Going out on the water can be a lot of fun, and is a way of life in coastal communities such as Cowes, but the sea can be an unpredictable, dangerous place and wearing a life jacket could save your life.
Why do I need to wear a life jacket?
A life jacket will buy you vital time in the water and could save your life, but only if you're wearing it.
Life jackets, if properly worn and in good condition, are designed to keep your airways clear of water, even if you are unconscious or injured. When they are inflated to sufficient buoyancy, they are able to turn your body over and bring your head and face out of the water, when conscious or unconscious, keeping you protected.
If worn, a life jacket will increase your survival times and therefore increase the chances of being found safe and well during a search and rescue situation.
Choose a life jacket that fits comfortably over your normal boating clothes and is fully adjustable. Spend time adjusting the straps so that you can place your fist between the buckle and yourself with no other gaps. Too big a gap and the life jacket will be loose when in the water; too small a gap may be uncomfortable.
Investigate on the optional extras that can be fitted to your life jacket; spray hoods and lights are all important, crotch straps and whistles are vital should the worst happen and you fall over board.
We asked Harry Leslie, Yachtmaster and Launching Authority with Cowes RNLI Lifeboat Station for his thoughts on life jackets. He had this to say: “Well.. the clue is in the name isn’t it? Many people in this country enjoy, or make a living on, the sea. There have been many advances in Search and Rescue (SAR), particularly locating people and vessels in trouble, and the UK enjoys one of the most advanced SAR systems in the world. In nearly all cases, if you can stay alive we can get you. A lifejacket is a good start.
“I know this is stating the obvious but we still see people putting to sea without one on. Here in Cowes it is a regular sight. As a rule of thumb the better organised and professional the crew the more likely they are to be wearing the right gear. Have a look for yourselves during Cowes week. The tough, fast and often winning teams put to sea wearing the right gear. This includes a life jacket.”
What type of life jacket should I buy?
Life jacket buoyancy is measured in Newtons (N); 10 Newtons equals 1kg of flotation. All life jackets must carry the CE or ISO mark and there are three common classes:
100N: designed for sheltered waters, light clothing.
150N: designed for offshore, foul weather clothing.
275N: designed for offshore, extreme conditions, special protective clothing, heavy equipment.
Life jacket (100N)
The 100N life jacket is for sheltered waters, where light clothing is worn. Primarily these are foam life jackets for children and adults or gas life jackets for children. It is important when choosing a life jacket for a child that you choose the correct size, children’s lifejackets are determined by the child’s weight.
Life jacket (150N)
The 150N life jacket is for offshore use, where foul weather clothing is worn. It is intended for general offshore and rough-weather use when a high standard of performance is required. It should turn an unconscious person onto their back and requires no subsequent action by the wearer to keep their face out of the water.
Life jacket (275N)
The 275N life jacket is recommended for offshore use, cruising, fishing and commercial users. It is intended primarily for extreme conditions and for those wearing heavy protective clothing that may affect the self-righting capacity of other life jackets. It is designed to ensure that the wearer is floating in the correct position with his or her mouth and nose clear of the surface of the water.
Other features of life jackets
Crotch straps: Whether you have one or two crotch straps, fitting and wearing them will stop the life jacket slipping over your head.
Spray hood: A spray hood will keep wind-blown spray away from your airways, making it easier to breathe and reducing the risk of drowning. It will also act as a high-visibility detection aid and stop heat escaping from your head.
Light: A flashing light or strobe on your life jacket makes you much easier to find at night or in poor visibility and can be easily attached.
Flare: A waterproof flare is another good addition to increase your chances of being found. There are flares on the market that have two ends, enabling them to produce both a daytime orange smoke and a red night flare. They are waterproof up to 30m. A flare pouch can be added to your life jacket.
Harness: To avoid a man overboard situation, it is good practice to wear a harness and clip yourself to a strong point on your craft. Some life jackets have built in harnesses.
Reflective tape: This tape is standard on all life jackets and is highly visible when lit up by a searchlight.
Where can I buy a life jacket in Cowes?
