For recreational boats in Canada (also known as Pleasure Craft) there is a legal requirement to have:

"one Canadian approved personal flotation device or lifejacket of appropriate size for each person on board"

Safety organizations including Transport Canada, The Canadian Coast Guard, The Red Cross Society, The Lifesaving Society,
The Canadian Safe Boating Council, etc., strongly recommend
that these devices be worn.


• Check the requirements for your type and size of boat as described in the Transport Canada - Safe Boating Guide Safe-Boats (you will leave this site)

• Read more information about lifejackets and PFDs in the Transport Canada - Safe Boating Guide Safe-Boaters (you will leave this site)

• Download a pdf version of 2011 Safe Boating Guide - Transport Canada (you will leave this site)




Regulations regarding lifejackets and PFDs have evolved from a long history of maritime law and an equally long history of trying to solve the problem of loss of life at sea.

The traditions of nautical preparedness, combined with harsh lessons learned in wartime and major disasters have given rise to international standards which have been adapted and combined with national laws and regulations.

There are now regulations to ensure that boats and equipment are built for safety, that waterways are marked and maintained for safe navigation and that appropriate warnings are given to the public for their protection.

All regulations regarding safety equipment in boats and the approvals of lifejackets and PFDs are under federal authority and are the same across Canada. These regulations are now administered by Transport Canada (TC).


The Canada Shipping Act

Canadian regulations and laws about boating arise from the Canada Shipping Act a federal law originally passed by Parliament in 1906. Most recently the Act has been completely revised in 2001 (CSA 2001) and regulations within that act are undergoing a period of review and reform which takes several years. Amendments must go through a lengthy process of investigation, public consultation with stakeholders, and finally the fine tooth comb of precise legal language.

The new Small Vessel Regulations have come into effect in May 2010.

When it comes to the enforcement of these regulations some areas with provincial and/or municipal police forces will have agreements that allow those authorities to enforce by warning or by the levying of fines, the regulations as set forth under federal law.

Note: Until very recently the Canadian Coast Guard and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) were responsible for some of these regulations. As a result many flotation devices still carry Coast Guard approvals.

• Link to Canada Shipping Act CSA 2001 (you will leave this site)

• Link to Small Vessel Regulations (you will leave this site)


back to top





Approved devices that fulfil the legal requirement for lifejackets and PFD's carry an approval label permanently affixed to the device.

In Canada, design and manufacture are tested by the independent Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC) before being approved by Transport Canada, a department of the federal government. Until recently approvals were also given by the Canadian Coast Guard. Many current lifejackets and PFD's carry this Coast Guard approved label and are legal as long as they are in good serviceable condition and fit the person who would be wearing them.

Note: Flotation seat cushions are no longer approved devices.

• Read "A few words on lifejackets and personal flotation devices in Canada" (Approvals) Transport Canada - Office of Boating Safety



In the U.S.A. the Coast Guard has a different system of classification and approvals. They refer to all approved devices as Personal Flotation Devices and they are divided into 5 Types. Types I and II are recognized as lifejackets (with turning ability and more flotation), the Type III's encompass a range of vest type personal flotation devices (less flotation - no turning ability), the Type IV's are throwing devices and includes floating seat cushions and the Type V's are special devices for specific purposes and include collar and pouch inflatables.

• National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) (you will leave this site)

• United States Coast Guard (USCG) (you will leave this site)


back to top


Personal responsibility


Striking a balance between expert knowledge of risk and the traditions of freedom of choice often presents challenges for regulators and safety organizations, particularly in the recreational boating realm.

In the professional work area, economic pressures and local social traditions can also influence how regulations are received. Individual, corporate and governmental responsibility must combine to produce safe water environments for work and recreation.

• Read more about Your Responsibility


back to top




Read directly an excerpt from CSBC/SMARTRISK Report "Will it Float?" 2003 containing legal opinions on owner liability and passenger responsibility regarding the wearing of lifejackets.


back to top




• Canada Shipping Act CSA 2001 (you will leave this site)

• Small Vessel Regulations (you will leave this site)

• Transport Canada (you will leave this site)

• Safe Boating Guide (you will leave this site)


back to top