How to Choose the Right Lifejacket By Shawn Alladio
Shawn Alladio – Mustang Survival Kit (photo by Pu’u)
First of all you have to identify your use, type of vessel and type of waterway. Secondly you have to have a properly sized and fitted lifejacket. And lastly, it must be in good condition, cared for properly and replaced when worn!
All occupational users must wear a USCG approved lifejacket while operating a RWC (Rescue Water Craft). Why do I say this? Because many lifeguards do not wear them and they are breaking a federally mandated law for personal safety. If a lifeguard is knocked unconscious while operating they like anyone else, can go under the surface, resulting in a rescue or risk of death by drowning.
Shawn Alladio – K38 Swifwater Training, American River, California
Even when on the rescue board the crew person needs to be wearing a lifejacket as well. One or two more need to be stored on board the RWC for use as needed in recovery of patients if a long transit is required. This is a K38 Standard we teach to reflect rules and regulations and to promote and enforce boating safety as set by rules, laws, regulations and recommendations per the USCG, NASBLA and the NSBC.
Shawn Alladio 2009-2010 Mavericks Surf Contest Water Safety Director, Pillar Point California
Wearing an inflatable lifejacket is illegal and against K38 Standards as well for PWC-RWC operations, So knowing the laws and how they apply to you both recreationally and occupationally is your first step.
Shawn Alladio, Kin Blue Beach, Okinawa, Japan
Check the manufacturer ratings on the interior panel. They should be sewn or silkscreened there and easily displayed to read. If you do not have the USCG approval listed there, the vest you are looking at is probably not compliant. There are many ‘vests’ out there, but without the rating, they have not been tested for buoyancy factors for their ‘type’ of issue. Essentially, yes you have a vest, no you do not have an authorized or approved vest.
On recreational vessels in California, Children under 13 years of age are required to wear a lifejacket. Laws vary from State to State, likewise check if you are traveling.
K38 Swiftwater Training, El Dorado County Sheriff Department, American River, Calif
How does a Lifejacket float your total body weight?
As an example let’s use a Type III as a reference. Type III lifejackets have a 15.5 buoyancy rating, set as a standard by the United States Coast Guard and UL (Underwriter Laboratories).
A life jacket is rated by how much “dead” weight it will hold up on the surface of the water.
In other words a Type I life jacket must float 22 Lbs. of material (think rocks or metal). Water in your body has no weight essentially in the water, so if your body is 80% water, 40 lbs. of weight needs support. If you weigh 200 lbs. x 80/160lbs.-200lbs.-160lbs.=40 lbs.
Lifejacket buoyancy rating is 22 lbs. average body has 15% fat and fat is lighter than water, so back to the formula:
So you end up with about 10 lbs of weight to essentially flotation need.
K38 Open Water Rescue Boat Couse, Morro Bay, California
Here is an example of a Type III lifejacket from Mustang Survivals website. This lifejacket has a buoyancy rating of 19.5 lbs. Four lbs. more than the minimum:
The MV5600 SO SAR Vest is strength-tested to 100mph meaning it has been designed, tested and approved to hold up to rigorous activities. The high neoprene-lined collar provides impact protection by minimizing neck mobility and the large 3-belt adjustment system creates a secure fit. Large cutaway armholes for maximum range of motion, black fabric for low visibility, large front cargo pockets and multi-purpose fast tab radio clip, makes this durable and comfortable PFD a functional part of your personal protective equipment.
Approval: USCG – UL1123 – Marine Buoyant Devices 160.064 – Type III
Model Number: MV5600 SO
-Strength-tested to 100MPH for safety
-Two large front cargo pockets with easy to use pull tabs for extra
-Large cutaway armholes for maximum range of motion
-High collar provides head support
-Neoprene-lined, fitted collar provides comfort and head support
-3-Belt system for a custom fit
-Low visibility black color scheme
|S||34″ – 38″||28″ – 30″||27.5″||86cm – 96cm||71cm – 76cm||70cm||99lbs – 154lbs||45kg – 70kg|
|M||38″ – 42″||32″ – 34″||31″||96cm – 107cm||81cm – 86cm||79cm||132lbs – 198lbs||60kg – 90kg|
|L||42″ – 46″||36″ – 38″||32″||107cm – 117cm||91cm – 97cm||81cm||176lbs – 242lbs||80kg – 110kg|
|XL||46″ – 50″||40″ – 42″||33″||117cm – 127cm||102cm – 107cm||84cm||198lbs – 276lbs||90kg – 125kg|
|XXL||50″ – 54″||44″ – 46″||34″||127cm – 137cm||112cm – 117cm||86cm||242lbs – 309lbs||110kg – 140kg|
|XXXL||54″ – 58″||48″ – 50″||35″||137cm – 147cm||122cm – 127cm||89cm||275lbs – 352lbs||125kg – 160kg|
Kanalu K38-Tom Pohaku Stone at IBWSS trying on a lifejacket for fit and sizing
This is why I wear a Type V which is designed for swiftwater use. I am coming home at the end of my day.
The design of my particular brand and model is for aerated water, so it has additional buoyancy to compensate for my loss of flotation when in the different types of conditions.
When I’m working as an occupational operator the buoyancy rating is for 22 lbs. so I can float myself and a possible victim in calm waters. Also in dynamic water conditions this type of lifejacket is more suited to my survival.
Sizing is more important than buoyancy, because many people purchase an improperly sized lifejacket and that is a worthless selection and can lead to a false sense of safety and security. Especially for children.
There should be no movement or shifting of the lifejacket when another person pulls or tugs on your shoulder straps.
It should fit snugly around your chest and all zippers and fastener buckles easily clip and release.
You need to try them on before purchasing.
Contours of the body and various shapes are important to customize the fit.
A lifejacket is nothing an article that you can loan and exchange, it’s for a custom fit for each individual. Not all our bodies are built the same. One lifejacket is not ‘universal’.
Shawn Alladio (r) teaching a California Department of Boating and Waterways Law Enforcement RWC Course, American River, California
1. Loosen all the straps and closures
2. Put it on, if you have a center or side zipper, zip and close it.
3. Pull in all the front or side webbing straps equally so you are setting the straps to your body frame with equal draw so each strap is centered.
4. Adjust the closures if it feels too loose, check your movement. Bend over, side to side and move your arms. See if the fit is secure and comfortable
Types of Lifejackets
Boats 16 feet in length or longer must also carry a throwable Type IV as well. All persons on board a PWC must wear their lifejacket, and many states require your lifejacket to be impact rated.
A 100 mile per hour (MPH) impact rated lifejacket does not mean you will be protected in a 100 mile per hour crash, but your lifejacket will still float after a 100 mile per hour crash.
(generally not to be relied upon for lifesaving capability)
Special Use Device
Shawn Alladio 2009-2010 Mavericks Surf Contest Water Safety Director, Pillar Point California (pic by Deniece Smith)
I wear a Type V lifejacket when working near or in a surf zone. Why is that? Because of aerated water. I wear a swifwater type due to the aerated water conditions. This doesn’t need to be discussed any further, but if you like, let’s do it! K38 Standards exist for a reason-lifesaving!
THE LIFE YOU SAVE MAY BE YOUR OWN
K38 GEAR – Murrays Online Store
© Shawn Alladio-K38 2012