Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: Anacortes PNW
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Re: Harness and Tether Recommendations?
I have no personal experience with activation of automatic inflatable PFDs because I wouldn't have one aboard my boat. I know I'm in the minority here, but I'll try and explain why I thing auto-inflation is a useless feature and potentially dangerous.
1: Is there any benefit to auto-inflation? The main stated benefit of the auto-inflation feature is that it will inflate if you go overboard unconscious. True, it will inflate if you're unconscious, but you are still dead. Most of the inflatable PFDs put the unconscious victim's mouth/nose FOUR INCHES above the water. Since you're unconscious you can't protect your airway. If a couple of >4" waves come along (like during your rescue) you drown. Mustang survival has created a $400 exotic inflatable vest that they brag will keep your mouth "up to" 9" above the water. Still not much. For me, the "benefit" of helping an unconscious victim survive is a myth. Therefore, they have no benefit over manual inflation that I can see.
2: Is there any downside to auto-inflation? I would say yes in both safety and expense/convenience. I feel comfortable as a swimmer in the water, and I might like to be able to swim as part of affecting my own rescue. I can imagine (rare) scenarios like an upturned dinghy, or being caught in lines underwater, where the inflation could lead to your drowning. More likely, I imagine scenarios like falling overboard and wanting to be able to swim over to the MOB pole, cushion, or line/lifesling that was thrown to you before activating your flotation. Swimming with an inflatable PFD is not like swimming with a type III. They turn you on your back and make it nearly impossible to swim. Not being able to swim immediately to help your own rescue make the auto-inflate vests more dangerous in my book.
Then there is the downside of maintenance and accidental inflation. Accidental inflation happens, often. I worked at a West Marine for a summer to pillage their discount during a refit (highly recommended) and on the days I worked we sold a dozen re-arming kits over a the summer. I asked EVERY PERSON I sold one to how it inflated. All were accidental/unintended, though more than half were from wet gear in a bag (often destroying the bag). Buying and replacing the re-arm kits, keeping a supply of them aboard (and keeping them dry!) during a tropical cruise, sounds like a pain, and an expensive one. Having one go off on you while you're working (like a fellow racer in the Round the County 2011) on deck doesn't sound good either.
Long live manual inflation! If I had to pay more for manual inflation as a feature, I would.
I have a sauna on my boat, therefore I win.
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