Life jackets, guide to choice
What are we going to talk about in this article?
- Why lifejackets are so important to have on board
- The three main families: stole, bodice or inflatable lifejackets
- Advantages and disadvantages of the various types of lifejackets
- Lifejackets for children
- Lifejackets for animals
- Where and how to store them on board
- What the law says about lifejackets
- Why to classify them we speak of Newton
- Need or not to review the lifejackets
Life jackets are one of the fundamental safety equipment to have on board, because the law says so, but also because common sense dictates it.
They must be designed and built to keep a person afloat, even an unconscious person, in the right position. So with the head, and in particular the nose and mouth, out of the water. They must also be robust, so that they can remain on board for years without deteriorating in a very aggressive environment for materials such as the marine environment (humid and saline).
But the first prerequisite for them to work is that they are used. That's why they must also be as light as possible, less bulky and as wearable as possible.
It may happen that they have to be worn quickly and urgently in case of abandonment of the ship, but it is clear that their use is designed primarily as a preventive measure. In fact, they are worn mainly to facilitate the recovery in case of man overboard. Being able to count on models that are not so bulky and annoying means that they will most likely be worn for longer, and not only when the weather conditions become very challenging.
Lifejackets fall into three broad categories, stole, bodice and inflatable lifejackets. These can in turn be manually or automatically activated.
They have very different characteristics.
are the most common. They have a shape that requires them to be slipped on from the head and then tightened around the chest with one or two straps. They are definitely bulky, but also the cheapest. Buoyancy is guaranteed by closed-cell foam, a very light material that does not absorb water in any way. This is only on the front, the one that goes on the belly, and behind the head, so that this, and especially the nose and mouth, stay out of the water.
The bodice jackets
are an evolution of the stoles. They have part of the protective float also on the back and a more effective support behind the neck. They are sleeveless, worn like a normal jacket, and have a front zipper or hook-and-eye closure that provides a better fit. They have a strap under the thigh which prevents them from riding up the body and therefore keeps the body in the most correct position.
They are, on the whole, much more protective than stoles and are the only type of device approved for sports use (jet skis, kayaks, windsurfers, canoes, etc.).
Inflatable lifejackets are divided into two categories, manually operated and automatic. The former, which are much less common, are very similar in principle to those used in aeroplanes, with a rope to pull which releases the CO2 contained in a small cylinder attached to the jacket.
In the second case, self-inflating lifebuoys with automatic activation, there is also an automatic activator next to the cylinder, which can be:
- a pressure switch that detects the difference in pressure in the water and controls the release of CO2
- a tablet that expands in contact with water and controls the opening of the cylinder. These tablets are made of salt, or of a material similar to cardboard, with high dilatation.
The great advantage of self-inflating jackets? They are definitely smaller and less bulky, Not only are they much easier to wear than stole ones but it is also easy to forget you are wearing them. The most sophisticated models, the ones that are used by crews in ocean races, for example, also have hoods with a transparent front that serves to protect them from the misting water that is created on the surface of the water in the presence of very strong winds.
The disadvantages are a higher price and that they require more attention in terms of maintenance and stowage. About which we talk in more detail later.
And for children?
There are special versions, in each of the three categories. It is important to remember that to have good life jackets for children is not only a matter of size and how they are cut, but also of Newton, so of thrust capacity. Don't think that if it's more "powerful" it's just as good, maybe even better...
A vest with too much thrust risks putting the child in the wrong position. And children are the least able to solve the situation by themselves.
For younger children, up to 4 years of age, bodysuits are advisable, as opposed to inflatable ones. Again for a reason of autonomy, the latter require knowing how to pull the selvedge for manual implementation; those which are instead self-inflating at the moment they take shape do so rather violently, and the risk is not so much of hurting the child, but of frightening him and increasing even more the state of anxiety imaginable at the moment they fall into the sea.
The bodice ones foresee then a dressing similar to that of a normal "terrestrial" jacket, and are much less bulky than the stole ones. Another good reason, in terms of preventive safety, to prefer them for use by children and young people, is therefore that they will keep them more easily, without noticing too much that they are wearing them.
Where and how to store them?
Regardless of the type of life jacket, stole, bodice or self-inflating, and also of the intended use, for children, adults or animals, they all fear the wear and tear that comes with time due mainly to humidity, saltiness and sunlight.
The jackets should therefore be stored in a place on the boat that is as dry and ventilated as possible. Finding a suitable place obviously depends on both the size of the boat and how it is built. But a lot can also depend on the choice of the captain or the owner of the boat.
In fact, there is always a tendency to "hide" them and put them in remote places on the boat, because they take up a lot of space, especially the stole models, and because "they are never used anyway". That's why they end up in the least accessible lockers, and often few people on board know where they are.
On the contrary, it is necessary to find an easily reachable and well repaired place. Their ideal place is in the dinette cupboard, near the ladder leading to the deck. In case of emergency they can be reached immediately, you don't have to move anything to get them, nor do you have to reach the extreme bow and lift the bunk mattresses, for example. Those lockers are instead one of the most "popular" places to stow them (not a very smart choice also because they are often wet, and also with salt water).
The choice of inflatable models from this point of view turns out to be decidedly happy, given the smaller overall dimensions.
For those who instead have the bulkier stole or bodice life jackets a good choice is always in the dinette, or in the central saloon, under the sofas, in the most accessible lockers. They will "steal" space to the galley and luggage but, if they are needed, they will be at hand.
And put them in the external lockers, the ones in the cockpit? An intelligent choice in view of the greater ease of reaching them, but decidedly less so to preserve them from atmospheric agents. It can be done with the stole ones, is much less advisable for self-inflating life jackets. These though less bulky and easier to put on require more care in stowing. Both salt or paper tablets and pressure switches are obviously more perishable than foam. They can therefore be triggered unintentionally.
In any case, is essential that everyone on board knows where they are and also, in the case of private boats (on charter boats it's much more complicated to do this), that everyone has their own with their name written on it, of the right size and with the straps already adjusted to the right length for their build.
How to choose the best one?
There are many manufacturers on the market, both in Italy and abroad, of excellent quality such as Sailmaker San Giorgio, Trem and Plastimo capable of production in large numbers, and with very attractive prices without having to sacrifice anything in terms of quality, but there are manufacturers of life jackets, especially self-inflating, from northern Europe or even New Zealand as Spinlock, Baltic or Helly Hansen that have excellent carattersitiche.
On the market there are also many models of stole vests designed for pets. Dogs and cats wear them on their backs and have straps or bands running under their bellies to keep them in the correct position, with their paws down (which the animal will instinctively swim with) and their heads out of the water. They also have, on the side of the back, a sturdy handle for retrieval from the sea.
How to comply with the law?
Let's see how the regulations on lifejackets work.
Lifejackets must be CE marked and comply with the ISO 12402 standard, which has replaced the old one marked EN. The vests are divided into three broad categories, according to the "upward thrust", then the Newtons, which we find reported on the label.