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Coast Guard drops type code labels for life jackets

In an effort to be more consumer-friendly and spur innovation, the Coast Guard is dropping its Type I-V labeling system.

In a move expected to lead to new life jacket designs and lessen confusion among recreational boaters, the Coast Guard will drop the current life jacket type code scheme that has been used for years to label and differentiate the types of life jackets and their specific use.

“This is positive news in 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,” Chris Edmonston, president of the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and chairman of the National Safe Boating Council, said in a statement.

He said that removing the type coding is a first step toward 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 U.S. standards will be more ‘harmonized,’ initially Canada and eventually the European Union,” Edmonston said. “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 U.S. market.”

Boaters must still abide by the current standards when using older life jackets marked with the Type I-V labeling because they will remain legal for use.

The BoatUS Foundation, the Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association and the National Marine Manufacturers Association recently started an Innovations in Life Jacket Design competition to seek out the newest technologies and design ideas.

The contest, which continues through April 15, 2015, seeks entries from groups and individuals, including collegiate design programs, armchair inventors and 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.

Information is available at