Personal Flotation Devices

 

Personal Flotation Devices (PFD's), also referred to as lifejackets and buoyancy aids, are categorized as "Commercial PFDs", "Recreational PFDs", or "Throwable PFDs" (e.g., Ring Buoys, Cushions, etc.). For additional information on PFD selection, use, wear, and care, please see the information at the bottom of this page.

Commercial PFDs are lifejackets intended for use on uninspected passenger vessels, uninspected commercial vessels over 40 ft (12m), and for inspected vessels. Lifejackets may rely on inherently buoyant material, inflatable chambers, or a combination of the two.

Recreational PFDs are buoyancy aids intended for use on uninspected commercial vessels under 40 ft (12m) not carrying passengers for hire and recreational boats. Buoyancy aids may rely on inherently buoyant material, inflatable chambers, or a combination of the two.

Throwable PFDs are flotation devices intended to be thrown to a person in the water, and include SOLAS ring buoys, non-SOLAS ring buoys, and throwable cushions. SOLAS ring buoys are intended to be carried on commercial vessels engaged on international voyages. Non-SOLAS ring buoys are intended for use on domestic commercial vessels. Throwable cushions and other throwable PFDs are intended for use on recreational boats.

APPROVAL FOR ALL DEVICES. All PFDs (with the exception of standard ring buoys meeting the requirements of 46 CFR 160.050) must be evaluated and tested by a Coast Guard recognized laboratory.  The recognized laboratory evaluates the product, conducts the necessary testing, certifies compliant devices, and conducts factory inspections. Almost all applications for Coast Guard approved PFDs should be submitted directly to the applicant’s chosen recognized laboratory.

The Coast Guard does not review PFD design, construction, or performance; however, we will conduct a pre-approval review of any new or novel PFD. prior to submission to the recognized laboratory.  The purpose of the pre-approval review is to identify serious and obvious design problems and to determine if any special testing or coordination with the laboratory may be required.

SUBMITTAL PACKAGE:  Applicants should submit applications for approval directly to a recognized laboratory. The submittal package should include documents and samples in accordance with the instructions from the chosen recognized laboratory. Please contact the recognized laboratory directly for their submission requirements.

As a condition of Coast Guard approval, manufacturers must comply with the recognized laboratory’s follow-up services production inspection program.

To find the accepted and/or recognized independent laboratories, please visit the USCG's ACCEPTED INDEPENDENT LABORATORY SEARCH ENGINE.  
 
PFD APPROVAL SERIES AND GENERAL GUIDANCE

APPROVAL SERIES:  160.155, 160.176, and 160.255

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:  

SOLAS lifejackets are approved under approval series 160.155. SOLAS lifejackets must meet the minimum requirements for a Type I lifejacket AND the requirements in LSA Code 2.2 and MSC.81(70) Sec. 2.

Non-SOLAS lifejackets that rely on inherent buoyancy are approved under approval series 160.255. Non-SOLAS lifejackets that rely entirely on inherent buoyancy are classified as Level 100 PFDs and meet the requirements in ANSI/CAN/UL 12402-4.

Non-SOLAS lifejackets that reply fully or partially on inflation are approved under series 160.176. Non-SOLAS lifejackets that reply on inflation must meet the requirements in 46 CFR 160.176.

Commercial PFDs were previously approved under series 160.002, 160.005, and 160.055. The Coast Guard is no longer approving new PFDs under these series. However, PFDs approved under these series can continue to be manufactured during the validity period of their approval certificates. They can be used to meet carriage requirements on vessels in accordance with their labels as long as they are in good and serviceable condition.

Effective August 1, 2021, the USCG will accept Level 100 lifejackets complying with UL 12402-4 using inherently buoyant material, and tested according to UL 12402-9, as equivalent to life preservers meeting the requirements in 46 CFR 160.055. For more information on the adoption of ANSI/CAN/UL 12402-4, see ENG policy letter 02-21.

APPROVAL SERIES:  160.264, 160.276

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION:   Wearable PFDs are classified by performance level. Level 70 PFDs are approved under series 160.264 for inherently buoyant devices or 160.276 for fully or partially inflatable devices. Level 70 PFDs meet the requirements in ANSI/CAN/UL 12402-5 for a Level 70 PFD. All PFDs must be evaluated and tested by a Coast Guard recognized Laboratory.  The recognized laboratory evaluates the product, conducts the necessary testing, certifies compliant devices, and conducts factory inspections. Almost all applications for Coast Guard approved PFDs should be submitted directly to the applicant’s chosen recognized laboratory.

The Coast Guard does not review the PFD design, construction, or performance; however, we will conduct a pre-approval review of any new or novel PFD prior to the manufacturer submission to the recognized laboratory.  The purpose of the pre-approval review is to identify serious and obvious design problems and to determine if any special testing or coordination with the laboratory may be required.

As a condition of Coast Guard approval, manufacturers must comply with the recognized laboratory’s follow-up services production inspection program.

Recreational PFDs were previously approved under series 160.064, 160.076, and 160.077. The Coast Guard is no longer approving new PFDs under these series. However, PFD approved under these series can continue to be manufactured during the validity period of their approval certificates. They can be used to meet carriage requirements on vessels in accordance with their labels as long as they are in good and serviceable condition.

Effective August 1, 2018, the Coast Guard now accepts level 70 PFDs complying with ANSI/CAN/UL 12402-5 and tested according to ANS/CAN/UL12402-9, and will issue USCG approval to those devices. Please see ENG policy letter 02-18.

APPROVAL SERIES:  160.050, 160.064, 160.049, and 160.150

APPROVAL GUIDANCE & INFORMATION: 

Non-SOLAS ring buoys are approved under approval series 160.050. Non-SOLAS ring buoys must meet the minimum requirements in 46 CFR 160.050-2 through -6.

Throwable PFDs for recreational use are approved under approval series 160.064 and 160.049. These devices meet requirements for throwable PFDs in ANSI/UL 1123 or ANSI/UL 1171.

SOLAS ring buoys are approved under approval series 160.150. SOLAS ring buoys must meet the minimum requirements in 46 CFR 160.050-2 through -6 AND the requirements in IMO LSA Code II/2.1 and IMO Resolution MSC.81(70) Sec. 1.

 

 

PFD SELECTION, USE, WEAR & CARE

All PFDs must be used in accordance with the label. Each PFD is clearly marked with the size, performance level, approval information, warnings, and any restrictions for use.

Users should consider their size, ability, activity, and environment when selecting a PFD. The Coast Guard recommends that all users try on their PFD to ensure proper fit and function.

Try on your PFD:   

  • Try on your PFD to see if it fits comfortably snug. Then test it in shallow water 
  • Be aware: your PFD may not act the same in swift or rough water as in calm water. The clothes you wear and the items in your pockets may also change the way your PFD works.
  • It is especially important to try PFDs on infants and children to ensure proper fit and performance in the water.


Caring for your PFD:  

  • Don't alter your PFD. If yours doesn't fit, get one that does.
  • Don't put heavy objects on your PFD or use it for a kneeling pad or boat fender. PFDs lose buoyancy when crushed.
  • Let your PFD drip dry thoroughly before putting it away. Always stow it in a well-ventilated place. Never dry your PFD on a radiator, heater, or any other direct heat source.
  • Don't leave your PFD on board for long periods when the boat is not in use.
  • Always read and follow the manufacturer recommendations.
  • Check your PFD often for rips, tears, and holes, and to ensure seams, fabric straps, and hardware are okay. There should be no signs of waterlogging, mildew, or shrinkage of the buoyant materials. PFDs that are not in good serviceable condition should be cut up and thrown away.