new labeling on a child's life jacket
new labeling on a child's life jacket

New USCG Life Jacket Labels Aim to Help Boaters Choose the Best Option

By DAN Boater

In this newly-released video from The Water Sports Foundation, Boating Magazine Editor Randy Vance gives the boating community an update on the new labeling and hang tags that are showing up on life jackets right now.

Click the PLAY button above to learn:

"The United States Coast Guard is adopting new labeling and qualifying standards for life jackets to make it easier for boaters to buy the life jackets they need for the activities they enjoy.

"These new standards are expected to be adopted and embraced by the international maritime authorities, making it easier for Canadian and American boaters and their respective law enforcement agencies to know each boat is properly equipped with life jackets.

"The new standards also clarify the activity for which life jackets were designed and their life-saving capabilities.

"Not only will the applications labels change, the US Coast Guard is engaging international safety certification laboratories like UL to develop requirements to certify that the new lifejackets are tested to meet the applications for which they're labeled."

"So UL is one of the few US Coast Guard independent recognized testing laboratories," explained Chris P. James, Principal Engineer at UL LLC. "I personally have been at UL for 21 years and the purpose for what we do for testing life jackets is to verify its compliance to our safety standards, and those tests include both in-water performance testing as well as mechanical properties testing.

"We do testing called "donning" test which is to verify that the subject can don the device within a certain amount of time in an emergency situation. We also verify that when the person dons the life jacket, and they enter the water, that the device does stay intact on the person and the device does not injure the person.

"One of the tests that we also do is verifying that the device itself provides an adequate amount of distance above the surface of the water when the person is floating; and we call that "free board".

"And we also have a test that we call a "righting" test which is to determine in a situation where the device is being moved up and down on the subject, that the device itself stays down and does not impede any respiration or impedes any vision.

"So for some performance-level PFDs, we do evaluate the ability of the device to turn an unconscious wearer to a face-up position. That test requires us to put that subject into a face-down position and then we determine if that device has the ability to turn that person face-up without any ability of the subject to do that.

"We do perform mechanical properties test on life jackets. One of those tests is strength tests that we perform both on the body straps and the zippers of the life jacket, as well as the shoulders. And the purpose for that testing is to verify that if someone was to be retrieved in an emergency situation, that device does not come off of the subject or be damaged such that it will not keep the subject above water.

"Another test we perform is a buoyancy test. We require that to be submerged underwater for 24 hours and after that 24 hour period we then measure the final bouyancy to determine if it's compliant with the requirements of the standard.

"Life jackets do not have an expiration date primarily because it is based on how that device is maintained and stored when it's not being used. We do, however, recommend at the beginning of every boating season you do take your device out and inspect it for any damage as well as float in the water with the device to verify that it does still maintain it's in-water performance.

"The most important thing about the fit of a life jacket is that, first and foremost, you try it on, and, secondly, that it fits you.

"The importance of creating new life jacket labels was to simplify the language for the users so that they can make a sound decision when purchasing and or using life jackets.

"There are numerous changes to the new life jacket labels. The biggest change is the replacement of words with icons. It makes it much easier for the user to read and understand and be able to choose the right device to use in its intended application.

"In addition to the life jacket labeling, each device is also provided with a hang tag that we classify "the decoder ring" that helps the users understand the labeling on the device and the different types of icons.

"There are a few things you should look for when you're purchasing a life jacket:

"First and foremost is the size and fit.

"Second should be the intended use. So are you going to use it for a PwC? Are using it for water skiing? Or [are you] also going to be using it for whitewater, for example?

"Number three would be its water environment. Are you going to be near shore or are you going to be offshore?

"And finally, you should make sure that the device is US Coast Guard-approved and also has a third-party certification mark.

"Devices with both old and new labels are currently acceptable in the US as long as they are provided with the US Coast approval number.

"Life jackets only work if you wear them so we recommend that you always wear your life jacket.

"If you didn't take anything [else] away from this video, please remember: fit is extremely important, and you must always wear your life jacket."

"Thanks to this international effort," Randy concluded, "boaters can feel confident in selecting the correct jackets for their activities. Even more important, the new regulations don't make obsolete the life jackets you already own. You can continue to use them for as long as they're serviceable.

For details about the new labels, including an overview of the new icons and what they mean and a comparison to the old labels, at