Monday, March 7, 2016

The Latest on Changes to PFD Type Classifications

For the last several years, the U.S. Coast Guard has been working to redesign the labeling for personal flotation devices to more effectively convey safety information. The current proposal removes type codes (e.g. Type I, II, III, IV and V) in regulations on the carriage and labeling of Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices.

PFD type codes are unique to Coast Guard approval and are not well understood by the public. Removing these type codes from the regulations would facilitate future incorporation by reference of new industry consensus standards for PFD labeling that will more effectively convey safety information and is a step toward harmonization of our regulations with PFD requirements in Canada and in other countries.

What does all of this mean for the paddling community? 

Over time, the terminology of Type I, II, III, IV and V will no longer appear on lifejacket labels and in literature. Once the new standard wording or icons for lifejackets are finalized, instructors and clubs will then need to share this updated information with the public. 

Our friends in the life jacket manufacturing community advise that 2017 is likely the earliest they could potentially see any new life jacket standards on production lines. In the meantime, current life jackets that have Type I-V coding on their labels will be legal to sell and wear for the useful life of the jacket. 

This is a long process, but a worthy one. A better life jacket labeling system will help reduce boater confusion, decrease manufacturing costs, and speed the introduction of new life jacket designs across countries. 

We'll continue to keep you updated! If you have any questions, please contact our Safety, Education & Instruction Department.


  1. The change will require states to change their laws and will be resisted as another unfunded mandate. I will wait till I see the new wording to comment.

  2. This change has been initiated by the USCG, and is a move supported by the boating community (including motorized boating). The new classification system will allow for more innovative lifejacket designs which will inevitably be more comfortable, more enticing to boaters, eventually produce lower cost points, keep boaters within the law, and save lives. The current coding system is unique to the US only; a simplification of the coding system will reduce confusion and bring the US, Candada, and eventually the European Union into alignment. This alignment will allow for a reduced user cost due to the fact that manufacturers won't be forced to make products unique to the US market only. Until the time arrives that the USCG releases these new coding icons and wording, boaters should abide by the current standards/types; follow the directions on the lifejacket label to remain in compliance with local and federal laws.