Monday, May 8, 2023

2023 Life Jacket Changes

New Life Jacket Labels and Icons – What do they Mean?

Have you seen the new labeling on Life Jackets? Around 2022 Life Jacket manufacture's started producing Life Jackets with the new labeling (established April 17, 2019. See US Coast Guard notice). Large and small retailers are just now starting to carry these new labeled life jackets as they wanted to sell out their stock of older life jackets with the old Type I-V labeling (still legal). The new labeling is an effort to make selecting the right life jacket for you and your intended on-water activity, easier. This new labeling process is also referred to as life jacket label harmonization, which is an effort to make them more universally understood and accepted, especially in Canada and Europe (means you can use your USA life jackets there). The goal was to simplify the labels with less writing and more icons.

What Was the Old USCG Life Jacket/PFD Approval System?

The Old USCG Approval System divided Life Jacket/PFDs into Types: I, II, III, IV (not a life jacket, a throwable ring or cushion), and V. The Intended Use (Paddling, Sailing, General Boating, etc.) was added to the label printed on the inside of the Life Jacket/PFD. All models approved were only certified for use in the United States, U.S. territories and U.S. vessels at sea.

Top 10 Features and Goals of the New US Coast Guard approved Life Jacket Labels are as follows...

1. Performance summary graphic

2. Activity appropriateness icons

3. Legal requirements specified

4. Reduce language barriers

5. More universal acceptance

6. Harmony with other countries

7. Approval status clearly noted

8. Third party testing verification

9. Manufacturer contact information

10. Care and cleaning instructions

In general, the intent of the new labels is to help users select and care for the appropriate life jacket for the activity in which they are participating. The labels have fewer words more easily understood icons.

What About the Old Labels and Life Jackets?

In 2014, the U.S. Coast Guard removed the “Type” codes from the Code of Federal Regulations. As you may recall, life jackets/personal flotation devices had been referred to as Type I, II, III, IV and V, each of which corresponded to a certain performance or designated use. Going forward, these devices will be referred to as either “throwable” or “wearable” and have a performance category indicated by an icon.

Old Label

New life jackets that are brought to the market feature these new labels. However, it will take many years for the older style labels to be completely phased out and you are likely to see both styles in stores, on boats and in use for many years to come. Any life jacket with the old-style label that is still serviceable and in overall good shape, as long as it’s Coast Guard approved, will continue to meet regulatory requirements. However, these old TYPE life jackets may not be legal in other countries.

Take the Time Understand the New Label

Selecting a proper life jacket and wearing it is the best thing a boater can do to ensure a safe and enjoyable day on the water. A hang tag with important information accompanies each new life jacket. If shopping in a store, be sure you leaf through this hang tag or ask a store associate if you have any questions (some of these associates may not know or understand the labeling). If shopping online, read the full product description and reviews to ensure you’re purchasing the right life jacket for you. Taking a safe boating or other marina course should educate you enough about these new life jackets.

New life jackets feature information in four main categories, usually in separate boxes. At the top of the label, usually toward the neck, is sizing information. The sizing usually specifies a user weight range and chest size range. Proper fit is one of the most important considerations when selecting a life jacket. Additional considerations are found elsewhere on the life jacket label. The placement and location of the information may vary; however, they must be on the life jacket.

What the Labels Tell You

 Performance, Buoyancy and Turning Information (does it float you face up or not, etc)

 Warnings, Intended Activity and Limitations of Use

 Manufacturer, Certification and Approval Information

 Care and Maintenance Instructions

Understanding the New Label and Icons...

LEVEL 50: Intended for active watersports like water skiing and wakeboarding, these minimize bulk and restriction. They may also be used by dinghy sailors. Regulatory changes will have to be made in the U.S. and Canada for these to be legal, so their introduction appears to be many years off. They provide around 11.2 lbs of buoyancy. It is less buoyant than a Type III, very minimal buoyancy. Better to go with a 70. 

LEVEL 70: Very similar to an old Type III Life Jacket used for inland waters. Inherently buoyant, close-fitting, and available in a variety of designs tailored to different types of boating. 15.5 to 22.5 lbs of buoyancy. In the future, there may be inflatable versions of Level 70 devices, but this would require a change in federal regulations.

