USCG Requirements Regarding Life Floats and Buoyant Apparatus

February 17, 2016

Congress has passed the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 and the President has signed it into law. The Act as passed changes several components that went into Policy Letter 15-05 (below). It appears that prior to the requirements changing the Coast Guard needs to change the regulations in 46CFR (a policy letter will not suffice).

Confusing, you bet! Even the Coast Guard is confused but as of today I am told that the regulations have not changed for either commercial fishing or passenger carrying vessels.

If you have questions, give me a call at (253) 627-6000.

Rollie Herman


 

December 18, 2015 the USCG published Policy Letter 15-05 which outlines the requirements for “out of water” survival craft that go into effect February 26, 2016.

This letter covers phase in policies for all classes of vessels required to carry survival craft. I do not believe that it covers the changes voted on by the US Senate December 18, 2015 which if accepted by the House would make a difference to passenger carrying vessels.

The Coast Guard has tried to make a difficult subject simple with tables at the end of the document. There are still changes that need to made to the Code of Federal Regulations so I doubt this letter is the last word but it is an excellent start.

USCG Phase Out of Life Floats

Cal_June_22_Person_Life_Float

On July 1, 2015 the USCG notified manufacturers of Life Floats and Rigid Buoyant Apparatuses that their products would no longer be approved for carriage effective February 26, 2016.

The letter from the Coast Guard cites RIN 1625-AC19 which states:

“The Coast Guard is proposing to implement 46 USC 3104 which prohibits the approval of survival craft unless that craft “ensures that no part of an individual is immersed in water” and allows craft currently in service that do not meet this standard to remain in service as approved survival craft only until 26 February 2016. This rulemaking is necessary in order to amend the CFR for the replacement of existing survival craft that do not meet the statutory requirements in 46 USC 3104.”

This makes it clear that not only will the approval to manufacture these devices expire, existing equipment will also no longer be approved as of February 26, 2015. Regulated vessels will need to upgrade to Inflatable Buoyant Apparatuses.

The elimination of what have been referred to as “death floats” has been a long time coming. It has been tied up in Congress, sent to the Coast Guard and then Congress asked the Coast Guard for further information. Vessel owners don’t want the expense but the Coast Guard and groups representing handicapped individuals saw a way to increase safety, especially on vessels carrying passengers for hire.

When this letter was published, we removed life floats from our web site (other than links about this issue). We can see no reason to purchase a product that would only be approved for a few months. Vessel owners would be better served putting the funds into an Inflatable Buoyant Apparatus which will give them years of service.

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Bad things can happen even close to home

USCG Photo

Last Friday (October 17th) the Lady A sunk in the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Talking with one of the owners who was not onboard, it appears that the hull failed due to extreme weather. The good news is that everyone is safe and no oil was lost.

As you can see in the photo, a small Inflatable Buoyant Apparatus (IBA) had been deployed. IBA’s are available in 4 to 100 person capacities and are an extremely economical piece of primary life saving equipment for those who do not travel offshore. They keep the victims out of the water and are extremely easy to see from the air.

USCG article on the sinking

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Inflatable Buoyant Apparatus News

Cal_June_22_Person_Life_Float

Congress has just passed the 2012 Coast Guard and Marine Transportation Act and it includes one major change regarding the required transition from life floats to inflatable buoyant apparatus (IBA’s). Prior to this act all US Flag vessels that were required to carry life floats would have had to change to carrying IBA’s by January 1, 2015. This date has now been put on hold pending further data collection.

If you want to read the Coast Guard and Marine Transportation Act of 2012 the link will take you to the Library of Congress download. The section regarding IBA’s is on page 24.

I still feel that life floats are not an adequate piece of life saving equipment since they do not get victims out of the water. Hypothermia sets in rapidly and the consumption of alcohol worsens your chances (since many life floats are used on “party boats”, alcohol consumption is prevalent) of survival. The main reason life floats are so common is their cost. They are less expensive to purchase and do not require annual servicing like an IBA.

More on the tour boat Ethan Allen

In 2005 the tour boat Ethan Allen overturned on Lake George in New York causing  20 people to lose their lives. This tragedy spurred the government into a new regulation mandating life saving equipment that keeps the victims out of the water.

As of January 1, 2015 life floats like the one shown will no longer be allowed. [12/14/2012: the 1/1/15 deadline has been postponed, read our post from December 14th]

Cal_June_22_Person_Life_Float

There are still lawsuits pending and it seems that one claiming damages against government inspectors has just been ruled on. Reading the comment from the National Transportation Safety Board it makes one realize that the government is not actively out there ensuring that vessels are safe for their passengers and crew. Budgets are strained and people’s lives have suffered.