U.S. Coast Guard Regulations for Personal Flotation Devices

by | Monday, December 30, 2013 |

Commercial vessels are required to carry U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices (PFDs) for each individual onboard the vessel. Some commercial vehicles may also carry unapproved PFDs as auxiliary equipment, though such equipment is prohibited from certain inspected vessels.

U.S. Coast Guard Guidelines for Commercial Vessels

Type I PFDs/off-shore life jackets are appropriate for all commercial vehicles. These PFDs must be appropriate for conditions that include:

  • open water;
  • rough seas; and/or
  • remote territories (those areas where prompt rescue is difficult or impossible).

Below are the guidelines for PFD types for commercial vessels – including those carrying passengers who have paid to ride aboard such a vessel:

  • inherently buoyant Type I PFD (SOLAS Service);
  • inherently buoyant Type I PFD (U.S. Service);
  • inflatable Type I PFD (SOLAS and domestic); and
  • hybrid Type I PFD (U.S. Services).

Note that Type IV PFDs, otherwise known as throwable devices, are appropriate for use only in well-patrolled and calm waters. Ring buoys are required for use on many commercial vessels, including certain fishing vessels.

Also note that cork or balsa wood preservers are not sufficiently buoyant to meet USCG safety standards. Production of such devices ceased in 1965. Regulations called for the removal of such devices from commercial vessels by 1999 – regardless of whether they may still be considered “serviceable.”

Storage, Condition and Number of PFDs

The USCG provides additional guidance regarding the use, storage and condition of PFDs aboard commercial vessels:

  • there must be a PFD of the correct size for each person aboard;
  • each PFD must be outfitted with an approved PFD light (denoted by USCG approval number 161.012);
  • each PFD must be in serviceable condition; and
  • each PFD must be easily accessible (a properly-sized PFD should be readily accessible for each worker from both his or her typical work station and berthing area).

Additionally, an approved PFD must include:

  • 31-square-inches of approved reflective material on both the front and the back of the device; and
  • the name of the vessel, owner of the vessel or name of the person to whom it is assigned (in block letters at least one inch or more in size and in a contrasting color).

The USCG Definition of Serviceable Flotation Devices

Each PFD must meet the USCG definition of serviceable. This means each device must remain in good working condition so it’s effective if needed in an emergency situation.

A PFD should be retired from service if it displays any signs of deterioration or loss of integrity, such as:

  • rips or tears;
  • broken or corroded hardware;
  • permanently compressed materials;
  • rotted components; and
  • detached or broken oral inflation tubes.

Our blog features many other details about USCG rules and regulations for commercial vessels. Place an order for vessel logbooks – including regulation and security logbooks – by calling (888) 468-3757 or order online.

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