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PFD's - Buoyancy Aids & Lifejackets

29 Sep 2015, 19:20

The Facts
Buoyancy Aids and Life Jackets
- (PFDs)

There are two basic types of personal floatation devices (PFD's) a ‘Buoyancy Aid’ and a ‘Life Jacket’
A LifeJacket can be available in either a "Solid or Inflatable Version"

Personal Flotation Devices

Buoyancy Aid -A device that helps keep a person afloat in the water

Life Jacket - A device that helps keep a person afloat in the water AND will turn an unconscious person onto their back should they end up face down in the water .

There are 5 international standards for PFD’s
Lets look at each one in slightly more detail...

EN ISO 12402-5
(EN 394) This is your typical 50N Buoyancy Aid, it will help keep you afloat, but it will not turn you onto your back if you end up face down and unconscious in the water.
50 NewtonFoam Buoyancy Aid, Mainly used for active surface watersports:
• Dinghy Sailing
• Canoeing
• Kite Surfing
Only suitable for competent swimmers in sheltered water use, where help is close at hand. Only provides support to conscious people who can help themselves.

EN ISO 12402-4
(EN 395)This is a half-way house between the above and a ‘Life Jacket’, it provides 100N of buoyancy, and although it often looks like a life jacket, the standard does not require it to turn an unconscious person onto their back. These are often used a child’s Life Jacket, typically someone who weighs under 40kg.
100 Newton Foam Lifejacket
• Dinghy Sailing
• Sportsboat
• Powerboat (Including RIBs)
Suitable for swimmers and non swimmers, inshore and coastal waters. They give a reasonable assurance of safety from drowning in relatively calm water. Not guaranteed to self right an unconscious user wearing waterproof clothing and should not be expected to protect the airway of an unconscious person in rough water.

EN ISO 12402-3
(EN 396)This is a Life Jacket that provides 150N of buoyancy that will turn an unconscious person onto their back. It is required to have at least the following, reflective strip, whistle, toggle to set gas bottle inflation off, manual oral inflation tube, lifting strap.
150 Newton Inflatable Lifejacket
• Yachting
• Sportsboat
• Powerboat (Including RIBs)
Use :
Swimmers and non swimmers. For use in all but the most severe conditions. May not immediately self right an unconscious user wearing heavy waterproof clothing.

EN ISO 12402-2
(EN 399)This is the same as the 150N Life Jacket but provides 275N of buoyancy and is designed for people who are wearing heavy foul weather kit in serious offshore conditions. They are still required to have as a minimum the features detailed for a 150N Life Jacket above.
275 Newton Inflatable Lifejacket
• Yachting
• Sportsboat
• Powerboat (Including RIBs)
Use: Swimmers and non swimmers. A high performance device for offshore and severe conditions, when maximum protection is required or where heavy waterproof clothing is worn. While they cannot be guaranteed to self right an unconscious user wearing heavy water-proofs the buoyancy they provide should ensure they will in the great majority of cases.

EN ISO 12402-1 This standard is for PFDs on large commercial sea going ships and not generally applicable to the leisure or small commercial boat sector.
There are many optional extras for Life Jackets such as auto inflation triggered by water (normally some type of pellet device) or water pressure (Hammar), crutch straps, lights, line cutters, spray hood, deck-line attachment point etc.

Choice of PFD and optional extras is a personal choice and may be limited due to many factors including comfort, physical size of person, price, area of operation etc.
Many manufacturers advertise Life Jackets as 170N or 190N, these only meet the 150N standard there is no 170N or 190N standard. However, The manufacturers may quote "an increased flotation capability to 170N/190N.

In the United Kingdom it is not a legal requirement to have or even wear a PFD when afloat, the rules and regulations vary depending on where you are in the world, some countries require you to have one but not wear them, whilst others require them to be worn on all vessels under a certain length.

Always check the relevant regulations of your place of launch.
Before boating outside the UK it is advised to check on local regulations...

The Royal Yachting Association (http://www.rya.org.uk)
Royal National Lifeboat Institute (http://www.rnli.org)
Maritime Coastguard Agency (http://www.gov.uk/government/organisati ... ard-agency)
All the above Links are good sources of information.

All PFDs require servicing, anything from a simple visual inspection to replacing spent gas cylinders, all manufacturers provide details regarding the servicing regime 'their’ device requires. As a minimum this should be done annually, possibly more frequently, depending on how often and where the device is used.

**EN - European Standard (Number)

:stop Please Remember.. –**Any type of PFD is ‘Useless Unless Worn ** :asskick

Available to download as PDF

Re: PFD's - Buoyancy Aids & Lifejackets

29 Sep 2015, 20:23

Thanks for this excellent comprehensive summary.

