Safety Equipment

Approved Flotation Device Labeling


Flotation device labelFlotation device label, Adult Unversal

Above: Prior vs revised flotation device labeling

As mentioned before, boat operators should confirm that each passenger has a U.S. Coast Guard- approved life jacket or PFD that fits appropriately before leaving the shore. An appropriate label will state that the life jacket or PFD has been approved by the Coast Guard.

Boat operators should also be sure to read and understand the information on the PFD/life jacket manufacturer’s label and apply that to the intended wearer. Be sure to choose a life jacket that is appropriate for the wearer’s body size, planned activities, and the expected water conditions. 

Note that a new life jacket labeling system was recently implemented that relies more on icons and less on wording. Older jackets and flotation aids labeled by “type” still meet regulatory requirements until no longer serviceable. New labels have icons noting its performance level, turn ability and warnings. 

Comparison of old type and new labeling system for flotation devices

Personal Floatation Device Sizing and Availability

Before leaving shore, operators should confirm that each passenger has a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket or PFD that fits appropriately. Lifejackets or PFDs should fit tightly and not move up over the ears or face when the wearer raises his arms and all straps, zippers and ties are securely fastened.

Once it is determined that a life jacket is appropriately sized, it should also be tested to ensure adequate buoyancy. To test the buoyancy of a life jacket, the wearer should fasten all straps, zippers and ties and should relax in shallow water to see if it floats. The wearer’s chin should remain above the water so that she can breathe easily. If not, a different size or style may be needed.

Life jackets Sizing for Children

Child in a life jacket

Operators should carry an appropriately-sized life jacket for all children on board. The label should be checked to ensure that the child’s weight falls within the appropriate range shown. Most children are safest in a Type II life jacket, though it may not be the most comfortable.

To ensure that the jacket fits the child correctly, pick up the child by the shoulders. Children’s vests should not slip over the ears or chin. If the jacket does slip higher, it is too big and could actually be harmful to the child in the water.

Correct way of fitting a life jacket on a child

A life jacket for a child should be tested in the water immediately after it is purchased. This will ensure that the buoyancy and sizing is correct and will allow the child to become comfortable with floating in the water. Children should be taught not to panic if they fall in the water suddenly.