Life jacket or buoyancy aid?

Life jacket or buoyancy aid?

When it comes to water safety, there are stark differences between a life jacket and a buoyancy aid, and no one is immune to falling overboard or getting into difficulty. The rivers and inland waterways can be dangerous places. Think how often you get on and off a boat on a lock flight, or scramble on slippery steps – far more frequently than a day at sea. This article presents the features of life jackets and buoyancy aids to help you make an informed decision.

Firstly, some facts:

  • Even strong swimmers can become paralysed by hypothermia, fatigue or being knocked out 
  • Almost half of accidental drownings happen to people who didn’t intend to enter the water
  • Water below 15°C is defined as cold and can seriously affect your breathing and movement. Rivers such as the Thames are cold, even in summer
  • Life jackets are not just for children
  • Life jackets / buoyancy aids are ineffective if you don’t buy the right size for the right purpose
  • Equally, a life jacket / buoyancy aid is no use if you fail to wear it properly and maintain/service it, or don’t wear it at all!

Why a life jacket?

A life jacket may seem cumbersome or unnecessary, but it can save your life if you are injured or unconscious. It will roll you over and keep you afloat with your head out of the water until help arrives.

If you knock your head falling off a boat in a locking or docking situation, an auto lifejacket will probably save your life. There are three main types of life jacket in the leisure market:

  • A foam jacket offers permanent buoyancy and is weight sensitive, starting from 3-10kgs up to 90kgs+ and many weight bands in between. It’s fairly bulky and doesn’t require rearming
  • An auto inflate expands on contact with water and also has a manual jerk cord for inflation. Available in both junior sizes and adult weight bands from 40kgs to 130kgs, plus adjustable harness. The water sensing cartridge has a shelf life and will need re-arming if activated. Check the C02 cylinder is in top condition and not pitted or rusted
  • A manual CO2 inflation life jacket is suitable for adults weighing around 40kgs to 130kgs. As above, it has an adjustable harness and CO2 cartridge that will need re-arming every time it is activated
  • Children’s life jackets are weight sensitive, not age sensitive. This is crucial to get right – and the temptation to buy a bigger one they can ‘grow into’ could have tragic consequences
  • Price and aesthetics should never be the deciding factor. View life jackets for sale >

 A buoyancy aid is not a life jacket

A foam-filled buoyancy aid helps keep you afloat if you enter the water during watersport activities including kayaking, waterskiing, jet skiing, paddleboarding and sailing. It is lightweight, designed for agility and will help you stay afloat as you wait for assistance or swim, but lacks safety features such as head support or inflation. There are many chic and fun designs, but the wearer’s weight must be considered to ensure the right level of protection. Even if you can swim, fatigue can set in along with cold water shock, so consider whether a life jacket may be more appropriate for your activity. For life jackets and buoyancy aids, always wear the crotch strap – children in particular can find the jacket slipping over their head otherwise. View buoyancy aids for sale >

Don’t forget your water-loving pets can fall overboard too. Our range of Baltic buoyancy aids for dogs ranges from XS to XXL depending on weight/breed. 

Condition check

It’s critical to check your life jacket or buoyancy aid at the start of the season and before every use. Check for rips or tears in the fabric, disintegrated foam, stuck zippers, broken whistle or frayed crotch straps. For an armed life jacket, check the water sensing cartridge is in date (tip: put the expiration date in your diary now) and that the cannister is full. Otherwise, it won’t inflate. At Lindon Lewis Marine we offer life jacket servicing which includes an overnight inflation test and re-arming. Get in touch to book or for further advice. Don’t be tempted to go out on the river with sub-standard life-saving equipment – check your life jackets and buoyancy aids today.

View all life jackets and buoyancy aids >

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