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Lifejackets

You must have enough lifejackets onboard. This means having lifejackets to suit all shapes and sizes including children and pets. It is the skipper's responsibility to show the crew where lifejackets are stowed, how to don and secure them and when and how to operate them. The RNLI recommends that when you use your tender and your boat everyone wears a buoyancy aid or a lifejacket. Remember, it is important to use crotch straps to prevent the lifejacket riding up upon entry into the water, ensuring your head is kept clear above the surface.

Choosing a Lifejacket

There are various types of lifejackets on the market with specific features aimed at different sports. Lifejackets can come with or without harness attachments or with different types of firing mechanisms and buckle fastenings. There are also different lifejackets for children with specific functions aimed at younger boaters.

There are many features on a lifejacket that can greatly enhance your chances of survival and buy you extra time to be found alive in the water. Some of these features are now standard on the majority of lifejackets. In this section we look at what they can do for you and why they are so important.

Newton ratings

Lifejacket buoyancy is measured in Newtons (N). Ten Newtons equals 1kg of flotation. There are four European standards for lifejackets. All lifejackets must carry the CE mark. Newton ratings are relative to the weight of the intended user. Make sure the lifejacket you choose is the correct size for you and that it has the right Newton rating for your weight. A level 150 lifejacket designed for a child or young adult will not sufficiently float an adult. If you are buying for an adult you must get a level 150 lifejacket designed for an adult's weight.

These are the four European standard for lifejackets and buoyancy aids:

Buoyancy Aid Level 50

Swimmer wearing a buoyancy aid

Level 50 buoyancy aids should only be used by swimmers in sheltered waters when help is close at hand. They are not guaranteed to turn a person from a face-down position in the water. If your sport involves being in the water a lot (such as windsurfing, dinghy sailing or waterskiing) you will probably use a buoyancy aid. Remember, buoyancy aids just give you a little bit of extra flotation. They will not float you face-up if you are unconscious.

Lifejacket Level 100

photo of 100 newtown lifejacket

The Level 100 lifejacket is for those who may have to wait for rescue but are likely to be in sheltered, calm water. It may not have sufficient buoyancy to protect someone who is unable to help himself or herself and may not roll an unconscious person onto his or her back, particularly someone in heavy clothing.

Lifejacket Level 150

man wearing inflated 150 newton jacket in water

The Level 150 lifejacket is for general use on coastal and inshore waters when sailing and fishing. It is intended for general offshore and rough-weather use when a high standard of performance is required. It should turn an unconscious person onto his or her back and requires no subsequent action by the wearer to keep his or her face out of the water. Its performance may be affected if the user is wearing heavy and/or waterproof clothing.

Lifejacket Level 275

275 newton jacket alongside 150 newton jacket

The Level 275 lifejacket is recommended for offshore cruising, fishing and commercial users. It is intended primarily for extreme conditions and for those wearing heavy protective clothing that may adversely affect the self-righting capacity of other lifejackets. It is designed to ensure that the wearer is floating in the correct position with his or her mouth and nose clear of the surface of the water.

Features to Look For

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Crotch Straps

Whether you have one or two crotch straps, fitting and wearing them will stop the lifejacket slipping over your head.

Spray hood

A spray hood will keep wind-blown spray away from your airways, making it easier to breathe and reducing the risk of drowning. It will also act as a high-visibility detection aid and stop heat escaping from your head. Good spray hoods have air vents at the sides.

Lifejacket light

A flashing light or strobe on your lifejacket makes you much easier to find at night or in poor visibility and can be easily attached.

Flare

A waterproof flare is another good addition to increase your chances of being found. There are flares on the market that have two ends, enabling them to produce both a daytime orange smoke and a red night flare. They are waterproof up to 30m. A flare pouch can be added to your lifejacket.

Harness

To avoid a man overboard situation it is good practice to wear a harness and clip yourself to a strong point on your craft. Some lifejackets have built-in harnesses.

Lifejacket tape reflecting in pool

This tape is standard on all lifejackets and is highly visible when lit up by a searchlight.

Types of Inflation

There are three inflation methods for gas-only lifejackets. It is important to know which method your lifejacket uses and how it works.

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Manually inflated lifejackets are operated by pulling a string, which pushes a firing pin into the CO2 canister, inflating the lifejacket. Automatic and hydrostatic lifejackets both have a manual pull string as back up.

Automatically inflated lifejackets rely on a small pellet or bobbin, which holds back a powerful spring. When the pellet makes contact with water it dissolves very rapidly, releasing the spring, which pushes a firing pin into the gas canister.

Hydrostatic or Hammar action lifejackets work the same way but the pellet is protected by a case that only lets water in once it is a few centimetres below the surface. It won't fire until fully submerged.

Lifejacket Maintenance

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capsule being unscrewed

Check the gas cylinder is tightly screwed in. The screw in CO2 cylinders in lifejackets can work themselves loose and should be checked for tightness every month. Always carry rearming kits for each type of lifejacket you have onboard. If a lifejacket is accidentally inflated, you will be able to get it ready for use again straight away.

a corroded capsule

Check the CO2 bottle for corrosion every 3 months. A rusty cylinder should be replaced. Also check any areas of material that were in contact with a rusty cylinder - the fabric may have been damaged.

stiching on webbing strap

Every 3 months, check the webbing and the stitching that holds the webbing together. Lifejackets with a colour thread, which contrasts with the webbing, makes it much easier to spot worn stitching. Also check zips buckles and other fastening.

unfolded lifejacket

Every 6 months, inflate the lifejacket manually with a hand pump (use a hand pump to avoid moisture build-up inside the lifejacket). Leave it inflated for 24 hours to ensure there are no leaks or damage. Repack the lifejacket according to the manufacturers' folding instructions.Out of season, the lifejacket should be partially inflated (which removes creases in the material) and stored on a non-metal coat hanger.

Children

There are many important factors to consider when choosing a child's lifejacket. The RNLI's key message is to buy one that fits, not one that the child will grow into. All children's lifejackets state a maximum weight and chest size that must not be exceeded. It is equally important not to buy a lifejacket that is too large, as this may result in the child slipping out of it or the lifejacket floating high in the water leaving the child's mouth and nose submerged. A good way to tell if a lifejacket is the right size is to fit and adjust it and then lift it from the top. It should not be possible to lift the lifejacket more than 2.5cm from the child's shoulders.

child in well fitted buoyancy aid

Good fit

child slipping out of buoyancy aid

Bad fit

Irish Legislation

Under Irish legislation, an appropriate personal flotation device (lifejacket or buoyancy aid appropriate for the use it is intended) must be carried for everyone onboard all vessels. If the craft is less than 7m in length, personal flotation devices must be worn at all times on an open vessel or on deck on a vessel with accommodation. Irrespective of the size of the vessel, anyone under the age of 16 years must wear their personal flotation device at all times on an open boat or on deck on a vessel with accommodation. The legislation does not require the wearing of personal flotation devices when a vessel is moored alongside or at anchor or if those aboard are swimming from the vessel for recreation. Appropriate personal flotation devices are also required when being towed or skiing behind a powered craft.