BUOYANCY AIDS AND LIFEJACKETS – WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
A buoyancy aid simply keeps you afloat. They’re worn by people who expect to end up in the water regularly, and conscious, e.g. dinghy sailors, canoeists and kayakers.
A lifejacket is a high performance flotation device which inflates (using a carbon dioxide canister) either automatically (on contact with water) on when manually activated (the toggle is pulled). Its job is to help keep you alive, and it does so by trying to turn you face up and keeping your head above water. The CO2 canisters are single use, so they’re worn by people who don’t expect to end up in the water, for example, sailors. They’re also less bulky making them easier to move around in.This article explains the difference in more detail.
OVERVIEW: FEATURES, INFLATION, MAINTENANCE
- The features to look for
- The types of inflation (manual and automatic)
- Maintenance tips
A hotly debated topic is whether to go for manual or an automatic. Read The Great Inflatable PFD Debate here.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT LIFEJACKET
Broadly, the things to consider are:
- What you’ll be using it for
- Where you’ll be using it
- Who will be wearing it
- The buoyancy required
This 12 minute video by West Marine gives some good advice. The best thing to do is head into your local chandlery for some expert advice.
CHECK BEFORE YOU WEAR
It’s important to give your lifejacket a pre-wear once over so you know it’s in good condition. This is especially important if it’s not your own.
- Check the outer cover and straps/webbing for cuts, tears, holes, abrasions or chafing.
- Check the fastenings and buckles work freely and that they secure properly.
- Check the gas cylinder.
- … Unscrew it and look for any rust or corrosion.
- … Check the seal isn’t pierced or perforated. You shouldn’t see a hole.
- … Screw it back in firmly
- Check that the manual inflation toggle is exposed/accessible.
DOING A BASIC SERVICE
Lifejackets should be serviced about once a year. You can do this yourself, or ask the manufacturer.This article by Practical Boat Owner explains how to do a self-service, and this infographic is nice if you’re after something more visual.
A FEW FINAL WORDS
- Inflatable lifejackets must be worn outside of all clothing, to ensure you can reach the toggle, and vitally so that if it does inflate, it’s not trapped between your body and a zipped up jacket. This can have serious consequences and people have been known to almost suffocate!
- Always make sure if you’re chartering or joining a friends boat, you know whether the jacket is manual or automatic.
- It’s highly recommended to have crotch / thigh straps fitted to inflatable lifejackets as they prevent it coming up over your head. Here’s a demonstration showing why they’re so important.
- Consider fitting a sprayhood if sailing offshore.
- Consider fitting water activated light (most come with them).
- Carry a lifejacket for every person on board.
When we did the Channel Race, it rained so hard that Tom’s automatic lifejacket auto inflated!