Here are a few suggestions as to where you can purchase a life jacket in Cowes town:
- Henri Lloyd
- Aquatogs Chandlery
- Pascall Atkey Chandlery
- Jolliffes Chandlery
If the above list is incomplete, please email email@example.com with your business details and we will add you to the list.
How do I maintain my life jacket?
Life jackets do not last forever! You should inspect your life jacket regularly for wear and tear, and have it serviced in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations. RNLI Sea Safety volunteers believe that over a third of the life jackets they see would fail to work in an emergency, due to poor maintenance!
Here follows a list of suggested regular checks that should be made to your life jacket, or, you could take advantage of the excellent life jacket servicing offered by SeaSafe of Cowes.
Suggested regular checks
Every month: Check the gas cylinder is tightly screwed in.
Every three months: Check the gas cylinder for corrosion and check the webbing.
Every six months: Check for leaks.
Storing your life jacket: Out of season, your life jacket should be partially inflated (which removes creases in the material) and stored on a non-metal coat hanger. As a rule, life jackets should be serviced annually.
How does SeaSafe’s Life Jacket Servicing and the Service Points Work?
It’s really very simple and hassle free. You can drop life jackets off at one of the SeaSafe UK Service Points and fill in a short form.
There are nine Service Points on the Isle of Wight, including six in Cowes:
• East Cowes Marina, Cowes
• SeaSafe, Cowes
• Cowes Yacht Haven, Cowes
• Sea Lift2 International Ltd, Cowes
• Shepards Wharf Marina, Cowes
• Yarmouth Harbour, Yarmouth
• Ryde Harbour, Ryde
• Harwoods of Yarmouth
• Aquatogs, Cowes
Your life jacket will be sent to SeaSafe in Cowes for servicing and you will be contacted if they need to ask any questions about your jackets.
The Servicing process
SeaSafe check your life jacket over and write down the make, model, age and service history and also note any causes for concern.
The life jacket might have been packed incorrectly, the gas bottle may be empty, loose or not screwed in correctly, there may have been no automatic firing cap fitted, a charity pin badge may have been attached directly through lung piercing a hole, the hydrostatic Hammar unit might be out-of-date or used, there may be a broken clip or the jacket might smell badly of fuel or be rotten / damp.
The servicing department assesses the life jacket and records what new components the life jacket will need to ensure it passes the inflation test, and after this the components will be fitted.
Let SeaSafe know if you require a new crotch strap or a SOLAS Light. If your jacket has a broken SOLAS Light SeaSafe will replace it unless you specify otherwise. And if you were to test your life jacket in water with and without a crotch strap to compare, you would always wear your crotch strap!
SeaSafe inflate the life jacket using a compressor and leave it inflated for 24 hours. During this time, some life jackets immediately deflate like a balloon or sag slightly. If the lung has shown any signs of deflation, whether it’s a tiny bit softer or completely flat, the re-inflated jacket is immersed in water which shows the location of the leak.
Frighteningly, SeaSafe frequently find holes, rips and cuts to the internal life jacket lung; have a look at their rogues gallery to see some shocking examples!
The holes can be explained by simple mistakes such as throwing the jacket into a locker, dropping the jacket on the floor, hanging the jacket on a fence - in fact anything other than placing the jacket carefully into a dry flat safe place.
However, if your life jacket fails due to damage, it is SeaSafe’s policy to retain the product and destroy it to ensure it cannot be mistaken for a working life jacket.
New life jacket innovations
No longer do you have to leave your fashion sense and individuality shore-side when donning a life jacket to go out sailing. Not since the invention by SeaSafe of the i-zip, the life jacket with interchangeable covers.The i-zip allows you to give your life jacket that personal touch and has been a hit with celebrities spotted wearing i-zip life jackets too!
Available in an exciting range of colours and styles, i-zip life jackets have a unique cover system which enables the wearer to swap the front cover any number of times, either to replace a worn out cover or to change business name and logo or even go from a corporate cover to a fun, fashion cover. You can even demonstrate your patriotism with the Union Jack i-zip life jacket from SeaSafe!
COWES.co.uk wish everyone a great British summer and we hope you enjoy some serious fun on and off the water - while remembering the RNLI slogan on life jackets: “Useless Unless Worn”.
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