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Most of the older automatic inflatable PFDs depend on a salt tablet or wafer for the trigger mechanism. These tablets can wear away for various reasons, leading to the vest inflating without any apparent triggering event. Often, moisture/dampness can accellerate the erosion of the tablet, as can heavy rain conditions and age. Generally, the tablets should be inspected annually, and replaced as needed.
The new hydrostatic releases are designed to not release unless immersed in 4" of water. This makes them unlikely to trigger for conditions other than actual submersion, but as Xort has pointed out, the hydrostatic inflator-equipped vests are a bit more expensive, and the replacement mechanisms are more expensive as well.
Also, IMHO, the hydrostatic inflation triggers are a bit more delicate, since you do have the CO2 cartridge and trigger mechanism stored inside the bladder on most models that I've seen. If you damage the seals on the bladder, where the trigger mechanism fits in, the vest will leak air.
BTW, I generally recommend that you do a live test, and try out the automatic inflation PFDs, even though this means you need to replace the bobbin and cartridge, to find out how the PFD acts when it triggers. This is especially important if you've never used one before and never seen one work. If you wait until your first yearly inspection, it means that you can use a bobbin and cartridge that was probably in need of replacement anyways.
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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; 08-01-2007 at 09:05 PM.