Don’t pay the ultimate price for buying cheap!
A good quality lifejacket or buoyancy aid is one of the most important parts of your boating safety kit, so it’s worth putting in some research before buying a product that you may rely on to save your life. There are lifejackets and buoyancy aids of varying prices and effectiveness on the market, and increasing reports of products available online that aren’t up to scratch or haven’t been tested to European or International specifications.
Collectively lifejackets and buoyancy aids are referred to as Personal Floatation Devices or PFDs; choosing the right one is essential if it’s to be of any use in a life-threatening event. Though many think any PFD is going to hold them up in the water that may not be the case.
PFDs are divided into two main classes: those which provide face up in-water support to the user regardless of physical conditions (lifejackets), and those which require the user to make swimming and other postural movements to position the user with their face out of the water (buoyancy aids).
When buying a PFD, it’s important to select one that is appropriate for the type of boating you intend to do. Buoyancy aids are suitable for activities where the wearer might reasonably expect to end up in the water. Lifejackets are suitable when on a powerboat or RIB, when going ashore in a yacht tender, on a sailing yacht or motor cruiser and generally where you do not expect to enter the water. Lifejackets should not be worn on boats where capsize is possible/probable.
Choosing a PFD that is the correct size and fit is also important. Crotch straps, harnesses and spray hoods may be important if you are sailing offshore and it is essential you consider what accessories you may need.
ISO 12402 specifies four different performance levels to satisfy the need of different users. These are Performance Level 50, 100, 150 and 275.
In general terms, Buoyancy aids (Level 50) are intended for use by those who are competent swimmers and who are near to a bank or shore, or who have help and a means of rescue close at hand. Lifejackets (Level 150) are intended for general offshore and rough weather use where a high standard of performance is required. As tested, they will turn an unconscious person in swimming attire into a safe position. Additionally they should maintain a fully clothed person in a safe position with no subsequent action by the user.
Level 100 lifejackets are intended for those who may have to wait for rescue, but are likely to do so in sheltered and calm water. And lastly Level 275 lifejackets are intended for by people who are using items of significant weight and thus require additional buoyancy.
Within the European Community PFDs can only be made available on the market if they comply with the essential health and safety requirements set out in the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulation. PFDs which conform to a harmonised ISO standard which has been published in the Official Journal of the European Union shall be presumed to be in conformity the PPE Directive. A PFD that conforms to ISO 12402 is deemed to be compliant with the PPE Directive and will carry a CE marking affixed visibly, legibly and indelibly to the PFD.
ISO 12402 (there are nine parts in all) has been developed to set minimum safety requirements and test methods for PFDs as well as to give support for design and application of PFDs for persons engaged in activities, whether in relation to their work or leisure, in or near water. A PFD that complies with ISO 12402 will have a label or pictogram on it to tell you what its intended application is and its performance level; it is important that this information is read carefully.
We strongly recommend that lifejackets are serviced in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions by a service agent that has been formally approved by the manufacturer. This ensures that appropriately trained staff, capable of performing the work, will have the correct service manuals and instructions and the correct materials and replacement parts.
When shopping for your PFD, we recommend that you consider whether an automatic lifejacket or manual inflate lifejacket and what accessories are appropriate for the boating activity you are undertaking. Ideally you try on a lifejacket before you buy it so that you can check fit and comfort and preferably over the clothing you would be wearing at the time.
With reports of temptingly cheap, yet untested and potentially dangerous overseas products being made available online, it’s more important than ever to check that your lifejacket is fully approved and carries the relevant CE or ISO mark. It’s simply not worth saving a few pound on an unapproved lifejacket if it won’t ultimately save your life in an emergency.
Find out more on our safety hub.