Inflatable Life Jackets- which automatically or manually inflate with the tug of a pull cord have been around over 25 years, but there are still quite a few misperceptions about how these life saving devices work. The BoatUS Foundation set out to debunk some of the myths:
1. Inflatable life jackets are zero maintenance – Let’s face it, pretty much nothing on a boat is zero maintenance. Before you head out for the day, simply check to ensure the CO2 cylinder is screwed firmly in and you can see the green indicator tab. Once a year, take it out and blow it up with your mouth, wait overnight, inspect for wear and check for leaks. Repacking is a task made simple – a few folds and a tuck – as instructions are found printed inside the cover flap. Most life jackets that automatically inflate when you hit the water also have small dissolvable components that periodically need replacement, but it’s a simple process. A rearming “kit” comes with everything you need.
2. One size fits all – While most inflatables are sized as “universal adult,” all have adjustable cinch straps that will provide a good fit for nearly every size of grown-up on the boat. Inshore-type jackets tend to be less bulky and are more compact than those jackets designed for offshore use. There are no inflatables for kids under 16, but the BoatUS Foundation is working with other national boating safety groups and the US Coast Guard to increase support for inflatable jackets that are more suitable for kids.
3. Not a lot of choices – Actually, there are. Once you get past a range of colorful designs, there are two basic styles of inflatable life jackets: over-the shoulder suspender-style and waist-fitting belt pack. All US Coast Guard-approved inflatable life jackets have a mark showing its type and how it should be used. A big advantage is that inflatables can provide nearly twice the buoyancy of similarly-rated foam life jackets, and are also are better in terms of righting a person in the water, when compared to some other traditional types.
4. Inflatable life jackets are too expensive – Inflatable life jackets start at under $100. That is a real expense for some, but consider that a cheap life jacket that no one will want to wear is as useless as a hook without the worm. Belt pack types tend to be less expensive than suspender style, while automatically-inflatable types or those with extras like an integral sailing harness increase the price.
5. Inflatable life jackets are uncomfortable -Inflatable life jackets are compact, don’t trap body heat, give full body movement, and can be as unobtrusive as small bait pouch attached to your belt. Look for one that has a neoprene chafe guard around the neck and one that can be adjusted to prevent it from shifting from side to side.