Boaters & Paddlers

Explanation of Labels

New labels will no longer refer to different life jacket styles by "type," as in "Type 1, Type II, etc.” In the fall of 2014, the US Coast Guard removed the type codes from federal regulations. Some states and territories followed suit and removed "types" from their laws, while others are working through their legislative process of making the change. 

Newly introduced life jackets will be classified by "level." Devices are designed, constructed, and tested under controlled conditions and assigned a performance level. Performance is a combination of factors, buoyancy, freeboard, turning, stability, and visibility. The Performance level indicates the conditions of use for which the life jacket is intended.

Attached to each new life jacket will be a hang tag to help the consumer understand and pick the appropriate life jacket. Think of this hang tag as the "Key" or "Decoder Ring" for life jacket labels. It gives the consumer all the information necessary to figure out the best life jacket for the conditions or activity for which they intend to use the life jacket. The hang tag will enable the consumer to determine if the life jacket they intend to purchase suits their needs based on that life jacket's label. 

There will be three informational panels on the life jacket. The placement and arrangement of these panels may vary. However, all the information contained in the panels must be on each life jacket. There will be one panel to describe each of these topics: wearer information, manufacturer's information, and care information.

Let’s look at the label

Wearer Information Panel

Will contain sizing, buoyancy, caution, and exclusion information.


Lifejackets are separated into four broad categories based on weight. The label is a general guideline only as body type and size vary considerably.

  • Adult - with a weight greater than 88 lbs./40kg
  • Youth - with a weight over 55 lbs./25 kg and less than or equal to 88 lbs /40kg
  • Child - with a weight over 33 lbs. /15 kg and less than or equal to 55 lbs. /25 kg
  • Infant - users with a weight less than or equal to 33 lbs. /15 kg


Buoyancy is the ability or tendency to float (in water or air). If you push something buoyant under the water and let go, it rises back up against the pull of gravity. The resistance you feel when pushing it down is its 'buoyant force.'

Force can be measured in different ways but is commonly expressed in units of force called newtons (N), named after Sir Isaac Newton, a pioneer of the study of physics.


Newtons are the unit of measure to describe "force," just as Fahrenheit or Celsius are units used to describe temperature. The legacy labels described this buoyancy force in units of pounds (lbs)".

Force is calculated using the second law of Newton's three laws of motion. This law states: Force equals mass times acceleration [ F= (m)(a) ].

A good explanation of "force" and this formula can be found here:


Icons are meant to indicate the distance from shore a person will be and/or the length of time it will take for a rescue. The higher the numbers indicate greater flotation, turning, and stability in the water or the performance level.

Level 50 - intended for use by competent swimmers near shore who have help and a means of rescue close at hand. A level 50 has NO turning ability. LEVEL 50 IS NOT COAST GUARD APPROVED!

Important considerations:


- user is expected to have swimming skills

- not recommended for weak or non-swimmers

- intended to be used close to shore and when immediate assistance is available

- no turning ability

It is important to note unless a federal or state rule specifies that a Coast Guard approved life jacket must be worn, a life jacket that is not Coast Guard-approved can be worn legally. However, a life jacket that is not Coast Guard approved will not legally satisfy the Coast Guard life jacket carriage requirements. A life jacket meeting carriage requirements must be carried onboard the vessel to satisfy the letter of the law. 

Level 70 - intended for use near shore where a means of rescue is close at hand. Some of these devices are designed and intended for specific activities such as paddling, waterskiing, or use on personal watercraft. This style of life jacket is not required to turn an unconscious person into a safe position. 

Important considerations for use:

- intended to be used in calm or sheltered waters

- intended to be used close to shore or help near to hand

- no turning ability

Level 100 - intended for use in sheltered waters where rescue may not occur immediately. Higher performance-rated life jackets would be a better choice for rough waters. 

Important considerations for use: 

- intended to be used in calm or sheltered water 

- when rescue is not immediate, expecting some time to wait for rescue

- has some turning ability

Level 150 - intended for general application or for use with foul-weather clothing. It will turn an unconscious person into a safe position and requires no subsequent action by the user to maintain this position.

Important considerations for use: 

- intended to be used in offshore waters with waves

- has turning ability

Level 275 - intended primarily for offshore use under extreme conditions or where rescue is expected to take a long time.

Important considerations for use:

- offshore emergency situations

- used with the weight of extra tools, equipment, or clothing

Turning Icon
The curved arrow icons indicate the ability of a life jacket to turn an unconscious person face up. Each life jacket is marked with one of two icons to let the wearer know if a life jacket is capable or designed to turn an unconscious person face up without assistance. 

The arrow with the slash through it is the "NO TURN" icon. A life jacket with this icon WILL NOT TURN a person face up. The other icon (with no slash) indicates the life jacket is designed to turn most wears face-up. The higher-level life jackets will have the most turning ability.

Intended Use Icons

The warnings panel on the label includes essential information about the device and its intended use. These icons represent activities for which the life jacket may not be appropriate such as waterskiing, towed watersports, or personal watercraft. Therefore, if any of these icons appear on the label, the life jacket is NOT approved for that activity. 

This area may also include important information about the requirement to wear the life jacket. 

The icon with the slash through a waterskiing tow line handle indicates this life jacket is NOT approved for waterskiing or participating in similar towed uses. 

The icon with the slash through the person being towed on a tube indicates this life jacket is NOT approved for tubing or participating in similar uses.

The icon with the slash through the person riding a personal watercraft indicates this life jacket is NOT approved for use onboard a PWC (also known as Jet Ski®, WaveRunner® and other brand names).

The icon with the slash through the person padding a kayak in whitewater is the icon indicating this life jacket is NOT approved for use in whitewater conditions.  

NOTE: States may develop their own life jacket requirement rules pertaining to these activities or types of boats. 

Manufacturer Information Panel

Will include:

  • Name of manufacturer
  • Company address
  • Company website
  • Approval numbers
  • ANSI/CAN/UL standard number
  • Model, Lot Number, and style
  • May include important notes
    • May include conditions of Coast Guard approval, such as a wearage requirement like those on the legacy label of a Type V life jacket or an age restriction. 

Care and Maintenance Panel

Will include notes about use, inspection, and care instructions. The label on the life jacket and manual that came with it will indicate notes about inspection, and care instructions. Standard laundry icons will inform you to hand wash only, not use bleach, dry-clean, irons, or dryers in your care routine.

The cleaning industry has developed a set of universally accepted icons. GINETEX – The International Association for Textile Care Labeling is a good reference source to determine the meaning of cleaning icons.