Friday, October 02, 2009

Wear a Life Jacket

The first of Tillerman's Top Five Tips For Making Sure I Don't Die On My Laser is Wear a Life Jacket.

OK. OK. I know it's not exactly earth-shattering or new news. Most small boat sailors know that they should wear a "life jacket" or as they are known these days a Personal Flotation Device (or PFD). But there are two questions that merit further discussion...

  1. What kind of PFD should you wear?
  2. When should you wear it?

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am quite anal about both these issues...

What kind of PFD should you wear?
In the US, the Coast Guard approves various "types" of PFD. The most popular and appropriate for Laser sailing is the Type III. These are intended for use "in calm water where there is good chance of fast rescue." They must provide at least 15.5 pounds of buoyancy but will generally not turn an unconscious person face-up.

Hmmm. Calm water? I don't always sail in calm water. Good chance of fast rescue? Not much chance of that if I'm off practicing on my own.

Anyway, for better or worse, that's what I choose. For the last three years I've been using a Lotus Lola which one of my sons bought me for Xmas in 2006 after some blogger dropped hints on the subject.

Some US Laser sailors wear PFD's that are not US Coast Guard approved. They may be somewhat less bulky than the USCG Type III PFDs; they may be more comfortable; they almost certainly provide less than the 15.5 lbs of buoyancy called for in the Type III spec. So why do I stick to Coast Guard approved jackets?

The reason is that some regattas in the US mandate USCG approved PFDs in the Sailing Instructions. I would always comply with such a rule. Those "other" Laser sailors who use non-USCG-approved PFDs don't always comply. I do because I feel that to blatantly ignore a requirement in the SIs is cheating. Call me anal if you like, but that's the way I am.

And if I'm going to have to wear a USCG-approved PFD in some regattas then I feel that I might as well wear the same PFD all the time, so that I become comfortable with it.

When should you wear a PFD?
Only in regattas? Only when sailing alone? Only in heavy winds?

This is another subject I'm pretty anal about. I wear it all the time I'm on the water, no exceptions.

Why is that?

Two reasons I guess.

The first is akin to the reason why I use a Type III PFD. If I'm going to have to wear some kind of PFD when I'm racing (almost always mandated by the SIs these days) then I figure I should wear it all the time even when I'm just practicing.

Only 4-5 knots of wind on a little puddle of lake in the middle of summer? Sure. I will wear my PFD in those conditions because I might be sailing a regatta in such a situation one day. If I wear the PFD when I'm practicing I might actually win such a regatta.

The second reason I got into the habit of always wearing my PFD on the water goes back to the days when I worked as a sailing instructor. One of the clubs at which I worked had a rule that all junior sailors had to wear life-jackets when sailing; but it was optional for adults. I always thought this was totally ridiculous. Many of the kids were better swimmers than the adults. And I thought it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to insist that my students had to wear PFDs if I didn't wear one myself. That's when I started wearing a PFD all the time on the water, even on a little puddle with no wind in the height of summer. To set a good example for the kids.

So that's my personal philosophy on PFDs. Pretty anal I know.

So how about you? What kind of PFD do you prefer? What's your personal policy of when you wear it and when you don't?


Joe said...

What's a PFD?

Tillerman said...

It's sometimes confused with a .pdf but really it's quite different.

Baydog said...

Call me "Old School", but I never wear my PFD, Tillerman. I'm not quite sure that any one of the thirteen on board would even be suitable for my close to 300 pound frame. I suppose I should at least, while sailing alone, leave my swim ladder down, so when the boat eventually rounds up after I'm knocked overboard, I can swim my sorry butt to the transom and claw my way up.

Sam Chapin said...

I hope Baydog practices swimming around his dock and then climbing up the ladder. Stay hooked onto you jack line, Baydog.

Sam uses his old Musto jacket with a thousand air pokect and not CG approved because the coast guard doesn't believe in air pockets. We use to roll it up and put it in an inspection port inside a sunfish and then If I was cold or the wind was blowing good, I would put it on. Now in the Laser I try to have it on all the time. We are asking everyone else to do that. I like the musto beacuse I can swim in it better than some others. It is not my fault if the CG doesn't know a good PFD when one comes along. (Do you know about that "dewatering" thing?)

When I am out doing the Motor boat thing, I like to have it on--that makes me feel like I can step in the water anytime to help someone out.

tillerman said...

Hi Sam... I know some guys like those "air pocket" jackets. I used to have one too. In fact I think it was the first life jacket I owned when I started Lasering. What I discovered after a few years of many Laser capsizes was that I was bursting some air pockets on the front of the jacket when I threw/dragged/swam my body on to the Laser deck after a capsize. As a result, after a while, the vest was losing some of its buoyancy. So I switched over to a regular PFD.

No, I don't know about "dewatering". What's that?

Baydog said...

Guys: The "Air Pocket Device" you refer to we always called a "Flotherchoc(k)". Not unlike the shipping air pocket pillows that computers and such are shipped in, and yes, I remember them being popular but not USCG approved, which kind of screwed that idea. Isn't de-watering urinating?

Baydog said...

And Sam, funny you should mention inspection ports. I was inspection port "happy". Probably added more weight (or is it wieght) to my lasers than was needed, but I could hide just about anything (foldable anchor that couldn't keep a model sailboat from dragging, but was approved, bailing bucket, flotherchoc(k), cell phone, no wait- morse code transmitter).

The O'Sheas said...

PFD post. Yeah. I said it.


Andrew said...

I grew up at a club where everyone wore a life jacket, always. Now I sail at a club that sayskids must and flies a flag when adults have to. Makes no sense as you point out.
In our family we have the rule - in the boat, life jacket on.
I guess this puts us in the anal camp, but it makes life simple.

Tim Coleman said...

