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

September 3, 2019


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 a few US Coast
Guard independent recognized testing laboratories. I personally have been at
UL for 21 years and the purpose for what we do for testing lifejackets 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 a
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 is not injuring 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
“riding” 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 impede 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 tests 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 buoyancy to determine that 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
its 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 you using it for water skiing? Or also going to be using it for whitewater, for an example.
Number three would be its water environment. Are you going to be near
shore or are you going 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 Guard-approved 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 away from this
video, please remember fit is extremely important and you must always wear your
life jacket. Thanks to this international effort,
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.

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