May 22, 2010 marks the beginning of National Safe Boating Week. This years focus is once again on encouraging boater to wear a PFD whenever they are on the water.
The U.S. Coast Guard, in September 1996, approved manually activated inflatable life jackets. Approval as Type III PFDs (personal flotation devices) meant boaters didn’t have to wear them, just carry one per person on board.
In August of last year, the USCG Life Saving and Fire Safety Standards Division approved life jackets that inflate automatically when they come into contact with water. These were approved on a conditional basis. As Type V PFDs, they may only be counted toward the Coast Guard requirement of one per-person, only if they are worn. If you choose an auto inflatable you are required to wear it at all times or keep an additional inherently buoyant life jacket or Type III inflatable aboard to be in compliance.
Four manufacturers now have Coast Guard approved Type V automatic inflatable life jackets on the market. Three also offer them with built-in offshore safety harnesses.
Unlike the familiar inherently buoyant vest, inflatables use a carbon dioxide (CO2) cylinder to blow up an air bladder. In the auto inflatables, the bladder encircles the neck and is cinched to the torso with straps over the shoulders and across the back. They are designed to float the average adult with their head out of water and turn most people face-up. All have oral inflation tubes as well.
Being light weight and more comfortable than ever there is no reason not to be prepared by wearing and inflatable PFD. When shopping for an inflatable PFD make sure to check that it is indeed USCG approved.