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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
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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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?
John
 

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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 84ºF. 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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Kynntana (Freedom 38)
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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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landofrainandgray
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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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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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Kynntana (Freedom 38)
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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 :rolleyes:
 

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Picnic Sailor
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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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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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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?
John
 

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*I* regularly unzip and check the status of my inflatable PFD's.

A conversation that I had with a respected circumnavigator, indicates that the inflatables are simply not as good as a trusty, Type I, offshore vest, but simply adding a crotch or thigh straps goes a long way towards improving their effectiveness.

I'm retrofitting all of mine with crotch straps.
 

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I was a Naval Aircrewman and wore an inflatable PFD/survival vest all the time. Their reliability was placed on the shoulders of the guys who did the maintenance on them. I also got to use them (pool environment mostly) and can tell you the bladders were much beefier than the "in close" PFD's we have from WM. Maybe the offshorer types are a little more robust, I don't know.

I like the thought though... if the weather really goes south (heavy seas etc)or I know I'm in trouble, I think I might very well put on the type 1. ;)

Dave
 

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Closet Powerboater
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I'd have to agree that there are too many assumptions about the Cheeki Rafiki incident to draw any conclusions at all. Continuing to ask questions about the design and suitability of our safety gear in general is something I support though.

If you're going to get serious about this kind of stuff and consider writing an article, you need to get your hands on a copy of the book, Survival Afloat by Don Biggs. ISBN 0-679-50579-2.

This is the only book/resource I've ever seen that really addresses the issues of PFD flotation (and some other issues) from a truly scientific perspective. They even detail how you absolutely can not mimic the behavior of an unconscious person without being... well unconscious. One of the researchers who was a medical doctor allowed himself to be anesthetized and floated around in the pool with different PFDs on in the name of science.

It's an old book and may be hard to find but it's worth it if you're serious about the topic.

MedSailor
 

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We're allowed to wear inflatables on Auxiliary patrol boats but not when we're on regular CG boats. They used to allow them but no longer.
 
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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
I'd have to agree that there are too many assumptions about the Cheeki Rafiki incident to draw any conclusions at all. Continuing to ask questions about the design and suitability of our safety gear in general is something I support though.
You're right about the assumptions. They are just that...wild-ass assumptions.

Even so, I've seen several of these stories over the years where bodies are not found even when the SAR parameters are pretty dialed in. I do think it's pretty safe to say that the majority of sailors wear the inflatables instead of the Type I vests. The correlation? Don't know yet.

My point here is not to necessarily try to prove anything scientifically. My point is that there are some facts staring us in the face (e.g. - the Type II and Type III actual ratings of these devices) that argue against OUR assumptions regarding their use. Yet we seem to trust them in the face of these facts.

Do we know how these bladders will stand up to breaking seas? Has that been tested and documented? I've found a little bit of info - but certainly not enough to make informed decisions yet.

Is the reason there is so little information like this because these inflatables clearly state that they are not rated for heavy, offshore conditions (i.e. - rated Type II or Type III once inflated)?

So - at this point I have more questions than answers. But I am absolutely certain that many of us are rolling the dice, to some degree, with our inflatables when using them offshore.
 

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I am actually moving on to the next phase in the tether project and this thread is going exactly the same direction.

Here is what I dont like about inflatables.

1. To use a manual inflatable I have to be conscious to inflate in the ultimate situation
2. An automatic may inflate unexpectedly due to very harsh conditions and may actually throw me off balance at a very bad time.
3. An inflatable and COULD (maybe unlikely?) pop from a very sharp object
4. Even if nothing goes wrong with the jacket I need to buy a re-arm kit after using it

I was planning to just wear my static PDF over my harness but the 'sailing' PDF that I have zips up in the front so its not really possible to pass the d-rings through. I think having the harness over the jacket is asking for it to slip over my head.

Does anyone know of a static (non-inflatable) foam PDF with a build-in harness available for sale in the US? The ones at the link below look great, but they do not seem to be distributed in the US.

Check out this feature list!:

"Integrated safety harness approved to EN1095 / EN ISO 12401, universal attachment point for emergency light etc, sturdy front zip, crutch strap, whistle, retro-reflective patches and two fleece lined outer pockets."

Warm Pockets!

http://www.baltic.se/en/products/consumer-products/specialist-buoyancy-aids/offshore/

http://www.baltic.se/en/products/consumer-products/specialist-buoyancy-aids/offshore-2/

Products | Baltic Lifejackets Sweden

Scott.
 

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Closet Powerboater
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Scott,

I've never handled one of these myself to see if the harness is the right type of harness for our applications, but if you search "rescue PFD" or "swiftwater rescue pfd" you'll get some foam PFDs with harnesses built in.

Also, mustang has some deck suits that are foulies, floatation and harness all in one, though that may be a lot more than you're looking for.

Medsailor
 

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bell ringer
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I'm considering writing a story on this - so what do you guys think?
What would you write about as there is no facts present?

Since I've never jumped in the water to see if my vest will inflate the only real experience I have is that if you put the vest in a locker and it gets damp enough, it will inflate from that.

BTW - my feeling is that you have the CO2 inflatable vests for conditions rough but "normal". You have standard vests for "nasty" conditions!
 

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Kynntana (Freedom 38)
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Is the reason there is so little information like this because these inflatables clearly state that they are not rated for heavy, offshore conditions (i.e. - rated Type II or Type III once inflated)?
You'll also want to talk to USCG HDQ. I'd heard they're planning to get rid of the Type I, II, III, etc. ratings because the public finds them too confusing.

You might also want to talk to big wave surfer Jeff Clark. He designed a new PFD for surfers that has 2 cartridges.Quatic Inflatable Life Vest by Jeff Clark | Mavericks Surf Shop. As a cave diver myself, this redundancy makes sense when you're relying on something to save your life. The biggest reason that people prefer inherently buoyant PFDs is because they know the buoyancy will be there when they need it, although it's much less and maybe not as effective as an inflatable.

The harness connection is also in the wrong place and needs to be reengineered to mimic a climbing harness that can take large dynamic loads.

Strapping on crotch straps (usually with just a single, non-redundant snap to the PFD) is also just an after-thought and should be made as an integral and comfortable part of offshore PFDs.
 
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