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Selecting a Life Vest
far lower on a trawler with an enclosed pilothouse,
crew should always wear high-buoyancy inflatable
life jackets every time they go on deck. If a crew-
member goes overboard, the time to rescue may be
long, the water may be cold
and most likely the seas will
ers, kayakers, and whitewater
rafters need PFDs that com-
bine freedom of movement
and protection. Many special-
ized life jackets have been de-
veloped for niche markets and
different styles of paddling, so
make sure you try different models that are labeled
for paddle sports. But almost all will offer freedom of
movement and freedom from chafe while perform-
ing repetitive motions, with large armholes and foam
that is distributed away from normal arm movement.
Manually-operated inflatable vests with waist packs are
ergonomic and convenient, but require you to slip the
inflated bladder over your head.
must have specific types of
life jackets onboard to be
legal. We offer a range of
Type I life jackets and SO-
LAS-approved models but
we don't recommend their
use on recreational boats,
since Type I devices are vir-
tually unwearable and they
take up gobs of valuable storage space. But if you
operate a commercial fishing boat that is required to
have Type I vests on board, we've got 'em.
Do you want
an Inflatable or
Traditional Personal Flota-
tion Devices use
, such as
foam, to stay afloat. Inflat-
able PFDs, as their name
indicates, rely on inflatable
chambers that provide
buoyancy when inflated. Uninflated, these PFDs are
less bulky than inherently buoyant PFDs.
Inflatable life vests
come in a variety of USCG-
defined PFD Performance Types. The specific Type
of PFD is determined by characteristics such as its
amount of buoyancy, its in-water performance and
its type of inflation mechanism.
All Inflatables contain a backup oral inflation tube
(which also serves as the deflation tube!).
Advantages of Inflatables:
operated belt pack inflatables,
require multiple steps to deploy
water entry or high speed boating activities (such
as personal watercraft use, dinghy racing, sail-
boarding or whitewater rafting)
(see our West Advisor:
Check Your Inflatable Life Vest
Types of Inflatable Mechanisms:
Uses a water-soluble capsule attached
to the inflation unit. Its mechanism pierces the CO2
cylinder and releases the gas when submerged.
Units with automatic inflation mechanisms may also
be manually inflated by using the ripcord.
Releases the CO2 gas from the cylinder
via the ripcord.
Which Coast Guard Type?
The Coast Guard Eliminates Type Ratings
The big news for 2015 is that the Coast Guard has de-
cided to ditch familiar Type I-V code labeling require-
ments for recreational boat life jackets. What does this
mean for you and me when choosing a life vest? At
the present time, not very much. For the long term, we
think it will be a benefit for boaters. BoatUS has been
following the developments on this issue:
"The boating safety community believes this move
by the Coast Guard will help lead the way toward
more comfortable and innovative life jacket de-
signs, help boaters stay on the right side of the law,
lower costs, and save lives." said Chris Edmonston,
BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety President and
Chairman of the National Safe Boating Council.
Explains Edmonston, "This is positive news. This
type coding was unique to the United States, tended
to confuse boaters, limited choice and increased
coding is a first step toward the adoption of new
standards that will eventually simplify life jacket re-
quirements for recreational boaters."
quirement as of October, 2014. However, manu-
facturers continue to use Type I-V coding until
newer labels are designed and approved, and
new standards are adopted.
multi-year process, which includes designing new
labels and developing new, 'harmonized' standards.
Once that is accomplished, manufacturers will then
be able to get jackets approved under the new stan-
dards. It's at that point that we'll see life jackets with-
out the current type coding on their labels.
2017 is likely the earliest they could see new life
jacket standards on production lines.
their labels will be legal to sell and wear for the
useful life of the jacket.
What size, color and features?
Inflatable life vests are built to one-size-fits-all
standards. Inherently buoyant foam vests are made
to fit a range of chest sizes, so if you haven't got any
idea of your measurements, you should check with
a tape measure. Foam vests for kids are rated by the
child's weight range.
Features that add value:
Life jacket technology has
come a long way-the bulky, ugly, orange life jacket
is a thing of the past. Radical changes in life jacket
design-extra large armholes, shaped fit, flexible
panels, pockets, inflatables and more comfortable
materials-make today's life jackets easy to wear.
Life vests for children
Infants and small children are hard to keep floating
in a face-up position, and sometimes protest when
wearing a PFD. Frankly, we think that boating with
infants is not a very good idea if there is any likeli-
hood of the baby ending up in the water. As kids get
older and more water-savvy they become right at
home onboard, because there are many choices for
well-fitting PFDs that provide stability and buoyancy.
Those of us who have had to pull our children out of
the drink appreciate behind-the-head flotation col-
lars with a grab strap, which are standard, along
with crotch straps, on vests for smaller kids. The
vests have always been
popular, since they are well made in high-visibility
colors. We highly recommend testing the life jacket
you select for your child in a safe environment, like a
pool, ahead of time, to familiarize yourself and your
child with the device's characteristics.
Be safe on the water
on board, meaning Coast Guard-approved life jack-
ets. If you select non-approved devices, make sure
you back them up with what the law requires.
Crewfit, or West Marine inflatable, wear it confidently
until its useful life is over (around 10 years). If you
have life jackets in your inventory that must be worn
to be counted, back them up with Coast Guard ap-
proved life jackets so you are never caught short
(and, at $500 per incident, this can get expensive).
life jackets are to be worn and lead by example.
Kids 13 years and younger should always wear
them, and there would be far fewer boating deaths
among adults if we wore them, too.
Selecting a Life Vest
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