Life Vest

Discussion about life vest might seem superfluous, because it is obvious that a life vest is required for sailing, however not all the life vests are born the same...

There are many different types of life vests, the inflatable ones and the rigid ones, and the inflatables ones can be automatic or manual, etc..

The Harness is a Must

Because I am navigating solo, the most important feature of the life west for me is its harness.

Staying on board is much more important than staying afloat. And in Chile, with its cold water and sparse sea traffic, the chances of being rescued from water by chance are nil.

So for me the first priority was a life vest which would act as a harness.

I purchased a standard 275 N Lalizas life vest. What I added was a simple crotch belt. There are many cases when people have slipped out of the harness after falling into water. So the crotch belt is extremely important. In fact, for the next purchase I will definitively look for a life vest with integrated crotch/leg belts.

The crotch belt is tied to the belt which is on the back, and in front, it clips by means of a carbine hook to the D ring.

Rigid or Inflatable?

There is a lot of discussions going on whether a rigid or inflatable is better and safer, and there are arguments against each type. A rigid life jacket is less likely to fail, but can never have a high floating capacity. The inflatables, on the other hand, can have a much higher floating capacity (mine for instance has about 25 liters/275 N), may offer better protection with hoods and concentration of the flotation in the neck area, but are more prone to failures, and accidental inflation.

So far I never experienced a failure of the inflation device (those who do experience it, usually are not able to blog anymore), but I did have an accidental inflation when the lever got caught up in something on the deck. At least I know it worked and there were no leaks, and the test cost me 30 USD for the replacement CO2 cylinder! And now I stock an extra CO2 cylinder on board for replacement.

If you do not maintain the life vest and check the condition of the CO2 cylinder a rigid life vest may be much safer.

Automatic or Manual?

Next is the question of whether it should be automatic or manual.

My firm opinion is that it must be manual.

Those who defend automatic inflation cite the fact that if you are knocked unconscious before falling, a manual life vest will not save you. This is true, but in my case where I navigate solo, the most important thing is to stay on board, so if I go overboard there is really little difference.

There is however a very dangerous situation for automatic inflation, namely if the boat overturns. Then this automatic thing can become deadly, because you will be trapped below, and there is virtually no way you would be able to fight 25 liters of floatation.

How the tether lines should be attached?

There are two philosophies:

One opinion is that the lines should be detachable, with a quick release mechanism, i.e. in case that the boat overturns, you should be able to quickly unclip yourself and swim over to the outside.

The other one, which I support strongly, is that you should always stay with the boat. Very often, the boat may righten herself up within seconds, and if you managed to unclip yourself, then you will be lost overboard.

Also, because my system has very short tethers (the longer one is only 90 cm. long, and the shorter one is 70 cm. long), one can always reach the hook with your hand following the tether line to the hook and unhook. Obviously, for long tethers (180 cm.) which are mostly used on bigger boats that would usually be impossible.

So, my standard 180 cm. long tether line is bound to the D-ring with a cow hitch roughly in the middle of the line, so that have two very short tether lines, 70 and 90 cm.

Personal Safety Rules for Wearing life vest

The life vest must be worn at all times.

The life vest must be always clipped on to some anchor point on the boat.

When moving around the boat, first you clip to another anchor point, and then you unclip from where you were clipped in.

The only exception for not being clipped in is when the boat is at anchor and there is no current stronger than 1 knot.

If I need to put on or to take some clothes off, I go inside the cabin and only there take off the life vest.

When sitting inside the cabin, I still leave the hook clipped on the outside so that I can scramble outside as fast as I can in an emergency and still be clipped in.