Choosing the right lifejacket is fundamental when it comes to keeping you alive and increasing your survival time in the unfortunate event of an accident. The Maritime & Coastguard Agency point out that accidents can happen at any time in any weather, but well-fitted and maintained life jackets can double your chance of survival. Lifejackets are also known as PFDs (personal flotation devices) or life vests and are the most important piece of safety equipment on any vessel.
You must have enough lifejackets on board to suit all shapes and sizes - including buoyancy aids for pets, baby lifejackets and ones for children. There may be penalties for vessel owners not carrying the appropriate amount of lifejackets on board. You should also consider how many newtons you may need and the type of inflation. We will explain these in more detail, further in this article.
If you are unsure when personal buoyancy should be warn, the RYA (Royal Yachting Association) recommends that it should always be worn if the user is a non-swimmer and there is possibility of entering the water, when the skipper deems it to be necessary, when abandoning ship or when the user feels they want to wear one.
A Newton is the unit of force and is how buoyancy is measured. 10 Newtons = 1KG of flotation. A person weighing 100KG will weigh 5KG in water, because the human body is made up of about 80% of water and 15% fat (which is lighter than water).
Generally, the less competent the swimmer, the higher the newton rating. Low newtons, such as 50N, is generally used by those undertaking kite surfing or canoeing, activities close to the shore, and those that are competent swimmers.
|Newton Level||Ideal For||Not Ideal For||Applicable Standards|
Near to bank or shore
Close potential rescue
|Long water use
Keeping the user safe for a long period of time
|Rough conditions||EN 395
Turning unconscious person into safe position
People carrying significant weight
People wearing clothing that traps air
Turning unconscious person into safe position
Types of Inflation
Manual inflation lifejackets work by pulling a string, which pushes a firing pin into the C02 canister, inflating the lifejacket.
Automatic inflation, on the other hand, involves a small pellet or bobbin, which houses a powerful spring. Once the bobbet makes contact with the water it dissolves quickly, releasing the spring, pushing the firing pin into the C02 canister. Automatic lifejackets also have a manual pull string as a backup.
Hydrostatic inflation (a.k.a Hammer) works the same way as automatic lifejackets, but the pellet is protected in a case, which only lets water in once it is a few cm below the surface.
The popular Crewsaver 3D Fusion 180N Crewfit provides automatic or manual options.
Looking for a Hammer Lifejacket? Check out the Crewsaver Crewfit 150N.
Types of Lifejackets
There are generally 3 types of lifejackets. Offshore, Nearshore and Flotation Aids.
Offshore - ideal for open, rough or remote water, where rescue might be slower. They can be bulky and will be the highest newton rating. With these, the victim will remain face up in the water in order to allow them to breathe even if they’re unconscious.
Nearshore Buoyant Vest - used for calm, inland water, where there is more chance of a quicker rescue. Less bulkier than Offshore, some will also allow the victim to remain face up in the water, depending on the newton rating.
Flotation Aid - ideal for conscious people in inland water, where there is a good chance of fast rescue. These are usually the most comfortable for continuous wear.
Boating on a Budget? The Crewsaver 3D Fusion Crewfit 165N Sport is perfect for you.
Paddling? Take a look at the Plastimo Stream Gilet.
Buoyancy Aids For Pets
When picking a buoyancy aid for your cat or dog, you should make sure it fits snugly so the animal cannot twist out of it. Once with easy release buckles and a handle for lifting out of the water is recommended.
- Suitable for most cat and dog breeds
- Easily adjustable and quick to fit
- Integrated lifting handle
- Plastic ring for lead attachment
Lifejackets for Babies and Children
Drowning can occur in as little as 30 seconds, so making sure any children in your company are wearing appropriate buoyancy aids is absolutely vital.
It is important that the lifejacket fits correctly - you should not buy a jacket with the hope of the child ‘growing into it’. Sizes are usually supplied based on chest size and weight.
A crotch strap is recommended with lifejackets, as this will keep the jacket from riding up on entry into the water. Essentially, this will keep the wearer’s head above the surface.
See this Official Coast Guard Video on wearing a crotch strap.
- Designed to fit on any SeaGo lifejacket
Some lifejackets will have attachment points for spray hoods. These are useful as they keep the wind-blown spray away from airways, reducing the risk of drowning. They are also a high-visibility aid to rescue and will stop heat escaping from the wearer’s head. Some have air vents at the sides.
Having a flashing light/strobe is recommended, so the user can be found easier at night or in poor visibility. Most jackets will have an attachment for light fittings.
- Low profile and single compact flashing unit
- Manually activated by button
- Automatically activated by water
Flares will also increase chances of being found. They are waterproof and vary in colours and burn times. Learn more about flares in our helpful guide.
If your lifejacket has a harness, you can clip yourself to a strong point on the craft, for extra safety.These usually have heavier webbing and stainless steel fittings. Lifejackets with harnesses are often preferred by users who are not as exposed and do not need attachment to their vessel - such as motorboat users. These usually weigh less than those with harnesses.
Reflective tape is standard on all lifejackets, for hi-visibility when lit up by a rescue searchlight.
You should rinse your lifejacket after use, then leave it to dry naturally. Store in a clean and dry place, away from direct sunlight. Regularly check the webbing and stitching for any wear. Check the gas cylinder regularly, to make sure it is tightly screwed in and looks for any signs of corrosion. Replace any rusty cylinders. You should also carry spare re-arming kits on board.
- Cylinders for manual inflation jackets
To check for damage or leaks, you can manually inflate the lifejacket with a hand pump and leave it inflated for a day. When you are not using the lifejacket for a period of time, it should be partially inflated, to remove creases from the fabric and stored on a wooden or plastic coat hanger.