Small Stuff

Photo of sleeping boy in a lifejacketPhoto: Josh Parrish (Flickr) via Wikimedia Commons

Anchor symbol When it comes to life jackets, even the most well-educated and diligent of sailors often find themselves scratching their heads. The Coast Guard carriage requirements specify that boats must carry one properly-sized life jacket for every person aboard. But there are four types of life jackets: I, II, III, and V — with different buoyancies and recommended uses. In addition, boats over 16 feet in length (except canoes and kayaks) are also required to carry a Type IV throwable device. While Types I, II, and III need not be worn but be immediately available — except for children under a certain age (as dictated by state law, or federal law if the state does not have a requirement), some Type V life jackets must be worn to meet the carriage requirement. The Coast Guard recommends, but does not require, that certain types of life jackets be worn for certain activities like waterskiing or riding a PWC. But many states do require wearing a life jacket of a certain type for these activities. Confused yet? You're not alone.

On October 22 last year, the Coast Guard announced that they would be doing away with the type coding on life jackets. The move is designed to pave the way for life jacket labeling that is easier to understand, more directly relates to safety, and is more in line with international standards. It is also expected to lead to the introduction of new life jacket designs and help reduce prices as life jackets are introduced from other countries. While doing away with the type labeling is a positive step, it will take some time for new labels to be developed and for life jackets with those new labels to reach the market. In the meantime, life jackets marked with the Type I, II, III, and V labeling will remain legal for use, and boaters must still abide by the current standards when using them. So how do you know what type of life jackets you have and whether they meet existing standards?

BoatUS Foundation President Chris Edmonston has been working on issues concerning life jackets for nearly two decades — he was involved in the early 1990s when the Coast Guard contracted with the BoatUS Foundation to study inflatable life jackets, and the findings from that study helped to pave the way for inflatables becoming legal for use by American boaters. Currently, he works with Underwriters Laboratories on standards, and he's on the USCG "Tiger Team" for life jacket use. "Unfortunately, there isn't any way to determine what type a jacket is unless you look at the label. But, by law, the conditions for legal use must be listed on the life jacket label — everything you need is right there. Simply put, if you follow the label, you're following the law", said Chris.

To understand the variations of jackets and the conditions for which they may be used, Chris recommends the USCG document, "A Boater's Guide to Federal Requirements."

"But stay tuned," Chris said. "In a year or two, you won't see new jackets being sold as a Type I or II, or V, or whatever. They will simply be 'wearable devices' and you won't have to worry about many of the things you do today."

Anchor symbol Tired of that pesky old drain plug? Frustrated with trying to install it when your hands are cold in the early morning or with getting it out at the end of a long day? Well, the photo at the right isn't the solution.

Seaworthy has often warned against using household plumbing fittings in boats. There are lots of reasons for that, including lower-quality metals and plastic parts that don't stand up to the marine environment. But we were a bit taken aback by this photo of a novel approach to the whole concept of the drain plug sent in by surveyor Steve Mason. "Never in 27 years have I seen this one," he wrote. And, yes, it failed.

Here's a better idea: The Flow-Rite Remote Drain Plug allows you to open and close the drain plug right from the helm station. Forget to put the drain plug in? No more fumbling around underwater. Simply turn the switch at the helm station and — presto! — the drain plug closes. These remote drain plugs have been under development for a couple of years and have undergone some design modifications and upgrades after being used in the real world. They haven't been around long enough for us to know how well they are going to perform versus conventional drain plugs, but we're willing to bet they're a better option than a $2 spigot.

Anchor symbol So there you are, far out at sea, on watch aboard your sailboat. After reading for 10 minutes, you look up from your book, and you see this on the horizon. What would you think? A floating Jules Verne amusement park? A hamster-powered cruise ship? A hallucination from lack of sleep?

Photo of the Lewek Constellation

None of the above. The Lewek Constellation is an ice-classed, dynamic-positioning, pipe-laying vessel (whew!) with a gigantic heavy lift crane designed to lay rigid and flexible pipes in really deep water. Think you'll never see a ship like this? You just may. The Lewek Constellation is heading to the Gulf of Mexico to begin work for Noble Energy in the first quarter of 2015.

Anchor symbol One of the frustrating things about watching crime shows like "NCIS" on television is the ease with which the investigators can track everything from cell phones to DNA. Just push a button or start a computer search and — voila — you know everything you ever wanted to know about a suspect. The crooks just don't stand a chance ... unlike in the real world. But now fantasy meets reality in a new product called SmartWater CSI, a clear traceable liquid which contains a unique forensic code that is guaranteed to last a minimum of five years in any weather conditions. SmartWater helps the police identify stolen property and locate the original owner.

The nonhazardous, patented, traceable liquid leaves a long-lasting identifying mark that is invisible except under ultraviolet light. Only a minuscule sample of SmartWater from the stolen property is necessary for scientific analysis by the SmartWater Forensics laboratory to identify the owner. The product has been on the market in the U.K. for several years and there are numerous testimonials to its crime-fighting abilities. It was introduced in the U.S. a year or so ago, and it has already garnered endorsements from half a dozen police departments in Florida.

For $99 you can get a kit that will protect your entire boat. Yes, it sounds too good to be true. But at that price, what have you got to lose? Check it out at

Anchor symbol Now for some nautical trivia. "Mayday, mayday, mayday ... " Someone's in trouble, right? But do you know where the term "mayday" came from? It's from the French, "M'aidez" (pronounced "mayday"), which means "aid or help me." A mayday call should only be issued if the vessel and crew are in grave and imminent danger. If the danger is not that severe, then the correct call is "Pan-pan" (pronounced "pon-pon"). "Panne" (pronounced pon) in French means "broken" as in a breakdown or mechanical failure. A good memory aid for pan-pan is "Possible Assistance Needed" or "Pay Attention Now."

Anchor symbol Keep losing your insurance cards? Don't worry — now you can print them whenever you want right off our website. All you need to do is to log in to the BoatUS Policyholder Service Center at

Keep losing your BoatUS login? Don't worry — all you need is your policy number, last name, and zip code. In addition to printing out your insurance cards, you can set up automatic payments, download policy documents, and change policy information including the lienholder. 

— Published: January 2015

Seaworthy, the damage-avoidance newsletter, is brought to you by the BoatUS Marine Insurance Program. For an insurance quote, please call 1-800-283-2883 or apply online at

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