Boating educators, law enforcement officers, and legislators have categorized life jackets by "type" for over forty years. Over this time, the boating community has become familiar and complacent with the terms and uses of Type I, II, III, and V life jackets. Unfortunately, the boating community is so familiar with the "legacy labeling on life jackets that the transition to the new style of labels is causing concern and confusion. However, one thing has not changed, the importance of reading and adhering to the information presented on life jacket labels is still a critical component of life jacket education and law enforcement. This website will explain the history of the new labeling standard and information on the new labels.
In 2011, President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper directed the creation of a United States-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC). The RCC brought together the United States and Canadian government regulators with health, safety, and environmental protection mandates to reduce unnecessary regulatory differences between the countries. As a result, beginning in 2014, the US Coast Guard (USCG) began the process of "harmonizing" life jackets made to the US standards and the Candian standards and standards set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). ISO 12402 is the international standard for personal flotation devices (lifejackets and buoyancy aids) used in Europe and most other countries.
A group of individuals representing various interests, known as a Standards Technical Panel (STP), was formed to review proposals for the new life jacket standards. They worked towards creating a life jacket standard acceptable to US and Canadian regulatory bodies and manufacturers.
The STP used existing regulations and international standards, ISO 12402-5 and ISO 12402-9, as the foundations for their work. Late in 2015, the STP finished their work when the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) published two new standards, ANSI/CAN/UL 12402-5, the Standard for Flotation Devices - Part 5: Buoyancy Aids (Level 50) - Safety Requirements, and ANSI/CAN/UL 12402-9, the Standard for Personal Flotation Devices – Part 9: Test Methods, on Dec. 31. These are the new life jacket standards recognized by the US and Canadian Coast Guard.
Marking and labeling information attached to the new life jackets is significantly different than what is on the "legacy life jackets." Because the language required on labels can be lengthy and may require the use of English and French languages, replacing much of the required text with universally understood icons in the new standards was necessary.
It is important to note that life jackets with "new labels" and old-style "legacy labels" will be available and used by boaters simultaneously for quite some time. Life jackets with "legacy labels" will maintain their approval in the ONLY country in which it was initially approved and continue to meet carriage requirements if they are in good serviceable condition and are used in accordance with the label. Likewise, life jackets with the new labels are acceptable in both countries when used in accordance with the labeling instructions.
The 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 the Code of 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.
This 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 - users with a weight greater than 88 lbs.
Youth - users with a weight over 55 lbs. and less than or equal to 88 lbs.
Child - users with a weight over 33 lbs. and less than or equal to 55 lbs.
Infant - users with a weight less than or equal to 33 lbs.
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 at this link,
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The new labels' icons are international symbols adopted from the International Standards Organization (ISO) sub-committee for lifejacket standards. 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.
Performance Level Devices:
Level 50 - intended for use by those who are competent swimmers near shore who have help and a means of rescue close at hand. A level 50 as NO turning ability. LEVEL 50 IS NOT COAST GUARD APPROVED!
- IS NOT COAST GUARD APPROVED
- 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 USCG APPROVED LIFE JACKET MUST BE WORN, A LIFE JACKET THAT IS NOT USCG-APPROVED CAN BE WORN LEGALLY. HOWEVER, A LIFE JACKET THAT IS NOT USCG APPROVED WILL NOT LEGALLY SATISFY THE USCG LIFE JACK 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 by those 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
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.
- 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.
- offshore emergency situations
- used with the weight of extra tools, equipment, or clothing
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.
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 sports, 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. For example, if a life jacket must be worn to meet the USCG life jacket carriage requirements, the language about this will be in this area.
The icon with the slash through a waterskiing tow line handle is the icon indicating this life jacket is NOT approved for waterskiing or participating in similar towed uses.
When this icon is present, the life is NOT designed for water skiing or towed watersports.
States develop their own life jacket requirement rules and definitions of activities for towed water sports.
The icon with the slash through the person being towed on a tube is the icon indicating this life jacket is NOT approved for towed watersports or participating in similar uses.
The icon with the slash through the person riding a personal watercraft is the icon indicating this life jacket is NOT approved for use onboard a personal watercraft.
When this icon is present, the life is NOT approved for use onboard a personal watercraft or similar activity.
States develop their own life jacket requirement rules pertaining to the operation and use of personal watercraft.
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.
When this icon is present, the life is NOT approved for use in whitewater conditions. When used to define the life jacket use, "whitewater" has a specific definition. The definition of White Water from UL1180: UL1180, WHITE WATER PADDLING – Any activity with a vessel on Class II and above rapids as determined by the six-class "International Scale of River Difficulty."
This definition applies only to those sections of the river with such rapids and not the entire river.
States develop their own life jacket requirement rules pertaining to the operation and use of paddlecraft.
Manufacturer Information Label
The manufactures portion of the label is significant. Without the USCG Approval Number, the life jacket is NOT a USCG-approved device. The approval panel indicates that the device has been approved by the United States Coast Guard and Transport Canada.
The manufactures portion of the label will include;
Care and Maintenance
This 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. The 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. https://www.ginetex.net/GB/labelling/care-symbols.asp
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