Merchant shipping lifejackets

Rules for lifejackets in merchant shipping

Approval according to SOLAS 74/88

The international convention for the safety of life at sea, the SOLAS convention, has existed since 1913. Since then, this convention has been further developed. In the past, safety regulations often differed from flag to flag, but today ship safety is increasingly determined by global rules from the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

Life-saving appliances are dealt with in Chapter 3 of the SOLAS 74/88 Convention.

The more precise specifications and test procedures for rescue equipment are defined in the LSA Code (Life-Saving Appliance Code). The purpose of this code is to provide international standards for life-saving appliances required by Chapter III of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) 1974/1988.

The exact wording of the LSA code can be found under the following link:

The main details are as follows:

  • Each lifejacket must be fitted with a whistle firmly attached to it by a cord.

  • A lifejacket shall be provided with a detachable buoyant line or other means of attachment to a lifejacket worn by another person in the water.

  • A lifejacket must be fitted with an appropriate device to allow a rescuer to lift the wearer out of the water into a survival craft or rescue boat.

  • A lifejacket that relies on inflation for buoyancy shall have at least two separate cells, meet the requirements of paragraph 2.2.1, and

1. self-inflate on immersion, be fitted with a device allowing inflation with a single movement of the hand, and allow each cell to be inflated by mouth;

2. Able to meet the requirements of paragraphs, and in the event of loss of buoyancy in either cell;

3. Meet the requirements of paragraph after being inflated by the automatic mechanism.

Approval for European flags

In addition to the SOLAS approval, the life-saving appliances on merchant ships of the European flag must comply with the regulations of the EU Marine Equipment Directive (MED) 2014/90/EU (valid from September 18, 2016, formerly 96/98/EU), which essentially relate to the SOLAS/IMO regulations, but provides additional compliance regulations depending on the product. This approval sees the “Steering Wheel Symbol” of the European Marine Equipment Directive 96/98/EC as an external indication of compliance, as shown below:

1.3. MER (Merchant Equipment Regulation/Red Ensign)

Post-Brexit, any EU Marine Equipment Directive (MED)-approved product (commonly referred to as Ship's Wheel Approval) manufactured after 1 January 2023 must also be subject to the UK's new Marine Equipment Regulations (MER, 2016), known as Red Ensign- Approval, to be approved and according to the SOLAS guidelines (Safety of Life at Sea).

This is checked by the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which in turn is DNV UK Ltd. commissioned with the approval.