What are PFDs?

PFD stands for personal flotation device and includes life jackets and throwable flotation devices. 

In the United States, all recreational boats must carry one wearable life jacket for each person on board. While all life jackets must be U.S. Coast Guard approved, in good serviceable condition and be the appropriate size, the best life jackets are the ones the user will wear.

What and how did regulations change for PFD’s?

More than decade ago, the United States Coast Guard and Transport Canada started a project to harmonize the north American personal flotation devices (PFDs) standards. This included standardizing the testing criteria for labs as well as the in-product labeling for consumer PFDs and to remove Type Codes. See Federal Register : Personal Flotation Devices Labeling and Standards. In November 2019, the Coast Guard published changes in the federal register that harmonized the two country’s standards for PFDs. The immediate benefit was three-fold. First, manufacturers no longer had to have a PFD tested for each country’s standards. To have products for each country, this eliminated the previous need to carry double the inventory and it cut testing costs by half. Lastly, the rule change also meant boaters using the boarder waters of each country were no longer required to carry duplicate life jackets on each outing. The goal is to one day harmonize the North American standards with those of the European union and other countries creating a more global standard. See Federal Register : Final Rule Lifejacket Approval Harmonization.

Photo Source: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service

Photo Source: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service

Comparison of the old classification to the new one?

In the previous regulation, PFDs were classified by type as in Type I through Type V depending on the product’s life saving ability. Most boaters used Type III life jackets with 15.5 lbs of flotation. With the harmonization efforts of the U.S. and Canada, PFDs are now classified as “Levels” of buoyancy. Retaining the same minimum 15.5 pounds of buoyancy, former Type III life jackets are equivalent to new Level 70 devices today. Other new device labels include Level 50, Level 100, Level 150 and Level 275, each corresponding to the former “Type” classification system. To help consumers choose the proper device, the harmonization project also developed new quick reference, icon-based graphics depicting the device’s intended use and water condition. Both countries adopted the changes as a rolling change. Older “Type” style life jackets are still considered as meeting carriage requirements as long as the product remains in serviceable condition and is properly fitting.

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