The United States Coast Guard maintains specifications for buoys and life rings. Actual testing is performed by certified independent testing laboratories. If the products meet the Coast Guard standards, they can be marketed as meeting standards.
The Coast Guard standards require the life ring be made of materials that will not deteriorate when exposed to salt water, oil, sunlight or conditions that can be expected at sea. The life rings also must be constructed of materials that will float and the life ring cannot rely on air compartments for flotation. The materials must be resistant to melting or burning when totally enveloped in flames for at least 2 seconds.
Lines and Beckets
The life ring should include a grab line of at least 3/8-inch synthetic buoyant rope. Minimum breaking strength of 1,350 pounds is required. The rope should maintain its full strength after one year of weathering. Ropes that are black and ultraviolet resistant may not need to be tested after one year. Beckets are used to attach the grab line to the life ring or buoy. Minimum breaking strength for beckets is 585 lbs. Beckets are made of synthetic materials and need to meet the same standards as new after one year of exposure to the elements. Life rings and buoys are required to be wrapped with a reflective tape of at least 2 inches in width at four places around the ring.
Coast Guard requirements specify the life ring should be a uniformly sized ring. The body can be constructed in one or two pieces. Two piece rings are assembled with cold setting glues appropriate for outdoor conditions. Life rings should weigh no less than 5 1/2 lbs. unless it is used in a quick release system. Life rings used in a quick release system should weigh at least 8 lbs. 13 oz.
Coast Guard standards require life rings and buoys be tested for buoyancy, flame resistance, weather exposure and solvents. Manufacturers are required to submit all their products for testing. From each batch of life rings, a small number are randomly selected for testing. If they pass, the lot is certified and returned to the manufacturer for distribution.
If any sample fails, a lot is not certified. The next lot submitted for testing will undergo the same tests on a larger number of life rings. Again, if any life rings fail any of the tests, the entire lot is rejected.