Personal Flotation Devices & Lights

Personal Flotation Devices (PFD's), also referred to as Lifejackets are divided into the following categories: 

  • COMMERCIAL PFDs,
  • RECREATIONAL PFDs,
  • THROWABLE PFDs (Ring Buoys, Cushions, etc.)

For additional information, please see our information on PFD SELECTION, USE, WEAR & CARE.

 

To find the accepted independent laboratories for the equipment approval listed below please visit the USCG's ACCEPTED INDEPENDENT LABORATORY SEARCH ENGINE.  

NOTE:  Vessel operators are required to carry USCG Approved PFDs, but unapproved PFDs may be carried and used as additional equipment on recreational boats (and some commercial vessels).  Therefore, unapproved flotation devices may be sold and used unless prohibited on your class of inspected vessel.

APPROVAL GUIDANCE

APPROVAL CATEGORIES:  160.002, 160.003, 160.004, 160.005, 160.053, 160.055, 160.077, 160.155 (SOLAS), 160.176 (SOLAS)

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  All PFDs are approved by the Coast Guard, but some require little or no direct USCG review prior to approval.  All PFDs must be tested by a USCG Recognized Laboratory.  The Coast Guard will do a pre-approval review of any new concept prior to submitting it for testing to the Recognized Laboratory.  Commercial PFDs / lifejackets require the most USCG involvement and the USCG should be notified whenever a design is submitted to the laboratory for approval to minimize the chance of a characteristic being identified that would prevent approval after considerable time and money has been spent on testing.

Production Sampling, Tests, and Inspection.

After type-approval all production of approved PFDs is overseen by the recognized laboratory, as follows:

Follow-up Inspection References:  Once a device is approved, the independent laboratory will conduct inspections and tests of the PFDs in addition to the manufacturer's quality control as specified in the Guide for Independent Organization Inspection of Type I and V PFDs or the Guide for Independent Organization Inspection of Type IV PFDs, as applicable.

Manufacturer's Quality Control Program:  Manufacturers of U.S. Coast Guard approved PFDs must maintain a quality control program to include control of inventory and processing of all materials, performance of required production tests and inspections, and maintenance of records detailing the results of those tests and inspections.  This is to ensure compliance with the applicable specification subpart and approval conditions, and to maintain traceability of all components used back to their source.

Manufacturer's Responsibility:  When a lot of PFDs is presented for production inspection, the manufacturer must have previously taken all ordinary precautions to ensure that the PFDs are in full compliance with the requirements of the applicable specification subpart and approval documents.
NOTE:  The independent laboratory inspections and tests are not intended to replace or be a substitute for any inspections and tests normally employed by the manufacturer to maintain the quality of the product.

Type I Inspection Marking:  Once the required number of sample PFDs have been tested as prescribed by the applicable PFD specification subpart and Guide, and the independent laboratory inspector is satisfied that each PFD in the lot being tested is:
(1) of the type officially approved, and
(2) in compliance with the requirements of the applicable specification subpart and approval conditions, then each PFD shall be plainly marked in waterproof ink with the words, "Inspected and Passed, (date), (identification of independent laboratory)."

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  Please submit the follow information:

Cover letter - requesting approval of the PFD.

Drawings - Detailed engineering drawings that include:
    * Tolerances for all dimensions.
    * Thickness (diameter) & other dimensions of all foam parts.
    * The construction of "T" tabs on free strap ends.
    * Size of box-x stitch and/or bar tack (including number of stitches and width).
    * Note whether foam dimensions are before or after dipping/coating, if used.
    * Identify number of parts when not shown.
    * Location of all straps, belt loops, and hardware.
    * Seam details including allowances.
    * Pocket sizes and locations, if any.
    * Marking/Labeling: Text, Layout.