LEVEL 100: These vests will have greater buoyancy for rougher waters. They may be either inherently buoyant or inflatable. Around 22.4 lbs of buoyancy.

LEVEL 150: These vests will be similar to our current offshore inflatable life jackets and may have integral harnesses. Intended for rough waters where rescue may not be immediate. Will also have inherently buoyant versions. Around 33.7 lbf of buoyancy.

LEVEL 275 (not shown in above diagram, shown below): These inflatable life jackets will be for extreme conditions, especially when the wearer might be carrying gear that adversely affects his/her buoyancy (like tools). They are generally intended for commercial users.

Throwable Life Rings and other lifesaving throwable flotation devices are no longer called Type IV (4) Throwables but now are simply called "Throwables."

All these Life Jacket rating levels indicate Performance, Buoyancy and Turning Information – The thing you’ll notice is a bold-faced number. It could be 50, 70, 100, 150, or 275. These are measurements of gravitational force, which in the case of a life jacket is essentially buoyancy. Simply put, the higher the number, the greater the floatation. For the time being, most all of the life jackets on the market today in the United States are Level 70 life jackets.

Let’s go over an example.

Level 70 Label Decoding - The bold 70 means it’s a Level 70 life jacket which provides performance similar to the Type III life jackets previously available. Life jackets that are rated lower than 70 are not U.S. Coast Guard approved. This is a metric measurement in Newtons (70N is roughly 15 lbs. of floatation). Newtons are used so that it’s consistent with European and Canadian standards.

Also, on a Level 70 life jacket label, you’ll see a dock and an extended hand with some slightly wavy lines indicating fairly calm water. This means this life jacket is suitable for near shore use in relatively protected water where rescue is likely to be near at hand. You’ll note that the higher the number on these icons, the farther away the dock and background is, and the bigger the waves are in the icon.

The curved arrow indicates the turning ability of the life jacket. Turning ability is whether or not a life jacket is capable or designed to turn an unconscious person face up, unassisted. A Level 70 life jacket will not turn a person right side up, that’s what the curved arrow with a slash through it indicates. If there is no slash, it will turn most wearers face up. The higher the level number the more turning ability.

The next thing you’ll notice are warnings and exclusions. In this example, this life jacket is suitable for general boating. However, there are icons with activities and a slash through it. These symbols indicate this life jacket is not suitable for towed sports such as skiing and tubing, nor is it for personal watercraft operation or whitewater paddle sports. The exclamation mark in a triangle indicates a warning/alert/problem/issue. 

Some jurisdictions may have regulations about what device design is required.

Manufacturer and Certification Information

In the United States and on navigable waterways, a Coast Guard approved life jacket, properly fitted for the intended wearer must be aboard for each occupant. Therefore, knowing your life jacket is approved by the Coast Guard to meet carriage requirements is important. You’ll find this information, as well as testing approval numbers and manufacturer information in this section of the label.

Care and Maintenance Instructions

A life jacket should be viewed as an investment. You should care for it like you would anything else aboard that depends on proper function, with the exception this one could save your life! Your label and manual that came with your life jacket will have general cleaning and care instructions. These icons inform you to hand wash only, and to not use bleach, dry-cleaners, irons, or dryers in your care routine.

Life Jackets - Some Things to Know

 There must be at least one life jacket for each person aboard
 Life jackets must be properly sized for each person aboard
 Children under a certain age are required to wear their life jacket (typically under 13 – see state requirements)
 Participants engaged in certain water sports are required to wear a life jacket (typically skiing and personal watercraft operation – see state or counties regional requirements)
 Life jackets must be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard in order to meet requirements
 These life jackets must be readily accessible and not in an out-of-reach location or in original packaging if easily accessible.
 Any boat 16’ and longer (except canoes and kayaks) must carry a throwable PFD
 Throwable devices must be immediately available for use such as in the cockpit or near the helm
 An inflatable life jacket must be properly armed with an unused gas cylinder
 Inflatable life jackets are authorized for use on recreational boats by a person at least 16 years of age (not authorized for commercial use).
 Whistle/Sounding Device on a Life Jacket is not required in the United States navigable waterways but are of course highly recommended. Adding a small light and/or strobe light to a Life Jacket is also recommended.

Learn more about Life Jackets and other boating safety information at the US Coast Guard website...

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