Guest Column: Clarification of Survival Craft Requirements

First published in Landings, February, 2017

Keeping track of new laws and regulations is always a challenge but that challenge has been especially confusing and increasingly difficult for commercial fishermen these past few years. Most of that hardship can be attributed to the ebb and flow of how laws and regulations are enacted and later changed.

The rules may be confusing but it’s still mandatory to have survival craft on your offshore vessel. USCG photo.

To greatly simplify how the legislative system works, Congress makes a law and gives the Coast Guard authority to write the regulations to make the law effective. Any regulations that are written must be based upon the authority detailed in the law. The full regulatory process can take many years and sometimes Congress amends the law in the meantime which can result in suspension, delay or implementation of regulations.

In the case of survival craft, a law was in place for five years that would have required those fishermen operating beyond three miles from shore to carry “out of the water” survival craft (inflatable liferafts and inflatable buoyant apparatus). Two months before the regulation came into effect, however, the law changed, resulting in suspension of that requirement. Additionally, buoyant apparatus and lifefloats lost Coast Guard approval which would have necessitated anyone needing a survival craft to switch to the more expensive inflatable type. A more recent law change has again allowed for approval of these types of survival craft.

The bottom line is that currently, despite all the legislative changes, nothing has changed for F/V survival craft carriage requirements; what was previously required is what is required now. The law still mandates a future requirement for out-of-the-water survival craft on F/Vs operating beyond three miles from the baseline but not until regulations are published by the Coast Guard. That process was started last year in a “Proposed Rulemaking” which informs the public of the Coast Guard’s regulatory specifics and allows the public to comment. The comment period ended on December 20, 2016, and did address survival craft requirements on F/Vs. After the comments are analyzed, a Final Rule will be issued before the regulations become effective.

As a reminder, the requirement to carry an out-of-water survival craft in accordance with statute or regulation (see 46 CFR Part 28) still remains in effect.

Here is a link to those current requirements:

The existing survival craft requirements can be very confusing because they vary according to vessel type, distance offshore, time of year, people onboard, etc. The bottom line is that the owner must provide a “Coast Guard Approved” survival craft for his vessel that is listed in 46 CFR Part 28.120 and accommodates all the crew onboard.

Every type of “Coast Guard Approved” survival craft will have a marking that identifies it as C.G. approved. For inflatable liferafts those numbers will read either 160.051 or 160.151. The difference is that 160.151 liferafts are SOLAS approved. SOLAS is an international standard that stands for Safety of Life at Sea. SOLAS will not be marked on rafts with less than 6-person capacity. Rafts designated as SOLAS A or SOLAS B simply identify what type of survival pack is included with the vessel. “SOLAS A” packs are for vessels that operate more than 50 miles from shore and have more survival equipment in the pack i.e., water, food, medical supplies, etc. SOLAS B pack liferafts are for F/Vs that operate between 20-50 miles from shore. Liferafts with less than 6-person capacity are equipped with either A or B packs because they can’t be SOLAS-approved. If you are confused by the many choices or what ifs, the best thing to do is to talk with your local Coast Guard examiner or contact our District Office.

Questions concerning survival craft requirements on commercial fishing vessels may be directed to the First Coast Guard District Prevention Division:

Ted Harrington, at 617-223-8440 or by email at

Paul Bassick, at 617-223-8315 or by email at

Kevin Plowman at Coast Guard Sector Northern New England, 207-780-3256  or by email at

Questions concerning survival craft type approvals should be directed to the Office of Design and Engineering Standards, at TypeApproval@