The deadline for U.S.-flag vessels to upgrade their survival craft has been pushed back to allow time for a U.S. Coast Guard study of the issue.
Under the 2010 Coast Guard Reauthorization Act, survival craft that do not keep occupants completely out of the water were to have been replaced with inflatable buoyant apparatus (IBA) by Jan. 1, 2015.
However, under the 2012 Coast Guard bill, the deadline was moved to 30 months after the Coast Guard submits a report on the issue to Congress.
That means the earliest the deadline could be is Dec. 20, 2015, according to Coast Guard spokesperson Lisa Novak. However, Congress could change the requirements based on the report.
“In the interim, rigid buoyant apparatus and life floats remain acceptable for use wherever they’re specified in the regulations,” Novak said.
Life floats are lifesaving buoys that have rope netting on the bottom, and a buoyant apparatus is flotation equipment designed to support a specific number of people in the water. IBAs are inflatable life rafts with a floor designed to keep occupants out of the water.
Survival craft suppliers are urging vessel operators to prepare for the upgrade ahead of the final rule for passenger ships, ferries and fishing vessels operating on inland and coastal waters. Novak said the rules do not allow for any existing survival craft to be grandfathered for use after the deadline.
Al Osle, of Miami-based Viking Life-Saving Equipment, encourages boat owners to place their orders as soon as possible to avoid a rush in advance of the deadlines and potential penalties for noncompliance.
The original congressional mandate was designed to take rigid buoyant apparatus and life floats out of service and replace them with the inflatable buoyant apparatus designed to keep occupants out of the water.
Novak said the statute does not apply to any particular types of vessels, but to the lifesaving equipment.
“In any application where the equipment is used to meet a regulatory carriage requirement, it will no longer be approved as of the effective date of the statute and any implementing regulations,” she said.
In the meantime, vessel operators can replace their rigid buoyant apparatus and life floats on a one-for-one capacity basis with inflatable buoyant apparatus or any other craft higher in the survival craft hierarchy that comply with the congressional direction.
The 2012 Coast Guard Act requires the agency to report on incidents involving survival craft between 1991 and 2011, including the number of casualties, by vessel type and area of operation, as the result of immersion in water; the effect carriage of such survival craft has on safety, including stability and navigation; survivability of individuals, including persons with disabilities, children, and the elderly; the efficacy of alternative safety systems, devices, or measures; the cost and cost effectiveness of requiring the carriage of such survival craft on vessels; and the number of small businesses and nonprofit entities that would be affected.