Bill of Materials - A parts list which is keyed to the drawing ("Find Numbers") and gives each item's descriptive name, the manufacturer, manufacturer's unique part (trade) name, whether the component is standard or non-standard, and basis for acceptability (i.e., (1) compliance with applicable section of USCG specification subparts (by specific paragraph) or applicable federal or military specifications with type, style, class, etc., as applicable, or equivalent, based on UL Recognition with applicable "Use Code").

Construction Description - Notes on the drawings or a separate construction description should cover all construction details which differ from the subpart, and particularly the following points:

    * The design buoyancy (and distribution) of the device and the production tolerance which
         will be maintained.
    * Details of stitching, size, and type.
    * Thickness and method of applying standard vinyl dip coating (2.5 mm (10 mils) minimum) or
         other coating, if used.
    * References to applicable sections/paragraphs of USCG subparts.
    * The length, adjustment, rigging, and tolerances on the various straps.
    * Ring buoy: weight, density, and respective tolerances.
    * The method of construction of all structural and useful parts.

Quality Control - A brief description of the quality control (sampling, inspection, test, and records) which will be used in the production of the device. This description should be equivalent to that which is required by the appropriate USCG subpart (and MIL-L-17653B for 160.053 approvals) and 46 CFR 159.007. If a device is to be UL listed, the UL Procedure will usually cover all the necessary quality control. In some cases the USCG Independent Laboratory Guidelines may be referenced.

Affidavits - Standard component affidavits must be provided for all component materials that are not UL recognized. In production, if you substitute alternate components for those in the initially approved bill of materials, you must first provide the USCG with affidavits (with local copies on file) or the Use Codes for a UL recognized components. The substitute components must be from the approved Bill of Materials, or else you must submit a new bill of materials for approval. Affidavits must:

    * Be current (within the last year).
    * Identify the component by a unique style number, model number, weight, size, class, denier, etc.
    * Reference the correct/applicable USCG specification subpart and the specific paragraph of
        the subpart with which the component complies.
    * Notarized.
    * Show the type, class, size, etc. of the federal or military specification referenced
    * Certify to the Standard under which the device is to be approved.
    * Be accurate/truthful (e.g., synthetic materials cannot meet cotton specifications). 
APPROVAL CATEGORIES:  160.047, 160.052, 160.060, 160.064, 160.076, 160.077

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  All PFDs are approved by the Coast Guard, but some require little or no direct USCG review prior to approval.  All PFDs must be tested by a USCG Recognized Laboratory.  The Coast Guard will do a pre-approval review of any new concept prior to submitting it for testing to the Recognized Laboratory.  (See discussion in “Note” below)  Unless it is a new concept, recreational PFDs may be submitted directly to the laboratory for approval.

U.S. Coast Guard approval of PFDs manufactured in accordance with any one of the PFD specification subparts must be handled through a Recognized Laboratory. Each of these specification subparts listed below briefly describes the steps involved in obtaining Coast Guard approval.  The corresponding UL standard for each PFD type contains detailed test procedures to be employed to determine compliance with the regulation requirements.

Pre-approval Review: A proposed PFD design (drawing, pictures, sample, etc.) may be sent to the Coast Guard for review of its suitability for approval prior to the PFD being submitted to the laboratory for testing.

Note: A positive Coast Guard evaluation is no guarantee of approval since testing cannot be performed by the Coast Guard. The purpose of the Coast Guard's preliminary review is to identify serious and obvious design problems before the manufacturer starts incurring laboratory test expenses and to determine if any special testing or coordination with the lab may be required. To increase the chances of successful and timely completion of testing at the laboratory, manufacturers should perform all required testing on their own before submitting a device for approval.

In response to the initial inquiry made by the PFD manufacturer, the recognized laboratory will determine a cost estimate for the work. Accompanying the cost estimate will be an application and additional information for the PFD manufacturer.

