I'm with TB...
I have several auto-inflating PFDs, and these are the ones worn day-to-day. I also carry six Type I and four Type III foam floatation PFDs. The Type IIIs are the ones that get left in the dinghy, and Type Is would be used in the case of an abandon ship situation...since they're not dependent on inflation.
I don't know of any crew that would prefer to wear a bulky Type I when an inflatable is an option.
Most of the failures with inflatable PFDs relates directly to poor maintenance. In most cases, it is because the CO2 cartridge is not properly installed. This is a pretty common issue, and if you do a visual inspection, the CO2 cartridge often looks like it is installed properly, but often it isn't screwed in completely, so when the inflation mechanism fires, whether it is triggered manually or automatically, one of two things happens: one) the CO2 cartridge isn't punctured or two) the CO2 cartridge is punctured but since the cartridge is loose, the CO2 leaks out instead of inflating the vest. So you should physically check to see that any CO2 cartridges are screwed in completely.
The third cause of inflation failure is usually a bad CO2 cartridge. You can't visually inspect one and tell if it is up to spec. You have to weigh them to see if they contain enough CO2.
The cartridges and triggers should be replaced at least once every two years, and inspected at least once a month during the sailing season. The exception to this is the new Hydrostatic release, that is supposed to last five years before requiring replacement.
A good PFD will have thigh or a crotch strap. This prevents the buoyancy of the vest from pulling the vest over your head, as happened to Sasha. I have several Mustang PFDs, which have been retrofitted with crotch straps and harnesses, but my primary harness/PFD is a Spinlock Deckware Pro Harness w/ PFD. It comes stock with a harness, thigh straps, strobe, whistle, and splash hood... and is one of the easiest to adjust and easiest to put on or take off. I'd highly recommend them. However, last I checked, they are SOLAS approved, but not USCG approved.
Finally, one word of warning... you should never wear an inflatable PFD under any sort of clothing or jacket unless it is designed for that specific purpose. They can pose a danger to the wearer if the clothing or jacket worn outside of them is too tight and cause serious problems with restricting the ability to breath, since if they can't expand freely, they will compress the chest. Also, wearing them under clothing will often interfere with their auto-inflation mechanism as well as impeding your ability to manually trigger them, often with dangerous consequences.
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You know what the first rule of sailing is? ...Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take
a boat to the sea you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps
her going when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurting 'fore she keens. Makes her a home.
—Cpt. Mal Reynolds, Serenity (edited)
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Last edited by sailingdog; 12-14-2007 at 08:40 AM.