It’s easy to be complacent when it comes to wearing lifejackets on the inland waterways. For weak or non-swimmers and children the case for wearing a buoyancy aid is easy to answer but for the majority of adults a lifejacket is not even a consideration.
This is easy to understand when we are gently cruising down the canal on a warm summers day. However, the dynamic all changes at the next lock where lack of concentration or the design of the lock gear violently throws your boat around sufficiently to tip you into the boiling waters of the filling lock. You hit your head and fall unconscious......
Less dramatically, those of you that regularly cruise the larger river systems will be all too well aware of the strong undercurrents that may not be obvious on the surface of the water but which can move the boat substantially.
These are extreme examples maybe, but if they get you thinking about “what if” with regards to safety, then that can only be a good thing.
So if you do find yourself in the water, depending upon the conditions, wearing a buoyancy aid or lifejacket could save your life. The key here is that it has to be fitted correctly, be of the correct size & type, be properly maintained and you need to know how to use it.
Incidentally, there are lifejackets available for your cherished dog or cat that you may wish to take onboard with you.
Lifejackets are measured according to how much additional weight they can support. The average person in water needs between 3 and 6 additional kilos of buoyancy. The lifejacket does not need to support the entire physical weight of a person, just that additional requirement. In fact, lifejackets are rated to provide more than is usually necessary. The buoyancy of a lifejacket is measured in Newtons (N). Ten Newtons equals 1kg of flotation. So therefore a 100N jacket will provide an additional 10kg of buoyancy.
Buoyancy jackets are intended only to be an aid in keeping you afloat. They are recommended for people who expect to go in the water such as canoeists, kayakers, windsurfers & water-skiers etc.
For those of us that plan to stay aboard, a lifejacket is a much better choice.
The question is, how do we choose? First and foremost, take the advice of a specialist retailer of this type of marine safety equipment. We discuss below the classification and ratings of the categories of lifejacket available but it is better to be properly fitted with a device which is tailored to your specific needs, especially where children or pets are concerned.
There are four CE European and ISO International Standards for buoyancy aids and lifejackets as follows:
Bouyancy Aid (50N)
Intended for competent swimmers who are near the bank or shore and who have means of resue or help close at hand. These are devices for those who expect to end up in the water such as the canoeists etc discussed above.
For sheltered or calm waters providing sufficient buoyancy for those who may have to wait for rescue. Be aware that the jacket may not provide sufficient buoyancy for those that are unable to help themselves. Additionally the lifejacket may not roll an unconcious person onto their back, particularly if they are wearing heavy clothing.
Where a high standard of performance is required, this jacket is intended for general offshore and rough weather use. The key feature for us on the inland waterways is that a lifejacket of this rating should turn an unconsious person into a safe position and requires no further action to keep the users' face out of the water. The user should be aware that the performance may be affected if he or she is wearing heavy and/or waterproof clothing.
Commercial standard protection designed for offshore and extreme conditions, where the user is likely to be wearing clothing which could adversely affect the self-righting capacity of a lifejacket. The design of this standard ensures the user is floating in the correct position and that the mouth and nose are out of the water.
It is important to know how your lifejacket works. As we tend to use them infrequently, refresh yourself with its operation.
In any case there are three common methods of inflation for air only lifejackets.
Firstly, manually inflated jackets are operated by pulling a string which fires a pin into a CO2 cylinder. The CO2 inflates the jacket.
Secondly, automatically inflated jackets employ a fast dissolving pellet or bobbin which holds back a strong spring. In this case, when the pellet dissolves the spring fires a pin into the gas cylinder which inflates the jacket. Automatic jackets also have a pull string.
Thirdy, hydrostatic or Hammar action lifejackets use a similar dissolving pellet. However the pellet is in a case which only lets in water when it is fully submerged by a few centimeters. These jackets therefore will only deploy when fully submerged. They also have a secondary pull string.