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NEW Law to Affect Life Floats & Rigid Buoyant Apparatus

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Some ferry, cargo and charter boat operators will be required to update their survival craft in the next 36-months.

According to the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010, a survival craft may not be approved as a safety device unless the craft ensures that no part of an individual is immersed in the water. That means that life floats and rigid buoyant apparatus need to be replaced by Inflatable Buoyant Apparatus or IBAs. This law goes into effect January 1st 2015.

IBAs are similar to this cruise ship inflatable life raft but they do not require a canopy. Photo: Dean Barnes
IBAs are similar to this cruise ship inflatable life raft but they do not require a canopy. Photo: Dean Barnes

Kurt J. Heinz, P.E., Chief, Lifesaving & Fire Safety Division (CG-5214) at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC, says, “This is not a Coast Guard regulation. It’s a statute or law Congress passed as part of the Coast Guard Authorization Act. We must enforce it, but since it’s not our own regulation, we can’t provide exemptions or extensions. However, we are in the process of drafting regulation that may, for example, modify the capacity. For example, a ten-person IBA without a canopy can fit more people in it. For now, a 1:1 replacement is a safe bet.”

Life floats look like life-saving buoys that have rope netting at the bottom and buoyant apparatus is basically flotation equipment designed to support a specific number of people in the water. IBAs, on the other hand, are inflatable life rafts with a floor that keeps those inside out of the water.

It’s somewhat complicated and based on a specific well-defined risk matrix as to which vessels need to now carry IBAs.

In addition, this law only applies to U.S. flag vessels inspected by the USCG. However, suffice it to say, if a vessel now carries a life float, they need to replace it – and do so prior to January 1st 2015.

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Procrastinators may find manufacturers backlogged with orders, says Jan French, who with husband, Howard, own Caribbean Inflatable Boats & Liferafts, Inc., in St. Thomas. “I’ve been working with the boating community to get numbers and sizes of rafts needed in order to get bids from various manufacturers. That doesn’t mean everyone has to order IBAs at the same time, but what I want to do is make a commitment to a manufacturer that we buy a certain number of IBAs over a two-year period. This should result in good availability and some really good prices.”

For more information, contact Caribbean Inflatable Boats & Liferafts, tel: 340-775-6159 E mail: Janis@caribbeaninflatable.com For a copy of the statute, visit: westpacmarine.com/downloads/LifeFloatPhaseOut.pdf

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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