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post #1 of 20 Old 12-14-2007 Thread Starter
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What Lifejacket do you wear

Hello everyone,
having friends who have just a completed sea survival course down here in Oz I was absolutely flabergasted when I was told the following story. I had three different friends do their respective sea safety course at 3 different teaching facilities in two different states. Part of the course was to do a simulated abandon ship. All participants were wearing manuel or self inflating life jackets. On every course some of these life jackets failed to inflate. What was amazing is that in one class of 15 people, seven of the life jackets failed to inflate. Now while you are training this is not so bad but what happens in a real life drama when you are out in the middle of the deep blue and the dam thing does not inflate.
All my friends are now going to the PFD with in built flotation, they may be bulkier but at least when you go into the drink its there working already,
Has anyone else had experience in this. It reminds me of the old parachute joke, if it does not open first go just bring it back for a full refund .

Greg and Sue
Lake Macquarie
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post #2 of 20 Old 12-14-2007
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Hopefully, they were 'used' and property of the training facility. While they should use PFD's that are maintained to standard, maybe they have huge numbers lying around that have been affected by salt and time...sound weak but I can't imagine a failure rate like that. I know that I am going to 'test' mine and while I only have 4 if one fails, they're gone. Thanks for the post!

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post #3 of 20 Old 12-14-2007 Thread Starter
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Just to clarify my post, the people on the course each bought their own life jackets, they were not the property of the people doing the course. Just as a side issue the skipper of the boat I occasionally race on was at a life raft demo day at his local yacht club the other day, guess what, yep the raft would not inflate. Very embarrassed liferaft dealer.

Greg and Sue
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What Lifejacket do you wear
Greg and Sue,

We have a total of 6 inflatable vests onboard, four of which are Sospenders auto-inflate types. These are what my wife and I + crew wear whenever sailing offshore, or if I'm solo-sailing anywhere on the Bay. I keep on reserve, (4) CO2 cartridges with reload kits as well.

Additionally, we carry enough USCG Type I & II full floatation PFD jackets to accommodate all possible crew and passengers. These are stored in an easily accessible locker inside the pilothouse. By far though, crew will always choose the inflatables for comfort. I make sure everyone is familiar with their use and show how each can be inflated by mouth, in the event CO2 cartridge inflation fails.

Of course, if knocked unconscious, or otherwise unable to manually inflate the vests, they are useless - but at least my crew wears them. How many sailors would otherwise wear the alternative, bulky PFDs?

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A few points to consider....At $22 a recharge cylender from Whitworths...It is all-round easier to just use the by-mouth inflator on all of those jackets when doing a course.

point two...Most jackets are sold with the inflator cylender not all the way screwed in, to avoid accidental triggereing or damage to the little plastic protector n storage and handling pre-sale. A good store will tell you to give the bottle a clockwise turn or two until it is properly seated (or do it at the counter). For lack of this...there are thousands of people out there who's PFD's are set up for NOT going off in the wharehouse and shop.
This is not a fault of the PFD.

Finally, I have found that the majority of Sea Safety and Survival course providers prefer you to use the vest or even SOLAS type life jacket and not the inflating PFD's while on course.

Having had to do the course twice (Once in Yachtmaster and then needing to repeat it for Coast Guard because they did not recognise the yachtmaster quals) I wore the full vest first time around and then insisted on my Burke Offshore manual PFD with ibuilt harness...Because that is what I would most likely be wearing if it ever came to the crunch!

I inflated using the mouth valve (only takes about four lungfulls) jumped off the jetty and found that my head went straight through the neck hole and I was under water, looking up at the ring of my inflated lifevest floating overhead...attached to me only by the lower chest strap/harness....Not Good.
It was no problem to poke my head back through the hole and resume normal operations...but it was a thought to ponder.

now Roaring Forties and Stormy Seas PFD's both have a little upper chest strap and fastener to prevent exactly this...At three times the price, the Stormy Seas ought to offer an onboard coffee maker as well. I have since simply sewn a similar arrangement into the edge lining of my Burke, have retested and found it no longer tries to drown me. yay.

