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Should Coast Guard have scuttled life jacket rule?

In March, the Coast Guard published a rule that could improve the development of inflatable life jackets and lead to new international standards. Last week, the Coast Guard abruptly withdrew the rule because it got a letter – one letter – opposing it.

If you’re thinking that’s not typical for the Coast Guard, you’re right. But it really highlights the fiasco the whole subject of life jackets has become, especially in light of the Coast Guard’s desire for a national mandate to wear life jackets. Just as the Coast Guard pulled the plug on a good proposal regarding inflatables, perhaps it should also do the same for the very unpopular idea of mandatory wear.

In withdrawing the rule on inflatable life jackets, the Coast Guard sank what was intended to lead to new standards for possible wear by boaters younger than 16 years old (currently prohibited.) In March, the Coast Guard put into the Federal Register: “Although the Coast Guard is not yet ready to revisit the issue of inflatables (personal flotation devices) for children, the industry has begun … to explore the appropriateness of these devices for children and create an appropriate standard.” To support development of new international standards for children under 16, the Coast Guard needed to eliminate the words “approved for use by adults only” from the current regulations.

That’s what drew fire from Susan Balistreri, of Balistreri Consulting Inc., reportedly a consultant for life jacket design. She claimed the proposed rule was a move to allow teenagers to use inflatables designed for adults. She claims younger boaters don’t have the capacity to use inflatables properly, a position that is likely rejected by many others in boating safety as well as the boating public. But, it seems clear she also knew that her one objection would likely cause the Coast Guard to start over by having to go through the full rulemaking requirements, including public comments, etc.

The Coast Guard should initiate the necessary rulemaking without delay. In fact, it should have stood its ground in the first place. After all, it proposed the rule knowing full well that life jackets would still have to meet all existing standards including those that limit the use of inflatables to teens 16 and up. Moreover, it’s a paradox that the Coast Guard is pushing for mandatory wear – in spite of surveys like those of BoatUS that reveal boaters overwhelmingly oppose a mandatory rule – but doesn’t dig heels in for a much-needed rule change leading to new standards that could result in increased life jacket wear.

Perhaps it’s also a good time to revisit and update the mandatory wear issue, including the Army Corps of Engineers’ mandated wear program on California’s Pine Flat Lake and the actions of the Boating Safety Advisory Council. We’ll do it all in next Tuesday’s Dealer Outlook.


8 comments on “Should Coast Guard have scuttled life jacket rule?


    Our town just passed a no texting while driving law, I asked my wife the council person ” how do you propose to enforce it?” answer I dunno we just wanted it on the books.
    What’s up with that?


    The mandatory life jacket wearing battle has been waged for decades. Back in the 60’s when I ran out of Virginia beach it was in full battle gear. Now we have the inflatable fight. One of the problems with inflatables is when a person goes overboard it is a shock both mentally and physcially to their system. Because it was a surprise panic often sets in and it takes precious seconds for the mind to remember how to inflate the jacket. If the water is rough the victim will be going under and probably inhaling water which can be deadly. Two hands and arms are required to tread water…which is not possible if one hand is fumbling with a release valve.These problems are not encountered when wearing a regular PFD. Bottom line…Inflatable life jackets can be hazardous to your health

  3. Frank White

    It appears that the comment has only delayed the rule making and not rejected it.

    It is good to see that she has been somewhat properly identified in this article. In a previous article on she was identified as some sort of guardian angel with no financial interests in this matter.

    She appears to be involved in the promotion of a specific brand as described in the following links:

  4. C. Moore

    With all the recent law suits in the news regarding injuries to passengers after ejections isn’t it time to open a real discussion on seat restraints in pleasure boats?
    Hasn’t the time come as we have educated our children to their lowest level of common sense?
    I do think helmets for skiers & wake boarders should be optional like the helmet laws for motorcycle riders in Fl.
    Dave is the wife & her other council folks working on a no make up appliction while driving law?
    These issues are all personal responsibility issues.
    If you are over 18 you need to be responsible for your actions right wrong, stupid or smart.
    We can’t legislate common sense behaviors. That was called prohibition..
    I also believe that if this manditory PFD law happens that only the top 1% of the largest boats & their owners should have to comply to these laws as they are obviously the ones that can most afford it. The money rased from violations will be used to give PFD’s to those less fortunate in Death Valley, Ca. & in Wall Drug, SD.

    Have nice weekend boating off clearwater beach…

  5. Rose Terriere

    Mandatory life jackets will adversly effect the boating industry, including my company. Most pleasure boaters, including myself will discontinue boating if life jackets are required to be worn at all times. Many of us spend most our boating time just sitting in the boat while floating. Life jackets are hot and uncomfortable. It would take the pleasure out of pleasure boating. I for one would just sell my boat if there were still a market for it.

    Adults have the right and duty to be responsible for themselves. We do not need more laws mandating every aspect of our lives for our own good. What’s next, mandatory life jackets in the swimming pool and all lakes and rivers? We need to stop going down the path of taking away individual freedoms and responsibilities.



  7. bpante

    I spent 21 years in the Coast Guard. They do many good things. Like any government agency they are always looking to expand their bureacraticy. As if they already don’t have enough to do. When I was on a Coast Guard Cutter I wore a life jacker as requierd by my employers rules. On my own boat I absolutely refuse, It is my boat and UNAMERICAN for them to try to force me to wear one.

    Like Rose said it will kill recreational boating.

    I would also like to add every someone drowns in a pool, pond, or bathtub thay count that as a boating fatality.

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