PS Advisor: 10/15/05
I have a Pearson 323 and was inquiring of Layline, the retail outlet, about the replacement of my stainless lifelines with Spectra line. I was told that the Coast Guard requires stainless wire for offshore use. But then I learned from someone else that the Coast Guard, in fact, uses Kevlar for lifelines on its own boats. Do you know if the USCG has a regulation regarding lifelines on private sailboats?
G. Kennedy McLeod, Jr.
PS talked with the folks at the USCG's Boating Safety office and learned from Mr. Dick Blackman, an engineer with the Recreational Boating Product Assurance Division, that the USCG maintains no standards regarding lifelines for privately owned recreational sailboats. (However, if those boats are used commercially, then there are regulations that apply.)
Mr. Blackman said that the USCG defers to the American Boat and Yacht Council, which does maintain standards regarding lifelines to be used on recreational sailing vessels.
ABYC Standard H-41, which was adopted in 1998, makes stipulations regarding the construction and installation of lifelines (H-41.6), but does not explicitly state what material can be used to make up lifelines. Standard H-41 only comes close to prescribing specific material in three places. One is a special note that reads as follows: “Railings on sailboats that conform to the current Offshore Racing Council (ORC) rules for sailboats meet the intent of these requirements." Another is section 126.96.36.199: "End fittings and other wire rope attachments shall be installed so that the strength of the attachment shall be at least 90 percent of that of the wire rope." And the last is section 188.8.131.52: "All assemblies listed in H-41.6 shall be mounted in such manner as to withstand a 400 pound static load at any point in any direction, without failure..."
Regarding those ORC rules, Section 3.14.16 of the ORC Special Regulations, entitled, "Lifelines, minimum diameter, required materials, specifications," stipulates that "Lifelines shall be stranded stainless steel wire of minimum diameter…" It also states that lifelines installed after January 1999 "shall be uncoated and used without close fitting sleeving." No requirement is made regarding the grade of stainless to be used, but the regulation states "grade 316 stainless is recommended." And the minimum sizes of wire diameter referred to range from 1/8" for boats up to 28' LOA, 5/32" for boats up to 43', and 3/16" for boats over 43'.
So where does that leave sailboat owners who are considering alternatives to wire for lifelines? It appears that synthetic materials would be perfectly acceptable if you don't intend to participate in events (rallies, etc.) that utilize ORC regulations. However, it would be prudent to first understand what standards your insurance underwriter uses, if any, to judge the safety and integrity of your boat.