Lifejackets: when should I wear one?

Lifejackets: when should I wear one?

In recent years, there has been some debate about when and where you should be wearing your lifejacket. Should it�be made compulsory?�

Obviously when you step ashore it's not really an issue, but�what about out on the water? Forty years ago, hardly any of us wore one, but then forty�years ago none of us wore seatbelts in cars.�

Of course, the bottom line is that�a lifejacket�can save your life.

But it remains a thorny issue: we boaters are a fairly independent minded bunch, so the last thing we want is people telling us what to do.

On� the other hand, the RYA as the governing body of boating.�has a certain obligation to provide some advice on this matter.�After all the RYA is dedicated to promoting safe boating and obviously lifejackets are pretty fundamentally useful in that area.

One of the central tenets of the RYA ethos is that boaters have an excellent safety record�without regulation- we work on the theory that sailors are capable of making a sensible decision.


That doesn't mean the RYA can't offer advice though. In particular for novice boaters who might be less capable of making a good judgment call on lifejackets.

And the advice is really as follows: 'wear a buoyancy aid or lifejacket unless you are sure you don't need to.'


In addition to this, the RYA strongly recommends that�you wear a lifejacket in the following circumstances:�

��If you're a non-swimmer and there is any possibility of entering the water
��When the skipper deems it necessary
��When abandoning ship
��When you feel you want to wear one or if you are not totally sure that you do not need to wear one.


Obviously there is no point wearing a lifejacket if it is not suitable for the purpose, so here are a few guidelines.

Buoyancy Aids are suitable for:

��Using personal watercraft
��When sailing a dinghy
��Novice windsurfers
��Providing safety cover for such an activity

Lifejackets are suitable:

��When on an open boat (eg. small powerboat or RIB)
��When going ashore in a yacht tender
��On a sailing yacht or motor cruise

Levels of Buoyancy

In addition to selecting between a life jacket and a buoyancy aid, consideration also needs to be given to the level of buoyancy that is required.

Buoyancy aids and lifejackets have different levels of buoyancy. These levels of buoyancy should be considered and influence your choice.

There are four main buoyancy levels: 50, 100, 150 and 275.�In general terms, Level 50 is a buoyancy aid designed for when help is close at hand, whereas Level 150 is a general purpose lifejacket used for offshore cruising and motor boating.

Specialist life-jackets are available for infants and children.

Things to look for

You should also consider fitting or buying a lifejacket that is fitted with:

��crotch straps to stop the lifejacket riding up over your head
��spray-hood to stop waves and spray entering your mouth
��lights, dye-markers and personal locator beacons to aid location
��harness D ring for harness attachment to stop you falling off in the first place

Crotch straps, spray-hoods and lights are frequently not fitted as standard to a lifejacket, but are really essential to actually keep you alive in the water and aid your location.

Just remember the unfortunate crew of the yacht Ouzo, which mysteriously disappeared off the Isle of Wight in 2006. All the crew were picked out of the water several hours later. All were wearing lifejackets, but without crotch straps holding them out of the water,�they eventually drowned


Hopefully this advice is useful to you. Even if you are an experienced boater, it is sometimes easy to overlook something like lifejackets. After all, you don't go out boating pondering the fact that it is inherently dangerous.

And that's the point, It really isn't inherently dangerous. Recreational boating really does have an excellent safety record, but if there are means to make it safer, then that is great.

None of this advice is meant to patronise, but it is always good to take stock of your lifejackets and check that they are of the required�standard.