New life jacket labeling

John Wesley Nash

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Several years ago, the U.S. Coast Guard adopted new life jacket labeling standards and terminology. Manufacturers are still transitioning to the new standards.

I recently visited a marine supply store with a large selection of life jackets from different manufacturers. About half of the new life jackets used the new labeling standard; the rest used the old standard. Few sales personnel seemed familiar with the new standards. For this reason, all boaters should become familiar with the new life jacket labeling standards and terminology.

It would be difficult to explain all the complex changes in a few pages. Fortunately, a knowledge of the basics makes it easy to understand the new standards.

In the past, the USCG labeled life jackets by type: I, II, III or V. The new standards use icons and graphics. Buoyancy is shown in Newtons, not in pounds of flotation. Using Newtons, icons and graphics allows life jackets to be labeled the same in Canada, Europe and the U.S.

The scale of new life jacket performance icons
New life jacket performance icons and their associated properties

How the old and new labeling compare

New limitations of use icons

Other important life jacket information

Life jacket laws and regulations vary from state to state. If a state has not adopted its own life jacket laws and regulations, then the USCG rules apply.

For example, let’s compare life jacket regulations in Maryland and Florida.

In Maryland, children 12 years old and younger must wear a USCG-approved life jacket at all times when aboard any water vessel less than 21 feet in length, except when the child is below deck in an enclosed cabin or when the vessel is moored or docked. Children under 4 must wear life jackets with additional safety precautions. (See Maryland State requirements for recreational vessels.)

In Florida, children under 6 years old are required to wear a USCG-approved life jacket at all times when aboard any water vessel less than 26 feet long that is underway. Florida does not specifically address that young children need to wear a life jacket with additional safety precautions. (See Florida State requirements for recreational vessels.)

Always check the life jacket laws and regulations for the state where you are boating. And remember that all life jackets must be USCG-approved, in serviceable condition and properly stored.

Remembering the meaning of all the new icons may not be practical. To address that challenge, the new standard mandates new life jacket labels and new purchase labels. The purchase labels must be attached to each new life jacket for sale.

Example of the new life jacket label designs
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