For the last several years, the U.S. Coast Guard has been working to redesign the labeling for personal flotation devices to more effectively convey safety information. The current proposal removes type codes (aka Type I, II, III, IV and V) in regulations on the carriage and labeling of Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices.
“The recent changes to PFD types will hopefully alleviate unnecessary confusion when purchasing a lifejacket,” says the ACA’s Chris Stec.
As far as what this means for the paddling community, he says that over time, the Type terminology will no longer appear on lifejacket labels and in literature. “Once the new standard wording and icons for lifejackets are finalized, instructors and clubs will then need to share this updated information with the public,” he says.
From a manufacturer’s perspective, it’s a change long overdue, even though it won’t hit shelves for a couple of years. “Essentially nothing changes on production till at least 2017,” says MTI Adventurewear co-owner Lili Colby. “There are no changes for current product or product coming out of the factories for 2015. It’s a slow move toward change, but it’s heading in the right direction. Nothing really changes except the news that change is coming.”
In essence, the Type coding is being removed as a USCG requirement as of October 22. Manufacturers will continue to use Type I-V coding until newer labels are designed and approved, and new standards are adopted. Coast Guard officials say removing Type coding is simply the first step in a multi-year process, which includes designing new labels and developing new, ‘harmonized’ standards. Once that is accomplished, manufacturers will then be able to get jackets approved under the new standards. It’s at that point that consumers will see life jackets without the current type coding on their labels.
“Manufacturing won’t see new life jacket standards on production lines until 2017 at the earliest,” adds Colby. “Current life jackets with Type I-V coding on their labels will be legal to sell and wear for the useful life of the jacket.”
“It’s a slow march toward North American PFD harmonization,” adds Stec. “It doesn’t stop being quirky, but at least it’s going in the right direction. We believe this move by the Coast Guard will help lead the way toward more comfortable and innovative life jacket designs, help boaters stay on the right side of the law, lower costs, and save lives.”
The type coding was unique to the United States and tended to confuse boaters. “This move is expected to lead to the introduction of new life jacket designs, especially those made in other countries as U.S. standards will be more ‘harmonized,’ initially Canada and eventually the European Union,” says Chris Edmonston, BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety President and Chairman of the National Safe Boating Council. “Along with a wider variety, aligning our standards with those to our neighbor to the north and across the Atlantic will help reduce prices as manufacturers won’t have to make products unique to the U.S. market.”
In additional PFD news, the BoatUS Foundation, the Personal Floatation Device Manufacturers Association (PFDMA) and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) recently kicked off a “Innovations in Life Jacket Design Competition” to seek out the newest technologies and design ideas. Running through April 15, 2015, the contest seeks entries from groups or individuals, including collegiate design programs, armchair inventors or even boat and fishing clubs. Entries may be as simple as hand-drawn theoretical designs to working prototypes and will be judged based on four criteria: wearability, reliability, cost and innovation.
More info on PFD Contest: CLICK HERE .
More info on PFD Type Codes: CLICK HERE