The manufacturer then submits samples of each model and each size to be tested to the laboratory. Where alternate constructions and/or materials are proposed to be used, samples must be the weakest possible combinations. After receipt of the samples to be tested, along with a signed application, the recognized laboratory will evaluate and test the design against the requirements in the applicable Coast Guard specification subpart and UL Standard(s). A test report and Follow-Up Inspection Procedure will be drafted by the laboratory and sent to the Commandant (G-MSE-4) for review. In most cases, the Procedure is issued to the applicant to start production at the same time it is sent to the Coast Guard. For reports requiring Coast Guard review prior to issuance, the Coast Guard will notify the laboratory whether or not U.S. Coast Guard approval will be granted. The laboratory will, in turn, notify the applicant.

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  The initial submittal of a PFD to a Recognized Laboratory will generally include the following, but the laboratory may require additional information:

    * Name and address of the manufacturer and each factory location;
    * Name and address of the company to be listed in the UL Marine Products Directory;
    * Name and address of the company to which USCG approval is to be granted
            (referred to as the "Applicant" in this document);
    * Detailed description of the product - this can be accomplished by means of construction
             description, pictures, engineering drawings, and/or sales brochure;
    * Complete bill of materials (list of all parts and materials used in making the device);
    * Affidavits for standard components that are not certified by an independent laboratory
            inspection program; and
    * Model number(s) of the device(s) and size(s) in each model.

Follow-up Inspection

* Release of Labels: After the laboratory has completed approval testing and, if required, verbal approval has been given by the U.S. Coast Guard, the laboratory will release labels (assign an "issue number" which must be included on the PFDs label) to the manufacturer so that production can begin.
* Frequency of Inspection: Laboratory follow-up inspections are based upon a sampling plan. Visits are made based on the number of devices produced and the extent of controls exercised by the production facility. Approximately 1 visit per 6000 to 24,000 units produced can be expected. Inspection frequency is increased when inadequacies are indicated by test failures, incomplete or inadequate records, consumer complaints, or any other indication of production or quality control problems. The recognized laboratory inspections and tests are not intended to replace or be a substitute for any inspections and tests normally employed by the manufacturer to maintain the quality of the product.

* Annual Testing at the Recognized Laboratory: In addition to the tests conducted during normal production visits, samples of wearable recreational PFDs are sent to the recognized laboratory's testing facilities once a year for examination and testing.

 
NOTE:  Vessel operators are required to carry USCG Approved PFDs, but unapproved PFDs may be carried and used as additional equipment on recreational boats (and some commercial vessels).  Therefore, unapproved flotation devices may be sold and used unless prohibited on your class of inspected vessel.

RING LIFE BUOY (CORK or BALSA WOOD)

APPROVAL CATEGORY:  160.009

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  THIS ITEM IS NO LONGER APPROVED.


KAPOK OR FIBROUS GLASS BUOYANT CUSHION


APPROVAL CATEGORY:  160.048

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  See 46 CFR 160.048.  The Coast Guard does not test materials or systems for approval but rather specifies the required test methods and minimum performance criteria for approval.  Product testing must be performed by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  Please submit the follow information in the Submittal Package:

  • A cover letter requesting Coast Guard Type Approval of the equipment.
  • Required information and the test report from the Accepted Independent Laboratory as per 46 CFR 160.048.
  • Evidence that an acceptable follow-up factory inspection program with the Accepted Independent Laboratory is in place.

 

PLASTIC FOAM BUOYANT CUSHION

APPROVAL CATEGORY:  160.049

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  See 46 CFR 160.049.  The Coast Guard does not test materials or systems for approval but rather specifies the required test methods and minimum performance criteria for approval.  Product testing must be performed by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  Please submit the follow information in the Submittal Package:

  • A cover letter requesting Coast Guard Type Approval of the equipment.
  • Required information and the test report from the Accepted Independent Laboratory as per 46 CFR 160.049.
  • Evidence that an acceptable follow-up factory inspection program with the Accepted Independent Laboratory is in place.