I always wear one when I'm on the water. Is a BS approved one. 50N of bouyancy. It's a nice snug fit quite high up on the chest and this makes it easier to manovour in the boat.
I need to get another for my wife as she uses mine at the moment and I use an older one that I dislike as it is too bulky.

tillerman said...

I think I'm right in saying that 50 Newtons of buoyancy is equivalent to approx 11.25 lbs. So Tim's PFD which meets British Standards would not meet the US Coast Guard standard for Type III PFDs of 15.5 lbs.

Does anybody know why US standards are stricter than British ones in this respect....

a) Americans are bigger so they need more buoyancy?

b) British people are naturally more buoyant?

c) The American PFD industry successfully lobbied for the higher standard to keep out foreign competition?

d) All of the above?

e) None of the above?

yarg said...

I choose D, all of the above.
In coaching high school the rule is wear a PFD whenever on the water - everybody, no exceptions. That works for me and has helped develop better habits, so even on power boats and not coaching, I wear one.
As I have written in Apparent Wind, I wear a Zhik "buoyancy aid." The combination of avoiding a capsize by not hooking my mainsheet on the back of the device, and having a device that does not resist my efforts to get back in the boat is safer for me than a little more flotation.
I'm surprised you have not found ways to catch your Lola PFD on your mainsheet, I can catch that one quite often. You must be more agile than you let on.

Tillerman said...

yarg - indeed I do occasionally catch my PFD on the mainsheet. I feel that such incidents are good for my soul. They teach me humility and that I have to work harder on staying flexible and agile as I get older.

Dan said...

Even on my J35, I ALWAYS where a PFD. I use a mustang inflatable with the hydrostatic inflator. It also has a harness and when I am on the boat alone, I use the harness and clip in. Our water is pretty cold around the NW all year round and the amount of time you can survive is short. Also when I am clipped in with the harness and jacklines, if I do fall over the side, the search for my body is simple. :-)

Tim Coleman said...

I was wrong to say it was BS approved as it does in fact carry the CE approval (a eurpean standard) which as certain guidelines for use:

Looking at this I should probably upgrade to 100N for inshore and coastal sailing. However I have found that 50N is qute adequate.

bonnie said...

I've got a Lotus L'ocean, which is the Lola tricked out with some extra features for rabid sea kayakers (reflective tape, a BIG spare pocket, attachment points for a Lotus towing system and a little loop for a light). I wear it all the time boating in the NYC area - I'm a good kayaker & a good swimmer too but there's so much boat traffic around here & accidents do happen.

L'ocean's a great fit for me & I hardly notice I've got it on (except for in a positive way, I like having all the pockets).

I have been known to just carry the lifejacket from time to time when paddling small, quiet flatwater rivers or ponds. Even then, I have to be paddling something where there's someplace convenient to put it. In a sea kayak, there really isn't a great place to stash the thing.

The point at which I'd consider wearing the PFD optional would actually be about the same point at which I'd consider a boat optional. If it's really hot & the water is tame enough & an out near enough that I'd be just as happy on an inner-tube, or with a kickboard, or just swimming, then I'd probably skip the lifejacket.

Anonymous said...

As to U.S. and European Standards: USCG is probably more anally retentive than the EU authority (whichever one of the roughly 1,5 billion of them establishes the CE standards).

In any case, a) wouldn't make sense, because bigger people are often fatter and therefore have more "natural" bouyancy.

I wear my pfd all the time for the reasons mentioned and because I had an experience similar to Mr. Cook's at a young age. He was lucky there were people around. When I went over without a pfd and got seperated from the boat in cold water there was noone there to help or hope for. Also, nobody to blame, except myself.

EscapeVelocity said...

I wear a kayaker-type Type III most of the time when on the water. Always on the Sunfish, almost always on the Harpoon, always if I'm doing foredeck (although it does have an irritating tendency to snag on shrouds and topping lifts) or in heavy weather. I will sometimes take it off on keelboats in light to moderate conditions where there are lifelines and I'm not going to be standing up, particularly if it's really hot, because I do feel like kind of a dork if there are eleven people on the boat and I'm the only one wearing one (this is on warm water).

Tillerman said...

Interesting Tim. I think that some of the slimmer-fitting non-USCG approved PFD's favored by some US Laser sailors do meet that EU 50 Newton standard. In looking at the link you gave, I see that that the next level up in CrewSaver jackets is the 100N foam PFD which atually has a complete collar going behind the head and a "crutch" (sic) strap, not the kind of thing that most active dinghy sailors favor.

Carol Anne said...

Like Dan, I ALWAYS wear mine -- and it's the same model as his, too. I wear it even when I am the only person on the boat with one on, and I'm so used to it that I hardly remember I'm wearing it -- until I get into the car after a day of sailing and discover it gets in the way of the seat belt (which, BTW, I also ALWAYS wear).

Pat said...

Most often I wear an auto-inflatable that also has a harness. Cooler weather will often see me put on a foam type III or a Stearns "Float Coat". We also have an extra-large Mustang float coat that we bought for $50 at a thrift shop in Colorado (!)

bonnie said...

Float coats are actually the other type of flotation device of which I'm a big fan. My friend Richard of the Two Schooners - btw, anybody know anybody who wants to buy a small schooner? - has a locker full of Mustang float coats for those of us who are lucky enough to get invited out on a January frostbite sail.

Aside from safety factor (which is huge, I personally know 2 people, Richard and one of the skippers from Classic Harbor Lines, who are alive today because they were wearing their float coats when things turned bad) those things are the most effective piece of cold weather gear I've ever run across. That layer of closed-cell foam just stops the wind like nothing else.

The glogg makes things even toastier.

bonnie said...

Richard's blog for his travels on Issuma.

Richard's other boat, the Rosemary Ruth