Life Jackets
A life jacket, or personal flotation device (PFD), is the single most important piece of safety equipment for any boater, and to be most effective, it must be worn.  Each year in Wisconsin a number of boating fatalities occur -- 16 in 2009.  In all cases the victims were not wearing a life jacket.  In 13 of the cases, the boats involved were smaller than sixteen feet long.  In the event of a small boat capsizing, or a person falling overboard, there is no time to put that PFD on. 

Rules and Regulations
It's important for the boater to know the rules and regulations that govern this popular sport.  Most Wisconsin regulations follow those promulgated at the federal level, and in some cases the state regulations can go beyond the federal. Federal regulations are enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal agencies, but only on waters that are navigable waters of the United States.  In Wisconsin, that includes Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Green Bay, Lake Winnebago, and the Mississippi River, and a number of others as well.  State DNR wardens enforce state and local regulations on all waters in the state, as do local law enforcement agencies.  Local ordinances are posted at access points to the specific water body, so you'll want to read the postings before setting out from shore.  For a summary of the federal and state regulations, consult the following references:

A Boater's Guide to the Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats
Wisconsin Boating Regulations and Handbook 

Vessel Safety Checks
A Vessel Safety Check is a review of the equipment that you are required to have on your boat, along with guidance on safe practices and recommendations for additional equipment.  It's also a chance to get questions answered by an experienced boater.  The Vessel Safety Check is performed by a member of organizations such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or the U.S. Power Squadron.  It's free, and voluntary.  And it will not result in a citation or warning.  There is no law enforcement action involved in the check, and no report of missing equipment or an unsafe situation is made to law enforcement agencies.   To help you prepare for a check of your boat's legal requirements, you can complete a Virtual Vessel Safety Check (VSC) on line.  You can also find contact information for the Vessel Examiners in your area who perform the Vessel Safety Checks