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Safe at Sea: New life jacket labels and icons

By Staff | Sep 9, 2021

(Editor’s note: Information for this column was taken from the United States Power Squadron website.)

If you haven’t already seen them, soon you’ll notice certain life jackets have a new style of label on the inside. In fact, eventually all new life jackets that are U.S. Coast Guard approved and available for purchase in the United States will have these new labels. Why the new labeling?

The new labeling is an effort to make selecting the right life jacket for you and your intended on-water activity, easier. This new labeling process has its own name — “life jacket label harmonization” — and should make these labels more universally understood, especially in Canada and Europe.

The top 10 features and goals of the new life jacket labels are:

• Performance summary graphic

• Activity appropriateness icons

• Legal requirements specified

• Reduce language barriers

• More universal acceptance

• Harmony with other countries

• Approval status clearly noted

• Third party testing verification

• Manufacturer contact information

• Care and cleaning instructions.

What about old label and old life jackets?

New life jackets that are brought to the market will feature new labels. However, it will take many years for the older style labels to be completely phased out and you are likely to see both styles in stores, on boats and in use for many years to come. Any life jacket that is still serviceable and in good overall shape, as long as it is USCG approved, will continue to meet regulatory requirements.

Understanding the new label and icons

New life jackets feature information in four main categories, typically in separate boxes. At the top of the label (usually toward the neck) is the sizing information which specifies the user weight range and chest size range. This is not new lab. The new labels will tell you:

• Performance, buoyancy and turning information

• Warnings, intended activity and limitations of use

• Manufacturer, certification and approval information

• Care and maintenance instructions

Performance, buoyancy and turning information

The first thing you’ll notice is a bold-faced number, ranging from 50 to 275. This is the measurement of gravitation force (buoyancy). The higher the number, the greater the floatation. Most all of the life jackets on the market today are level 70 jackets. Jackets lower than 70 are not USCG approved.

The curved arrow references the turning ability of the life jacket. This informs the buyer if the jacket is capable of turning an unconscious person face up. Note: A level 70 jacket will not turn a person right side up; thus, the curved arrow would have slash mark through it.

Next, you will notice the warnings and exclusions. Using icons, these symbols indicate which water sports for which the life jacket is not suitable. These range from skiing, tubing, kayaking, et cetera.

The manufacturer and certification information follows. Knowing your life jacket is USCG approved and meets all “carriage requirements” is important.

Finally, care and maintenance information is provided, again by icon. Life jackets are the most valuable life-saving pieces of equipment on board! Your life may well depend on it!

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and its courses, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 612-987-2125.