I went to a state park with a buddya couple of years back. He had a pontoon and I had a belly boat. The ranger came over and told my buddy that he had to wear a life jacket but I was OK with out one. I really dont know what the difference is. Just thought I would let you know.
I don't know if it's the law, but wearing one is a very good idea, especially if you fish for species with spines or sharp teeth (or if you throw big lures). I used to fish out of a U-boat II and more than once had to hightail it for shore as the ominous sound of escaping air provided grim backgroung music. The cause? Striped bass (and wipers) have very sharp dorsal spines and when I brought them to hand, they'd puncture the air bladder!
Here's another thought. If the unthinkable happens and you fall out of your tube, would you rather know that you're going to float because you've got your life vest on or do you want to play Russian roulette to see if you can make it to shore before you tire, or drown because you didn't have a flotation aid?
Life jackets can be a pain to wear, but it beats being dead...I used to wear a regular life jacket but because much of my pontoon fishing happens when its hot and uncomfortable to wear one of those, I bought one of the automatic units that will inflate if I fall in.
Remember, no fish, not even that 30-lb permit on a fly, or a 50-lb albacore, or the state record northern, is worth risking your life over. Your buddy's life...perhaps, but not yours.
Ha! I too have heard the sound of rushing air, as a wiper filped out of my grasp hit the front of the tube, and gently slide back into the lake. (This was @ Jackson). Not quite the release I had planned .
state law says float tubes/pontoons or any inflatabe must have multiple air chambers/bladders or it can only be used in designated roped off swim areas if it has a single chaber/bladder it is classified as a swim toy with multiple chambers/bladders if falls under boating regs and as such you must have 1 life vest per person redily available but does not have to be worn these are the state (and federal ie coast guard) regs some parks or other controling agencies may have more restrictive regs for the waters they control
if you are using any sort of floatation device outside of a swim beach you must attleast have a lfe jacket with you and readily accessable it isnt always enforced but it is the law