Originally Posted by RhythmDoctor
Perhaps this is a bit harsh, but this argument about not being able to escape sounds eeriliy similar to the debunked myth about not wearing seat belts so you won't get trapped in a car.
If we're talking about working on deck I would tend to agree. Primal fears (fire, water, being trapped) can sometimes significantly bias the perception of risk.
However, if we're talking about being in the cabin during a capsize, maybe not:
Transportation Safety Board of Canada - MARINE REPORTS - 2008 - M08M0062
The report doesn't conclude that wearing buoyant vests in a RHIB doghouse = bad, but the description of the incident under "Emergency Egress" is interesting.
The people who teach aircraft ditching survival have recognized this for a long time. My instructor cured me of the habit of wearing my floater coat during seaplane flights during the pool simulation. He had me inflate my vest then try to swim out of the back of the (simulated) overturned plane and through the cockpit exit. Not fun.
Since then I use a fully manual inflatable when I'm on small fast boats with closed cabins. In summer on deck on larger vessels I use an automatic inflatable. There is a significant chance the reason I'll be in the water is because I got hit by a broken piece of rigging and if my head was involved I'd like the vest to start thinking without me.
I've used inflatables at work for over 15 years (before they were approved) and so far I've seen one inflate spontaneously. It hadn't had the salt tablet replaced for over ten years so it was a case of "well, duh".
Someone mentioned the possibility of punctures. I've removed old inflatables from service by slicing them up. I can assure you the bladders (at least on the higher end models) are tougher than they look, and the covers are tougher still. Anything that can punch through one is going to cause damage to the person underneath. While I wouldn't argue that it's not possible I think your boat would need to be designed by HR Giger for it to be a concern.
When the weather gets colder and hypothermia becomes an increasing concern I will switch to a work vest, floater coat, or skiff suit depending on what I'm doing. If we're stopped on station I might use the inflatable over rain gear but if there's any chance I might have to survive more than a couple of minutes before someone hauls my soaking butt out of the drink I want a bit of thermal protection.