Ferries serving most routes checked by the South China Morning Post are complying with the law by providing enough life jackets for adults and children.
Of the 10 ferries Post reporters travelled on, nine had life jackets available and within easy reach of passengers. On the other, a small kaito service between Cheung Chau and Sai Wan, no life jackets could be seen, nor were there any signs indicating that they were available.
Since 2008, ferry operators have been obliged by law to carry a number of life jackets equivalent to their maximum capacity, plus a number of children's life jackets equivalent to five per cent of capacity.
But the commission of inquiry into the Lamma ferry tragedy, which claimed 39 lives a year ago yesterday, found that enforcement of the law by the Marine Department had been lax.
The Lamma IV, which sank after its collision with the Sea Smooth, carried no life jackets for children. Eight children were among the dead.
The 10 routes the Post inspected last month were operated by Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry, New World First Ferry, Discovery Bay Transportation Services, Lam Kee Kaito, Coral Sea Ferry Service, as well as the service from Cheung Chau to Sai Wan.
The life jackets were typically placed under or at the back of the seats, below the ceiling, in baskets or in cabinets on the decks. Instructions on how to don a life jacket were on show.
Lam Kee Kaito's Wing Yip 3, from Sai Wan Ho to Tung Lung Island, had its seven children's life jackets stored on the main deck, while Coral Sea Ferry Service's Coral Sea 8A, linking Kwun Tong and Sai Wan Ho, had eight placed in a cupboard on the upper deck.
Asked about children's life jackets, the Wing Yip 3's master said: "I have spent thousands of dollars to make sure life jackets on board comply with laws. The media reports against us are killing the industry."
Lillian Ng, 40, who was travelling on the Wing Yip 3 with her three children, said she had become more vigilant about life saving equipment since the tragedy. "Once I sit down, I look for life jackets and buoys," she said.
But when asked whether she knew where the children's life jackets were stored, she said: "I didn't notice. It was important but I was kind of lazy. If an accident happened, I would hold them tightly."
Parents Kevin Moore, 32, and Izarra Varella, also 32, who've lived on Lamma for the last two years, say they frequently experience problems locating child life vests on board the ferry that they use from Yung Shue Wan, operated by Hong Kong Ferry Services.
Varella said that since the crash, she had become more conscious of health and safety on ferries.
Moore said: "The thing that still troubles me is that I know where the adult life jackets are located, but I don't know where the children's ones are."
"I've gone hunting for [children's life vests] a couple of times and have found signs saying the crew will give my kid a life jacket, but there was no information as to where the jackets actually were, and that seems like a very bad policy to me."
Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry said it had posted labels on both decks of their ferries indicating the location of the adult and child life jackets. Posters offering instructions on how to don the life jackets were also up, it said.
New World First Ferry said that it had increased the proportion of its children's life jackets from 5 to 10 per cent. The Marine Department said it had inspected 1,109 boats between last October and August, and prosecutions were brought in nine cases.