UNICELLULAR PLASTIC LIFE RING BUOY

APPROVAL CATEGORY:  160.050

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  See 46 CFR 160.050.  The Coast Guard does not test materials or systems for approval but rather specifies the required test methods and minimum performance criteria for approval.  Product testing must be performed by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  Please submit the following information in the Submittal Package:

  • A cover letter requesting Coast Guard Type Approval of the equipment.
  • Required information and the test report from the Accepted Independent Laboratory as per 46 CFR 160.050.
  • Evidence that an acceptable follow-up factory inspection program with the Accepted Independent Laboratory is in place

 

RING LIFE BUOY (SOLAS)

APPROVAL CATEGORY:  160.150
 
APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  See the links provided below.  The Coast Guard does not test materials or systems for approval but rather specifies the required test methods and minimum performance criteria for approval.  Product testing must be performed by a Coast Guard Accepted Independent Laboratory.

LINKS:
GUIDELINE 160.150--SPECIFICATION FOR LIFEBUOYS, SOLAS
MO RESOLUTION A.689(17) TESTING OF LIFE-SAVING APPLIANCES
 
SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  Please submit the following information in the Submittal Package:

  • A cover letter requesting Coast Guard Type Approval of the equipment.
  • Required information and test report from the Accepted Independent Laboratory as per Guideline 160.150.
  • Evidence that an acceptable follow-up factory inspection program with the Accepted Independent Laboratory is in place.

 

RING LIFE BUOY SELECTION INFORMATION


TYPE IV PFDS (RING BUOYS) / THROWABLE DEVICES:  To aid persons who have fallen overboard. May be used with a lanyard, "Man-overboard" pole, locator light, or smoke signal

SOLAS RING LIFEBUOY (TYPE IV PFD) - Slightly larger than other ring lifebuoys for commercial vessels -- Those intended for use with self-activating smoke signals weigh at least 4 kg (8.8 lb).

Intended Uses
  • Required to be used on commercial vessels engaged on international voyages.
  • For use on larger boats to aid persons who have fallen overboard. May be used with a lanyard, "man-overboard" pole, locator light, or smoke signal.
  • Intended to be thrown or dropped to someone who falls overboard.
  • Designed to be grasped and held by the user until rescued.
  • Provides enough buoyancy for users to hold their heads out of the water.
Advantages
  • Can be thrown to someone within 40 feet (12 meters).
  • Can be placed in a bracket mounted above deck, where they are immediately available.
  • Good back-up buoyancy for use with a wearable PFD.
Disadvantages
  • Not for an unconscious or exhausted person.

DOMESTIC RING LIFEBUOY (TYPE IV PFD)

Intended Uses
  • Intended to be thrown or dropped to someone who falls overboard.
  • Designed to be grasped and held by the user until rescued.
  • For use on commercial vessels and larger boats to aid persons who have fallen overboard. May be used with a lanyard, "man-overboard" pole, locator light, or smoke signal.
  • Provides enough buoyancy for users to hold their heads out of the water.
Advantages
  • Can be thrown to someone within 40 feet (12 meters).
  • Can be placed in a bracket mounted above deck, where they are immediately available.
  • Good back-up buoyancy for use with a wearable PFD.
Disadvantages
  • Not for an unconscious or exhausted person

A THROWABLE DEVICE (TYPE IV PFD)

Intended Uses
  • Designed to be grasped and held by the user until rescued.
  • Provides enough buoyancy for users to hold their heads out of the water.
  • For use on small boats in calm, inland water with heavy boat traffic where help is always nearby.
  • For use on larger boats as an extra device to aid persons who have fallen overboard. May be used with a lanyard, "man-overboard" pole, locator light, or smoke signal.
Advantages
  • Can be thrown to someone within 40 feet (12 meters).
  • Can be used as a seat cushion, or some types can be placed in a bracket mounted above deck, where they are immediately available.
  • Good back-up buoyancy for use with a wearable PFD.
Disadvantages
  • Not for an unconscious or exhausted person.
  • Not for non-swimmers or children.
  • Not for rough water survival.