A beginners guide to lifejackets and buoyancy aids
Data released this week by Helly Hansen has revealed that UK boaters are not taking the right precautions while out on the water.
Their research has shown that only around half the respondents (56%) always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) while on the water. Of those who do not always wear a PFD, over 23% don’t bother as they can swim and 51% only wear one in bad weather. An incredibly low 29% say they wear one if they sail alone.
Pip Hare, professional sailor & Helly Hansen ambassador, says, “Cold water shock can affect everyone. Even if you are an experienced sailor or a very confident swimmer, cold water shock causes an uncontrollable reaction which elevates your heart rate & breathing. This can lead to breathing in water & potentially drowning & it can affect even the fittest of people. Wearing a lifejacket with the correct buoyancy is vital to survival.”
Modern PFD technology means that buoyancy aids and life jackets are no longer the cumbersome items some sailors automatically think of. Instead, with the right fitting and the right PFD for your activity, you’ll feel comfortable and protected.
What are the different types of PFD?
The term ‘life jacket’ is often used interchangeably to describe both life jackets and buoyancy aids, however there is a difference in the level of categorisation.
PFDs are categorised based on their level of buoyancy, which is measured in Newtons (N). Depending on the supplier you’ll find several different levels of PFD available, but generally the lower levels are buoyancy aids, while the higher numbers are life jackets.
Level 50N – a buoyancy aid designed to keep the wearer afloat, but won’t turn them over if they’re unconscious. Suitable for sheltered waters or when help is nearby
Level 150N – a life jacket designed for coastal and offshore conditions. Should turn an unconscious wearer onto their back in order to keep their face out of the water until help arrives.
All new life jackets sold in Europe are required to meet the International Standards Organisation standard ISO 12402. Older life jackets may carry the CE mark. This is numbered from EN393 to EN399, depending on the amount of buoyancy provided.
How do PFD requirements vary for different activities?
Different types of water-based activity require different types of PFD for safety.
Before you purchase your PFD you should carry out your own research to ensure you’re choosing the right one. We’ve taken a look at the differences required for popular activities…
Dinghy sailing – smooth exterior to avoid getting caught on rigging, plus a slimmer cut that will allow easy movement around the boat. A high cut will also allow use of a trapeze harness. Rescue is usually close at hand, so a 50N buoyancy aid should be sufficient.
Offshore & coastal sailing – if you’re heading further out to sea, look for a life jacket which is at least 100N. A deck harness is an important feature you should consider.
Kayaking – a bright colour that’s easy to spot, with the ability to tighten the PSD around the waist. You’ll also want one that’s cut away around the shoulders and arms for easy paddling.
As sailors, we all have a love for being out on the water, however it’s essential to remember that even the strongest swimmers can be compromised by cold water shock, or even be knocked unconscious going overboard.
By investing in the right PSD, we can enjoy complete peace of mind that if the worst happens, we’ll be protected and able to come home safely, ready to adventure another day.