Inflatable PFD Failures? - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 82 Old 06-15-2014 Thread Starter
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Inflatable PFD Failures?

The Cheeki Rafiki tragedy got me thinking about something. Are our inflatable PFDs as safe as we think in heavy seas?

In the CR case, help was on-scene relatively quickly after 2 PLBs activated. I am assuming that these guys, based on their experience level, were all wearing PFDs. I am also assuming these were inflatables.

However, no one was found after the sinking although the search area was pretty well defined.

This is somewhat surprising to me. Does it mean that the PFDs did not inflate? Or, more alarmingly in the context of this thread, does it mean that they inflated - but then failed in the rough seas thereafter?

From what I've seen, Type V inflatables typically have a Type II (near shore buoyant) or, worse, Type III (floatation aid) rating once inflated. This, in itself, is an issue that we should think about when facing heavy seas off-shore. Is "near shore buoyant" enough of a safety factor offshore?

Now, there is PLENTY of research on the inflating methods and properties of many of these PFDs. But what about the durability and effectiveness of the bladder once inflated...especially in heavy seas? Are there studies out there?

Why were no bodies found in the CR case if they had PLBs? Could it be that the bladders failed after a few hours?

I've done a bit of research on whether there has been testing done on this scenario. And I'm not seeing much. It seems a pretty important issue for us sailors to consider. If the weather gets rough, should we ditch the inflatable and wear only a true Type I vest?

I'm considering writing a story on this - so what do you guys think?
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Last edited by smackdaddy; 06-15-2014 at 04:57 PM.
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post #2 of 82 Old 06-15-2014
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Re: Inflatable PFD Failures?

Good question. Also how well do inflatables perform in rough seas vs type Is? With much of the bouancy up around the ears and not around the chest are they effective in keeping an unconscious head above the wave action? And of course what is the puncture experience with inflatables in emergency situations?
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Re: Inflatable PFD Failures?

Inflatables run counter to the KISS principles in my book. Earlier this spring we had a man rescued from a capsized single scull. A passer-by noticed the overturned hull in the water and called 911, then called our yacht club. The waterfront manger who got her call jumped into a club whaler and went out to the harbor entrance to find the comatose victim clutching his hull in a death-grip. The manager pried the victim off his boat and zipped him back to the waiting medics. The medics were able to revive the victim despite his core body temperature of 84F. The victim was wearing an inflatable lifejacket...without a cartridge. He apparently went hypothermic before he had time to blow it up manually.
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post #4 of 82 Old 06-15-2014
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Re: Inflatable PFD Failures?

It would be a necessary and timely article. I've been thinking about this and other PFD issues a lot over the past 3 years; however, I'm not sure what inferences you'd reliably be able to make about the crew on Cheeki Rafiki because no bodies were found so what they were wearing and how they died would be speculative.

FYI - I've pasted below the response from Spinlock when I asked them about the bladder coming over a user's head in high surf in the Uncontrollable Urge accident:

Thank you for your email regarding the US Sailing Report on s/y Uncontrollable Urge. Spinlock have been involved in the writing of the report and have discussed it with the authors, so are a little disappointed at how they have phrased their comments about the Deckvest, as there were many other issues raised in the report.

The s/y Uncontrollable Urge incident involved the crew using the lifejackets in large breaking surf on a Pacific Coast lee shore. This is always going to be a very challenging environment for inflatable lifejackets given the forces on the large inflated bladder created by the waves which try and pull the jacket off, as you are fighting to prevent inversion. The bladder attachment of the Spinlock Deckvest is not fundamentally different to the majority of inflatable lifejackets available and so we would expect all lifejackets to have behaved similarly. All lifejackets already go through a number of rigorous approval tests that include a 10 feet jump test with an inflated bladder to ensures the lifejacket stays in position. Given the unique circumstances of this incident the lifejacket approval bodies - ISO 12402 committee and the USCG must take the opportunity to review the performance testing requirements for lifejackets and we will make any changes to the Deckvest design if ISO confirm this is required, which will be applicable to all lifejacket manufacturers.

In our own testing we found that the correct, secure fitting of the chest belt and leg or crutch straps have the largest impact on the performance of all lifejackets. The Deckvest has always been designed to be easy to adjust, to ensure that it is worn securely and is supplied with leg straps as standard which we are sure would have helped in this situation. We will continue to improve our communication and training for the fitting and maintenance to ensure customers understand how to get the best performance from their Deckvest Lifejacket.

