Is it time for you to equip your boat with inflatable PFDs, especially for those who are reluctant to wear non-inflatable vests? Inflatable life vests offer several advantages.
- They are significantly less cumbersome, more comfortable to wear and a great choice for fishing, sailing and similar activities.
- Inflatable life vests are believed to be more efficient in turning and holding the victim face up and above the water once inflated than traditional life vests.
- Studies have shown that boaters are more likely to wear inflatable life vests than non-inflatable types for the duration of their time on the water. Non-inflatable life vests are generally stored in the boat, most times, unworn.
A word of warning, however; inflatables must be more regularly inspected than traditional vests. An inflatable life vest that doesn’t inflate won’t be of much assistance in the event of an emergency. The CO2 cartridges and trigger mechanism must be in working order. The user should make regular tests of the bladder using the mouth tube to make sure there is no leak.
The Range Of Inflatables
You should ensure that any vest you are considering is USCG approved for your desired activity. If you are going to spend most of your time boating in open waters, you need to be looking at a Type I, II, or V PFD. If you spend your time on lakes or inland waters, a Type III will suffice. Note that inflatable life vests are typically rated as a specialty PFD (Type V), so be sure to know your product, its approvals and its purpose prior to purchasing.
There are two basic types of inflatable life vests, both of which are furnished with a backup oral inflation tube in the event that the main inflation should fail:
- Self-inflating (or auto-inflatable)
- Manually inflating
The self-inflating vest auto-inflates when submerged in water. A CO2 cartridge is activated when a pin, sometimes referred to as the pill, dissolves when immersed in water, causing the bladder to fill. If you were to lose consciousness before going into the water, having the auto-inflatable life vest would save your life. The manually inflating life vest fills only when a rip cord is pulled, causing the CO2 cartridge to inflate the jacket.
What’s At Stake?
While inflatables cost significantly more than non-inflatables, even the less expensive inshore types are surely worth the cost for many boating activities. Th e proof in point: a boating accident last August near Indian River Inlet (Delaware) claimed the life of a 68-year-old West Virginia man. The man, his wife and a child were fishing when the man discovered that fishing line was caught in the boat’s propeller. He jumped into the water to try to untangle the line, but fell back into the water as he tried to climb back in using the boarding ladder. The wife was unsuccessful in her attempts to assist him ascend the ladder.
Multiple boats radioed the Coast Guard for help, reporting a man who was unconscious in the water near his boat. One observer transmitted, “We watched him and he was really struggling and the boat continued to drift. He never made it out of the water!”
One of the nearby boats observed the situation and rendered assistance, retrieving the struggling man. Realizing the fisherman was experiencing a medical crisis, the rescuing boat skipper initiated life-saving measures. A Coast Guard vessel arriving on the scene took him to shore. EMS crews responded there and took the man — still in cardiac arrest — to the hospital, where he later died.
A Lesson Learned And Acted Upon
The rescuing skipper, holder of a USCG Unlimited Master ticket skippering a Custom 34 Walk Around, recounted his experience on The Hull Truth Forum. “I have thousands of days at sea, on small boats and ships, along with the biggest license that can be had, and this was the first mayday call I have ever made, and hopefully the last.” The rescuing skipper offered some advice on safety measures that could help prevent this tragedy from repeating itself.
“Everyone on your boat needs to be familiar with how to operate the boat, radio, and where the life jackets are located.
“If you are a larger or older person you should have an inflatable jacket on. You will not be able to get back onto your boat if you fall in (even if the boat is equipped with a boarding ladder). Your spouse or friend will not be able to pull you back into the boat, conscious or not. There is absolutely no chance of getting such a person over the gunnel from the water. It took two men and my wife to drag this person through my tuna door, which is about 6 inches above water level.
“Exhaustion can overtake you, even in shallow water. The spot where this gentleman died is waist deep–I was in it holding his head above water. A simple jacket worn properly would have kept his head out of the water and probably saved his life.
“As a result of what we experienced, I ordered auto-inflating jackets for my father and uncle this morning, both of whom crab from smaller boats, often alone. I recommend that you do the same for any older or larger members of your boating group.”
Partner in Command
Would you like your usual crew members to know more more about piloting your boat during emergencies? The USPS Partner in Command seminar provides an introduction to boating for crew members who need basic information and who may or may not have taken a boating course. It is designed to provide essential information one may require to assist a skipper in the safe operation of a recreational boat. Included in the seminar are actions in response to emergencies. This seminar includes a textbook. Topics include:
• Before you go
• Safety & Safety Equipment
• VHF Marine Radio
• First Aid
• Tool Kits
• Signaling Equipment
• Starting and Running the Engines
• Calling for Help
• And More
Partner in Command can be completed in 2-4 hours and may be taken in a squadron-run session or as a fully interactive online learning experience. There is a brochure that covers details on the seminar. If you are interested in this seminar, contact one of the officers for more information.