Life Jacket Type Code Labels Going Away; Design Contest

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In a move that’s expected to benefit recreational boaters, the US Coast Guard will drop the current life jacket type code scheme–Type I, II, III, IV and V–that has been used for years to label and differentiate the types of life jackets and their specific use. The change goes into effect on Oct. 22.

“The boating safety community believes this move by the Coast Guard will help lead the way toward more comfortable and innovative life jacket designs, help boaters stay on the right side of the law, lower costs, and save lives,” says Chris Edmonston, BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety president and chairman of the National Safe Boating Council.

 “This is positive news is that we will no longer see a Type I, II, III, IV or V label on a new life jacket label after Oct. 22. This type coding was unique to the United States, tended to confuse boaters, limited choice and increased the cost of life jackets.”

Edmonston says removing the type coding is a first step towards the adoption of new standards that will eventually simplify life jacket requirements for recreational boaters.

“This move is expected to lead to the introduction of new life jacket designs, especially those made in other countries as US standards will be more ‘harmonized,’ initially Canada and eventually the European Union,” he says.

 “Along with a wider variety, aligning our standards with those to our neighbor to the north and across the Atlantic will help reduce prices as manufacturers won’t have to make products unique to the US market.”

Edmonston cautions boaters must still abide by the current standards when using older life jackets marked with the Type I-V labeling, as they will remain legal for use.

“We must continue to have a properly fitted life jacket for all aboard, and as always, you’ll need to follow the label’s instructions regardless of when it was made. Simply put, if you follow the label, you’re following the law.” A full list of the current life jacket types and descriptions can be found at, and any update on new life jacket types and styles will be posted here when available.

Lifevest Design Contest

In additional effort to help change the mindset of what a life jacket must look like, The BoatUS Foundation, the Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association (PFDMA) and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), recently kicked off a “Innovations in Life Jacket Design Competition” to seek out the newest technologies and design ideas.

Running through April 15, 2015, the contest seeks entries from groups or individuals, including collegiate design programs, armchair inventors or even boat and fishing clubs. Entries may be as simple as hand-drawn theoretical designs to working prototypes and will be judged based on four criteria: wearability, reliability, cost and innovation. For more, go to