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 CATEGORIES:  160.047, 160.052, 160.060, 160.064, 160.076, 160.077, 160.264, 160.276

 

 

 

 

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.

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). 

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.

Recreational PFDs are covered by Title 46 CFR, Subparts 160.064 (inherently buoyant), 160.076 (inflatable), and 160.077 (hybrid); all of which require that approval testing and production oversight be conducted by a recognized laboratory.  A Recognized laboratory is an accepted laboratory that has a listing and labeling program, and has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Coast Guard.  The MOU describes how the lab and the USCG cooperate to administer the PFD approval program.  Since the Recognized Lab takes on a greater responsibility for the approval of the product, our focus is shifted from conformity assessment for the product to oversight of the lab’s activities.

 

Verification of competency and capability

Evaluation of test labs for PFDs is particularly challenging, as approval testing for PFDs is heavily dependent upon human subject testing, which requires significant experience to master.  We have developed a sample testing program to evaluate a lab’s compliance with 46 CFR 159.010-3(a)(1) and 3(a)(2) with past performance.

 

We have selected a variety of test samples from the various different categories.  Some of the samples are straightforward, but others have known issues that require special consideration. 

In the course of reviewing the candidate lab’s application for recognition, we identify areas where we need to see more proficiency, and determine which samples would fill in the gaps.  We commonly require the candidate lab to conduct only the in-water performance testing, as this is the most challenging arena for PFD testing.  The candidate lab obtains the samples (at their own expense), conducts the testing as directed, and prepares a sample report. 

 

During the evaluation process, the USCG will normally visit the laboratory to witness in-water testing.

 

The objectives of this evaluation are to:

  • Demonstrate the lab’s competency in test methods required by the standards;

  • Verify the lab’s interpretation of the standard;

  • Exercise the lab’s subject pool;

  • Approve of the format and content for the required follow-up document; and

  • Initiate the technical dialog that will be inherent in the ongoing relationship between the USCG and the lab.

     

     

    Listing & Labeling Program

    This program includes programs for factory follow-up, counterfeit intervention, market surveillance, and resolution of non-conformities.  During the course of the evaluation for Recognition, the USCG will review the laboratory’s procedures.

     

     

    Continued Oversight

    The evaluation for Recognition is just the beginning of the relationship between the USCG and the Laboratory.  In order to facilitate ongoing coordination, we hold periodic meetings to discuss high-level programmatic issues, as well as resolve technical certification matters.  The frequency of these discussions is dependent on the nature and volume of product being certified. 

The information posted here is regarding the status of an active US Coast Guard-Transport Canada-industry project and is not to be considered new policy or new requirements.  The intent is solely to provide progress updates to a project supported by the US Coast Guard and Transport Canada to develop a single Consolidated North American Standard for lifejackets/PFDs.  On 6 September 2007, the Coast Guard attended a meeting hosted by the PFD Manufacturers Association (PFDMA) in Burlington, Vermont in support of US-Canadian cooperation toward the development of a harmonized standard for lifejackets/PFDs.  The meeting resulted in a plan as outlined in the documents here.  These documents are considered to be works-in-progress and may be revised as necessary to reflect changes.  Comments may be directed as noted within the documents.

LINKS: