USCG: Lifejacket on Floor Better Than the One You're Wearing

  • Blog Post by: Brian Klawitter
  • January 24, 2011 - 9:42 PM



According to the Coast Guards rules on Federal waterways, any vessel for commercial hire (fishing guides) must have a Type I Personal Flotation Device on board for each person on the vessel. This PFD must be accessible. 46 CFR 25.25-1

Now reading over the above statement, it does sound like common sense and something everyone should do whether a fishing guide boat or a person just out for a Sunday joy ride.

The rub is these Type I devices are the big orange collar style. You know, the ones you see the Coast Guard wearing? The reason for the Type I's is because of the chance a passenger would fall into the water unconscious, they will turn the victim over on their back as apposed to them lying face down into the water.

According to the Coast Guard law, these life jackets do not have to be worn, just accessible in your fishing guides boat. Above the deck and not stored in a plastic bag...accessible. It's good they arn't required to be worn because I can't get anyone to wear one. Bulky to say the least.

Now here's the question of the day.

If someone would fall overboard what good is a Type I PFD going to be if I'm not wearing it? Unconscious or conscious?

One could argue that since they are "accessible" a PFD could float over and I could put it on in the water. One could be thrown to me assuming I was the only clumsy one that fell out of the boat. I think the last time I tried to tread water with all my cloths on was when I was around 14, I struggled then. I'm not sure how many seconds I could stay a float now at 54 years.

The answer. Type V inflatable life jackets. Over the last several years this type of lifejacket has made many changes to comfort and safety. Not bulky, very comfortable and automatically inflate once they hit the water (in less than 5 seconds or less by law). These inflatables must be worn to meet the Coast Guard standards for a PFD on a vessel. Not accessible mind you...they must be worn.

In a proposal for rulemaking, I asked the USCG to change the laws to allow the captain of the vessel to chose if they wanted to have the Type I's on board or have their clients wear a Type V which would replace the devices that end up being tripping hazards on deck.

The Coast Guards own numbers show that the chance of falling in the drink and surviving to fish another day is much better if we are wearing an approved PFD. So much so in fact that they are slowly trying to make wearing your PFD mandatory, in a guides boat or your own private water craft according to a source at BOAT U.S.

"Almost three-fourths of all fatal boating accident victims drowned, and of those, eighty-four (84) percent were not reported as wearing a life jacket" - 2009 USCG Boating Statistics

In the official response from K. J. Heinz Chief, Lifesaving and Fire Safety Division of the USCG the reason of the denial is as follows.

"We fully understand and appreciate the argument you make about Type I lifejackets on the deck versus the value of a lower-performing PFD that is actually worn; however, given that the current absence of available alternatives does not appear to have led to any significant number of mishaps or casualties on uninspected passenger vessels, we do not believe that allowing the carriage of lower-performing PFDs on these vessels is justified."

What I'm hearing's better to have a life jacket that's Coast Guard approved on the floor of your boat than to be wearing a Type V approved PFD that at least has a good chance of turning the victim over and WILL support them in the water.

I'm guessing Mr. Heinz missed page 16 of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Performance Plan FY '09-'14

"Increase Life Jacket Wear
Rates:  We will aggressively work
with our partners to assess factors
affecting life jacket usage, encourage
availability of life jackets, and
strengthen the enforcement regime."

The above is  just one quote from literally 100's of documents from the USCG and other Safe Boating groups that promote wearing of a life jacket while on the water.

Allowing the Captain of the guide boat to either have the Type I's OR use the Type V's only seems to make Safe Boating Sense.

According to Mr. Heinz by going to!home
and typing in docket number USCG-2010-1065, you may read the complete request and response along with commenting on the Coast Guards decision... for or against. As of this writing it wasn't posted.

"If visitors of the website provide significant comments that justify a potential regulatory change, we can then consider initiation of a regulatory development project to address the established need. Until such time, the  Coast Guard does not have the resources to develop an alternative regulation..."

This year do yourself and your family a favor.  Go to your favorite sporting goods store and pick yourself up an inflatable for this coming open water season. As comfortable as they are now a days, you'll forget your wearing one unless the unexpected happens. My boat doesn't leave the dock without the Floattech's on!

Lifejackets...wear'em, live with them.

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