Public Swaps 800 Life Jackets under Arizona Exchange Program

The Arizona Game and Fish Department swapped approximately 800 old and tattered life jackets with new ones during life jacket exchange events at area lakes this past summer.

During the popular events, the public can swap old, less-effective life jackets for new ones. The department began the life jacket exchange program in 2008 to help save lives and to encourage watercraft users to remain safe on the water.

"Wearing a life jacket is the most effective way to prevent against drowning," said Josh Hoffman, AZGFD Boating Safety Education Program coordinator. "However, after a few years in Arizona's hot dry climate, a life jacket's effectiveness is drastically reduced. That's why it's important to replace your life jacket every three to five years to make sure it will not fail when you need it most."

The program began with one exchange event during National Safe Boating Week at Lake Havasu City. Today the department swaps life jackets during multiple events at Lake Pleasant, Lake Havasu, Saguaro Lake and Canyon Lake throughout the year.

The life jacket exchange program is funded through a U.S. Coast Guard grant to purchase new jackets in a variety of sizes.

Drowning was the reported cause of death in 78 percent of the 610 recreational boating fatalities in 2014 nationwide, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Of those incidents, 84 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

"As important as having a life jacket, people need to make sure it's the right size," Hoffman said. "A life jacket won't be of much help if it's the wrong size."

Users should refer to the manufacturer's label on the life jacket, which should include a recommendation for the user's size and weight. To make sure the life jacket is worn properly, keep in mind:
  • A life jacket should fit snug.
  • It shouldn't rise more than 1.5 inches when lifting it up on a child.
  • Raise both arms straight up and if the life jacket hits your chin or ears, it may be too big or the straps may be too loose.
  • You should also be able to fit your fingers in the back of the life jacket on a child. If you can't, then it's likely too tight.

All boats in Arizona must have a life jacket aboard for every passenger and those 12 years old and younger must wear a life jacket at all times, under state law.

For more information on boating in Arizona, to sign up for a safety course and for a video on properly fitting a life jacket, visit or

The Arizona Game and Fish Department prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, religion, or disability in its programs and activities. If anyone believes that they have been discriminated against in any of the AZGFD's programs or activities, including its employment practices, the individual may file a complaint alleging discrimination directly with the Director's Office, 5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086-5000, (602) 942-3000, or with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: Civil Rights Coordinator for Public Access, 4401 N. Fairfax Dr., Mail Stop WSFR-4020, Arlington, VA 22203. Persons with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation or this document in an alternative format by contacting the Director's Office as listed above.