coastal bars.

Up to 4.8m long

Everyone must wear a lifejacket:

Enclosed watersAlpine watersOpen waters and crossing coastal bars
When you're alone on your boat (including when you have children aged under 12 on your vessel)
Or
At night (between sunset and sunrise)

At all times

At all times

Level 50S or above

Level 50S or above

Level 100 or above
Level 50S for off-the-beach sailing boats

 

Personal watercraft (PWC)

Everyone must wear a Level 50S or above lifejacket at all times on a PWC. This includes the driver, passengers, observer, and any person being towed.

Inflatable lifejackets are not recommended when you're driving a PWC.

When towing

A person being towed by a vessel must wear a Level 50S or above lifejacket at all times. This includes wakesurfers and tow-in surfers.

Inflatable lifejackets are not recommended when you're being towed.

Sailboards and kiteboards

People on sailboards and kiteboards must wear a lifejacket when more than 400m from the shore:

Enclosed watersAlpine watersOpen waters and crossing coastal bars
When you're alone on your sailboard or kiteboard (including when you have children aged under 12 on your vessel)
Or
At night (between sunset and sunrise)

At all times

At all times

Level 50S or aboveLevel 50S or aboveLevel 50S or above

 

You must wear a lifejacket when sailboarding more than 400m from the shore and alone on your vessel.

Paddlecraft

Canoes and kayaks

People in canoes and kayaks must wear a lifejacket:

Enclosed watersAlpine watersOpen waters and crossing coastal bars

When you're alone on your canoe or kayak (including when you have children aged under 12 on your vessel)
Or
At night (between sunset and sunrise)

At all times

At all times

Level 50S or aboveLevel 50S or aboveLevel 50S or above

 

You must always wear a lifejacket in a canoe or kayak when alone in your vessel.

Surf skis

It's recommended that people using a surf ski wear a lifejacket at all times.

If your surf ski is up to 4.8m long, you must follow the same rules as for powerboats and sailing boats up to 4.8m long.

There is an exception for surf club members involved in lifesaving, training or competition – unless the event organiser says you must wear a lifejacket.

It's recommended that you wear a lifejacket when using a surf ski.

Stand-up paddle boards

It's recommended that people using stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) wear a lifejacket. If this is not possible, it's recommended that you use a leg rope so you do not get separated from your board.

Rowing vessels

People in rowing boats, rowing dinghies, rowing skiffs or small unpowered inflatable boats must wear a lifejacket:

Enclosed watersAlpine watersOpen waters and crossing coastal bars

When you're alone on your vessel (including when you have children aged under 12 on your vessel)
Or
At night (between sunset and sunrise)

At all times

At all times

Level 50S or aboveLevel 50S or aboveLevel 100 or above

 

People in rowing (racing) shells, dragon boats and outrigger canoes do not have to wear a lifejacket. This is because they are often part of organised activities and in larger vessels.

It's recommended that you wear a Level 50S or above lifejacket when alone on an outrigger canoe.

There are different types of lifejackets – for example, Level 50, Level 50S and Level 100.

Level 50 lifejackets are:

  • mainly used in enclosed waters
  • intended for people who can swim and are close to the bank or shore, or have help close by
  • designed to support you in the water, but do not automatically turn you to a face-up position
  • made in high-visibility colours to make it easier to see you in the water and increase your chance of rescue.

Level 50S lifejackets are:

  • the same as Level 50, but come in a wider range of colours and styles
  • they're popular for activities such as wakeboarding and water skiing.

Level 100 and above lifejackets have higher levels of buoyancy and help turn you to a face-up position. The different levels suit different situations.

Level 100 lifejackets are:

  • intended for use when the shore is in sight
  • not intended for rough conditions
  • helps turn you to a face-up position.

Level 150 lifejackets are:

  • intended for offshore and rough weather
  • helps turn you to a face-up position when unconscious.

More information on when you should wear a lifejacket can be found in the Boating Handbook.