There is an important balance in developing and testing lifejackets to be wearable, usable products and not over specifying them to cover unique situations that could in turn reduce their use in more common situations. Lifejackets are designed for a purpose -to provide buoyancy, stability and to buy the user some time when in the water. We have to accept given the challenges of the marine environment, that there may be scenarios where this might not be all a user needs, or possibly is not the most suitable product to be worn.

I hope this helps reassure you that your Deckvest Lifejackets both inshore and offshore are still the right choice for your personal protection.

With regards the recent USCG Approval of the Deckvest LITE lifejacket, this approval was sought as it is more applicable for the inshore Deckvest LITE. The Deckvest is our coastal and offshore lifejacket approved to the latest International ISO12402 Standard for lifejackets which the rest of the world uses for Lifejacket Approval. Whilst the USCG recognises the ISO12402 standard, the US currently chooses to sit outside the international community. Unfortunately the USCG standard is a little behind the ISO1202 for offshore coastal design and we would have downgrade the design of the product to meet the USCG standard and the result would not be the Deckvest that has all the great features and comfort that you enjoy.
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post #5 of 82 Old 06-16-2014
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Re: Inflatable PFD Failures?

It was quite a surprise when several inflatables were very slow to inflate, or didn't inflate at all when we did our pool exercise during the Safety at Sea Seminar. Two were Mustang and one was a Spinlock, I think. It made me rethink the PFD thing and while the inflatables are far more comfortable for sailing/racing, I'd like to go back to the non-inflatable type. Since we're out all winter in windy/wet conditions, I might even think about wearing a two-piece surfer type wetsuit for additional safety and warmth. Keeping the head above waves is the piece I haven't figured out as the regular PFD's don't do that as well.

I'd love to see you do an article if it leads to more advances!

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Re: Inflatable PFD Failures?

I'd suggest a letter to Practical Sailor on this. Safety gear is a big deal to them. They did quite a bit of study on harnesses after the Lake Michigan race incident a while back. That resulted in some industry wide changes.

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Re: Inflatable PFD Failures?

Quote:
Originally Posted by joyinPNW View Post
It was quite a surprise when several inflatables were very slow to inflate, or didn't inflate at all when we did our pool exercise during the Safety at Sea Seminar. Two were Mustang and one was a Spinlock, I think.
I jumped in the pool with my Mustang (with the HIT inflator) in the SAS seminar last month. It took about 10 seconds to deploy. I found out later there is a safety recall on some of the Mustangs because of deployment problems, but a "few" seconds does not appear to be outside the norm. I have not yet tried out my Spinlock so curious to know what happened there.

Also, who regularly unzips and checks the integrity of the bladder in their PFD? I think the note inside the Mustang says to do this monthly. Right
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Re: Inflatable PFD Failures?

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Originally Posted by smackdaddy View Post
I've done a bit of research on whether there has been testing done on this scenario. And I'm not seeing much. It seems a pretty important issue for us sailors to consider. If the weather gets rough, should we ditch the inflatable and wear only a true Type I vest?

I'm considering writing a story on this - so what do you guys think?
I think along with the "will my liferaft inflate, can i deploy it/can I get in it/will it protect me" discussion this is another very good reason why I need to pay careful attention to stay on my boat and do everything I can to keep the friggin' thing floating.

Beyond that these are all good questions, you have got me paying attention.
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Last edited by chall03; 06-16-2014 at 03:43 AM.
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post #9 of 82 Old 06-16-2014
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Re: Inflatable PFD Failures?

When my friend Bob launched himself off and Oakcliff boat in this springs AYC series his hip pack did NOT inflate

Best as can be figured a brand new Cartridge was EMPTY

They happened to have had a rib on hand as Bob is a really BIG person and the 50' has massive freeboard it was the best and fastest way out of the cold water

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Re: Inflatable PFD Failures?

Interesting to read Gam's post. Leads me to the question "do manufacturers design to the specification or to the function?" Which leads to the question "what role do manufacturers play in developing the specifications?". Don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but designing to the function could lead to significant developments in wearable safety systems. Just as one example, the integrated harness, which if I understand PDQ's writings puts the chest strap in just the wrong place and will contribute to rib fractures.
Also, I think it is folly to sell flotation vests that do not include easy to use in the water vertical adjustments so that you can keep the bladder in the correct position.
While the PFDs we use today seem to be significant design developments, they really are just variations on the theme of Mae West. Is this the best we can do?
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