PFDs-Are Inflatable Life Jackets Right For You?
As spring thankfully approaches, it is
time to start discussing on the water safety and compliance topics. For many
recreational boaters and fisherman who ply their craft from a vessel, the wearing
of an approved PFD is mandated by law. For others, an accessible and approved
PFD/life jacket for every individual on board qualifies as compliance. Check
your local regulations frequently as the laws are often changing. An example
would be the recent introduction in New York state of legislation requiring any
person aboard a water craft, including motorboats, canoes, kayaks, rowboats,
and sailboats, of less than 21' to wear an approved PFD at all times between November 1st. through May 1st. Marine safety is a broad
and important field but today's topic will be a general overview of inflatable Personal
Flotation Devices or PFDs as they are commonly known. This focus is on the
typical near shore and inland recreational boater and fisherman.
In 1996, after more than ten years of
study and debate, The United States Coast Guard (USCG) approved the use of
certain inflatable life jackets for on the water usage. USCG-approved manual
inflatables have been available for several years and as advances in design and
safety features have been developed, additional models of manual/automatic
inflatables have been approved by the USCG. This means that with a little
research, approved manual and manual/automatic PFDs can be worn to meet a
boater's USCG requirements for life jackets.
Inflatable PFDs are significantly different from traditional
foam-filled life jackets. Besides being more comfortable (an important factor
for fisherman and others who ply their trades on the water), inflatable jackets
and vests are light in weight, often provide more buoyancy, and tend to be much
cooler in hot weather or warm climates. A better mousetrap? Perhaps, but
inflatables are not for every boater and every situation. They are not
recommended for children and, in some locales, may be illegal for kids under a
certain age. Certain types of inflating PFDs may also not be suitable for
holding an unconscious personís head at the proper angle while in the water. Again,
check with your local legal entities responsible for enforcement. Regulations as to usage and laws
regarding children can vary.
is another factor when choosing PFDs. Lets face it, the increasing cost of on
the water activities has risen in recent years and for some boat owners,
traditional USCG approved life jackets are a good choice. Inflatable PFDs
require a level of maintenance not found in foam-filled buoyancy vests.
Inflatables life jackets contain a CO2 cartridge that inflate the vest. Combination
manual/automatic models can be inflated by hand with a ripcord, and/or also
inflate automatically upon contact with water. Strictly manual models require
the user to pull a ripcord to activate inflation. This cartridge must be
properly installed and replaced with a new one after the vest has been inflated.
Standards require indicators that show whether the CO2 cartridge is properly
installed and ready for proper use and deployment.
Today's combination manual/automatic inflatables PFDs are
very different from their earlier, unapproved brethren. New models includes an
extra CO2 cylinder and cap contained in an inside pocket, providing the wearer
to rearm the unit after an accidental inflation. Often the additional CO2
cylinder will rearm the PFD as a manual model, meaning it can be re-inflated by
pulling the ripcord. This function is intended for emergency use only and not a
means to stretch the functional life of the system. Keeping a complete rearming
kit on board for each inflatable is a good idea. This will allow a mariner to rearm a unit completely and
restore itsí manual/automatic ability. Improved designs have made re-arming a simpler
procedure. Reputable manufacturers, such as Mustang, include detailed, easy to
decipher illustrations and written instructions on their PFDs. Oral inflation
tubes are also included in these products, allowing for a person to stay afloat
for extended periods of time.
inflatables are usually classified as Type III PFDs. Manual/automatic
inflatables are classified as a Type V, with Type II or Type III performance. PFDs
are categorized by Type, i.e. Type I, II, III, IV or V. Types I, II and III are
commonly worn by recreational boaters, while Type IVs are throwable devices
such as life rings and flotation cushions. Type Vs are labeled for special uses
but hybrid manual/automatic units fall under this category. Presently, all
approved manually (non-hybrid) inflated PFDs are designated as Type III by the
USCG. In another article we will discuss the various USCG Types with a look at
the pros, cons of each.
not ideal for every situation, inflatable PFDs provide a comfortable, safe, and
legally compliant option for many boaters. This is especially true in the case
of inshore and freshwater fisherman, often bound by local and/or tournament
regulations to wear an approved PFD. While fishing, the comfort level versus
traditional life jackets is unmatched. No matter your choice of Personal Flotation
Device, be smart and safe while enjoying our waterways.