My Wife's PFD (as well as the "guest" ones on board our boat) are a Plastimo manual activated "sandwitch yoke" style that is frankly way nicer then the Burke. Instead of needing to unfold itself as it inflates, it just has velcro running all along the seams between inside and outside and the thing just expands. This means you can wear it under clothing and still have it activate cleanly...It also offers better protection to the inflated bladder by continuing to shield it with the tough exterior fabric....A thought that might need thinking if youconsider that a dismasted, sinking reef-crashed sailboat is not the most rounded-corners and no sharp surfaces kind of places.

On that note. One of the guys in the last group was using his Hutchwilco PFD...I have always liked them and not just because their sexy blue colour matches my boat's topsides paint...Unfortunately, up close and when inflated I got to see that the very yellow bladder is actually made of the same unsupported vinyl fabric as really cheap pool toys! even the Burke has the fabric reinfoced canvassy type material for the bladder. This is likely why it is considerably heavier and bulkier then the sleek Hutchwilco...But I think the bulk is worth it in this case!


Last edited by Sasha_V; 12-14-2007 at 09:29 AM.
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post #6 of 20 Old 12-14-2007
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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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Last edited by sailingdog; 12-14-2007 at 09:40 AM.
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post #7 of 20 Old 12-14-2007
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This is a great thread.

Yes, I too wear the Sospenders auto/manual's. They are not cheap, but I KNOW there are many times I would wear those and would not wear any at all otherwise. If you say differently you are lying or have not been offshore much. Some of those PFD's are so bulky it is hard to even manuever in them.

That being said, you know what, I have NEVER tested the auto inflate!! I just assume it works. Perhaps this thread should go down to seamanship, because that is one I have not thought of and I am sure others have not as well. Of course, this is assuming I am unconscious as it also has a manual inflate... but still, probably worth checking.

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post #8 of 20 Old 12-14-2007
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Originally Posted by sailingdog View Post
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..
I like the Spinlock harness as well, but I wonder if you couldn't get the same qualities in a mountaineer's climbing harness, which seems identical in construction and is manifestly strong enough. You could add the "accessories" as needed.

Secondly, just as there is a disconnect at times between the Canadian safety regs and certifications and the USCG ones, I find that in certain areas the USCG regulations (and the ABYC recommendations, in some cases) are behind those of organizations such as SOLAS. Canadian and U.S. regs are very similar, but they are bureaucratic in the sense that they require endorsements from both countries if they are expected to be considered "legitimately safe" in both countries.

Does everyone need SOLAS-grade gear? Probably not, but I find in what I've read and what I've heard from serious voyagers that the USCG standards are considered "minimums", whereas the SOLAS regs exceed these standards, sometimes by a wide margin. Lifevests, liferafts, and flares, for instance, would appear to be a few examples of where SOLAS is clearly the better standard.
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I have "tested" West marines Stearns and SOSpender varieties they work.
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post #10 of 20 Old 12-14-2007
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I am very satisfied with my inflatable’s made by Eastern Aero Marine (one of the largest builders of rafts, evacuation slides and life vests for the aviation industry). If I have one complaint, it would be that they inflate far too easily! I have inadvertently snagged the inflation tab with the wheel while going around Pt. Conception and have them automatically inflate on two different occasions by boarding waves. I now disable the auto feature if I’m racing as forepeak. They have 35# of reserve buoyancy and an integral harness. Another nice feature is they have sewn in pockets that are handy places for pen flashlights, whistles and whatever. I attach my strobe to the manual inflation tube so it is both handy and out of the way when the vest is closed up. I have augmented mine with a crotch strap more to keep the vest in place during the MOB recovery phase as you tend to grab the tether to haul somebody in. I have found that you want the chest strap snug, not tight as the inflated chambers will cinch up the entire rig. The vest was on tight for my first accidental inflation and I almost took a knife to it as it was too tight around the neck and choking me.

Last edited by GeorgeB; 12-14-2007 at 01:14 PM.
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