Very timely as I have just updated from wearing a buoyancy aid, which I never found comfortable and which had no crotch strap so tended to 'ride up' so probably wouldn't have been very effective in the water. I spent quite a bit of time researching what was available, there are certainly plenty of makes and options to choose from! There are videos of in-water tests run by RYA and others on YouTube.

There were several functions which I felt worth having, such as: automatic operation (with manual override); fast turning to keep you upright in the water; inflatable chin support to tilt your neck back and keep your airways clear; and a spray hood to help keep waves off your face. Finding one with all this but without being cumbersome was the challenge.

For my most common SIBbing scenarios I ended up deciding to go for a Crewsaver ErgoFit 190N Coastal Lifejacket with Hammar+ (with spray hood and water activated light) plus a Safety Knife (for which the jacket has a pocket and cord) and a Rearming Kit, ready for the inevitable time I slip and fall in at the slipway . . .


The best overall deal was from Marine Super Store and their service was excellent. Delivery was free, I ordered it on a Monday evening after 7.30pm, it was shipped on the Wednesday and arrived on the Thursday, with on-line tracking keeping me advised when it was due.

When it arrived and I unpacked it, I was concerned that it felt quite a bit heavier than I was used to with the buoyancy aid. I thought it might have been cumbersome, however having worn it for several hours on the water over the last few days I can honestly say it lives up the the maker's promised comfort level and ease of movement, much, much better than the buoyancy aid had been, especially when fishing. You really hardly notice you're wearing it, in fact I was part way through packing up the SIB today when I realised I hadn't taken it off!

I hope I never need it in a serious situation but it's good to know that if I do it's well up to the job and could save my life.


Re: PFD's - Buoyancy Aids & Lifejackets

01 Oct 2015, 07:50

It's always worth checking your lifejacket at least annually, possibly more frequently.

Open it up, remove the cylinder and weigh it on the kitchen scales (the weight it should be is printed on the side). If it weighs less then the gas has escaped and it need replacing. Check the cylinder for corrosion. Then firmly screw the gas cylinder back in.

If it's an auto check that the firing mechanism is still in date.

Check the inflatable part of the jacket for mould, rust, or damage to the material.

If it has a light check that still works, there is usually a test button

Connect a hand or foot pump to the oral inflation tube and inflate the lifejacket (don't pump it up too hard). Leave it for a couple of hours to ensure it altually stays inflated.

Then deflate and repack.

Re: PFD's - Buoyancy Aids & Lifejackets

01 Oct 2015, 21:14

Cracking tips/info that Chris, thank you !

Re: PFD's - Buoyancy Aids & Lifejackets

01 Oct 2015, 22:19

Martin wrote:Cracking tips/info that Chris, thank you !

+1 ;-)
Something I've been meaning to do but never got around to it :shame
You've prompted me into doing this Chris so :cheers


Re: PFD's - Buoyancy Aids & Lifejackets

02 Oct 2015, 11:11

Nice thread . I've also 'tested' mine by jumping in the water when the auto inflation is out of date and I have an old jacket I use specifically for this . It keeps in my mind how quickly it will inflate and what it feels like to float in one - its something of an added incentive to stay on the boat !

Re: PFD's - Buoyancy Aids & Lifejackets

17 Oct 2015, 19:27

My mate informs me that the self inflating jackets without the crotch strap are not up to the job.
He said that his old man was in a P.B course and the instructor slated the crotch strapless self inflating jackets as they ride upward on the body once in the water and inflated.
Bit concerning as both of mine are used without a crotch strap fitted.
One of my jackets does have a strap which clips on and off - I find it uncomfortable so I don't wear it.
I can envisage that this would happen but haven't been fortunate enough not to need how my jacket thus far just wondering if anyone got any experience/knowledge of this phenomenon.

Re: PFD's - Buoyancy Aids & Lifejackets

17 Oct 2015, 20:53

Hi, kaman

These may help you decide whether or not wearing a crotch strap makes any difference:


http://rnli.org/aboutus/aboutthernli/Do ... rmance.pdf

My new Crewsaver has twin crotch straps. I also bought a retrofit crotch strap to fit to my stand-by buoyancy aid as that had a tendency to ride up even when wearing normally, so would probably be little good in the water without it.

Re: PFD's - Buoyancy Aids & Lifejackets

17 Oct 2015, 23:56

We've all heard the horrible stories of life jacket straps snagging on boats and people drowning, but I'd hazard a guess the statistics would show a life jacket with straps is safer than one without straps.
The sheer lift force of an inflating jacket would in my opinion lift itself straight from a semi/ unconscious body leaving the victim to drown whilst the life jacket floats away.
All 4 of mine have crotch straps fitted, and always used !!

Re: PFD's - Buoyancy Aids & Lifejackets

18 Oct 2015, 02:47

Yep guys, sounds like your crotch should be strapped at all times!
It makes sense logically.
Never really thought about it before but next season I'll be wearing mine!
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