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Life Jackets: Essential Boating Safety Equipment

Life jackets, or Personal Floatation Device (PFD), is an essential boating safety equipment for every recreational boater in NSW. Whether you are on a bow rider in the enclosed waters of a lake or on a centre console boat on the coastal waters, you need to carry life jackets for each individual on board. And use them at the right time and in the proper manner.

When you are planning the checklist of what to take, the first item to enlist is the PFD. Be it a single day fishing trip with your friends or a week long cruise with your family, you need to make sure that the life jackets are on board.

Life Jackets – The Basics

Before you start on your recreational boating trip, learn the basics of the life jacket.

Why wear it? The reason is simple; to ensure your safety on a boat trip. PFDs ensure that the boaters who wear them don’t drown if the boat capsizes for some reason or they are thrown overboard. You can never be sure when an accident may occur, so it is best to be prepared for it. To do this, you need to wear life jackets as and when necessary.

As these display high-visibility colours, it becomes easier for the rescue work to be conducted, in case disaster strikes. You may think that nothing would happen to me; but there are no such guarantees.

Another important point to consider is that you may have to face penalties if you don’t abide by the rules applicable with regard to life jackets. If there are no or not enough life jackets on board or the individuals on board are not wearing them when required, the owner or master of the vessel may be penalised for the fault.

Note: The life jacket is to save your life; but it cannot do its duty if you do not wear it.

What to wear? There are three categories of life jackets available for the purpose:

Level 100+ Life Jacket

The Level 100+ Life Jacket provides the highest buoyancy levels, these ensure that the wearer’s head remains face-up above the water level even if they become unconscious. With the high visibility colours, these life jackets come in two sub-categories:

Inflatable Life Jackets

Inflatable life jackets are lightweight and comfortable, these depend on CO2 for their buoyancy. They need no manual operation, as they inflate when they come in contact with water. However, the wearer must be briefed about their operations as well as the additional maintenance requirements necessary for these PFDs.

Non Inflatable Life Jackets

Non-inflatable life jackets are bigger and bulkier than their inflatable counterparts, these lifejackets depend on foam buoyancy for support. They don’t require the operation and servicing either and therefore are easier to keep. However, they are not quite as comfortable to wear as the former PFDs.

Level 50 Life Jackets

The Level 50 Life Jackets are buoyancy vests designed for comfort, these life jackets do not feature the neck support. Made from high visibility coloured materials, these are mostly used in enclosed waters where the boats remain protected by natural features.

Level 50S Life Jackets

For style and comfort, the ideal choice is this level 50S Life Jacket PFD type. These buoyancy vests have similar buoyancy levels as the level 50 life jackets; however, they are only suitable for water sports such as water skiing and wake boarding.

When to wear it? Unless specified as necessary to wear, you must carry the level 100+ life jackets for everyone on board when you go out on the open waters. In enclosed or alpine waters, you must carry Level 100+ Life Jackets, Level 50 Life Jackets, or Level 50S Life Jackets for everyone on board, unless it is specified that they need to wear it.

Life Jacket Rules

Specific rules apply to when and which life jacket type must be worn. It depends on the water conditions, the type of vessel, the age of the wearer, and the activity indulged in. Find out the details before you go on your recreational boating trip.

When storing life jackets, make sure they are visible and accessible to everyone on board. If they aren’t, make sure the place of storage is clearly marked out (free stickers with red letters spelling out LIFE JACKETS on white background are available from the Roads and Maritime Offices).

Heightened risk situations make it necessary for everyone on board a recreational vessel to wear their lifejackets. This includes times when weather conditions turn bad, when there is a defect in the vessel, or in other such circumstances.

Next, you need to focus on the key points to ensure that the lifejackets are good to use.

Life Jacket Fitting

Life jacket fitting: Keep in mind that the life jacket must be comfy to wear and a proper fit. Otherwise, it would not be able to provide the necessary support to the wearer. Whether you choose a jacket or a vest style, focus on the comfort. If it isn’t right, it would be no good. Looks are the last thing you think about when it comes to PFDs.

Life Jacket Maintenance

Life jacket maintenance: When not in use, the life jackets must be stored in a proper place so as to keep them in good shape. If your PFD has not been in use for quite a while, make sure you check every component before you take it on your boating trip. Replace any worn out or damaged part as soon as you notice.

Life Jacket Servicing

Life jacket servicing: Inflatable life jackets need to be serviced at regular intervals (most manufacturers require it to be done annually). There are two ways in which this is done; for some manufacturers, you may do the servicing on your own if you follow their instructions properly; for others, you need to go to them or their authorised agent to service it.

If you are not sure how to do it, it is best to take them to the professionals for servicing.

Also, for inflatable life jackets, you need to replace the CO2 cylinder and auto components once it has been inflated. While these are available at the manufacturers and dealers, it is best to have spares with you. If the PFD is accidentally inflated on your boat trip, you would have no other option to replace the parts immediately.

Don’t forget your lifejacket on a recreational boating trip; it may turn out to be your lifeline.

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