A brief distraction, a mistake at the wheel or a misjudged weather situation...There are many scenarios in which it can quickly be the man overboard. In many cases, the excursion into the cool water ends smoothly - thanks to the lifejacket you wear. Life jackets can restrict our range of movement. The automatic lifejacket is often the more comfortable option. There is an enormous choice of models and price ranges on the market, and it is sometimes difficult to keep track of them all. Here is a brief overview of the main features...
Automatic Life Jacket: Top Features
The minimum buoyancy should be 100 Newton. Waistcoats below 100 Newton are mostly buoyancy aids (50N) that are unsuitable for rescue at sea. The natural buoyancy usually starts at 130-150 Newton up to a maximum of 300N. The higher the Newton number, the more stable and faster the body is turned into a fainting position and rises out of the water accordingly. By the way, bodyweight does not necessarily play a significant role. Air pockets instead hinder the turning under (heavy) sailing clothes. Here, a higher Newton number can be decisive in an emergency and heavy seas. But as a Mediterranean charterer, you certainly can't go wrong with a Newton of 150 or more.
Automatic waistcoats inflate within seconds of hitting the water surface with the help of a gas cartridge. Usually, a tablet that dissolves is responsible for the release. For this reason, be a little extra careful with automatic waistcoats that they do not get wet, if possible, to prevent false triggering. It is always advisable to have a replacement set with a cartridge and tablet on board so that you can continue to use the waistcoat in the event of accidental activation.
Crotch strap, harness and more...
Waistcoats in the upper price range, which are among the best on the market, are already equipped with light, hood, harness attachment point and crotch strap as standard.
In principle, all waistcoats follow the ISO standard, which ensures that the minimum requirement for rescue is guaranteed. However, a large number of waistcoats not only meet that standard but also fulfil important aspects beyond that standard and have many extras on top. The basic equipment of any valid lifejacket must include:
- a sprayhood to prevent secondary drowning
- a harness to attach a line
- a whistle
- a lamp.
Emergency-locating systems are worth adding, but not everyone considers them vital.
For those who do not want to get the premium price type, we recommend the following minimum equipment:
Possibility of manual/oral inflation
A D ring for picking in lifelines
150 N buoyancy
A recent innovation in the world of lifejackets has been it being part of a regular sailing jacket (e.g. from Marinepool).
"The huge advantage of automatic life jackets is that they give you way more freedom to manoeuvre on deck in rough situations"
Automatic Life Jackets: Prices
The price range is significant - between 90 and 300 EUR - but our advice is that safety on board is always worth investing on.
Tips on your life vest maintenance
Regardless of which waistcoat you choose, no waistcoat can do much about safety if you don't wear it correctly. Before first use, be sure to read and follow the instructions on how to wear it. Even the best waistcoat is good to no use if you have not adequately fitted its straps. Tighten the straps as much as possible and make sure that none of the straps is twisted. This can cost lives.
Unfortunately quickly forgotten, but also of particular importance, is the regular maintenance of the waistcoats. The TÜV seal on the waistcoats provides information about the subsequent maintenance, which you should do every two years. Don't be confused by the green lights on modern waistcoats. They still need to be inspected to ensure they are in good working order. You should consider replacing your waistcoat after 10 years of use.