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Finding the perfect life jacket

Finding the perfect life jacket

It's happened to us all, even experienced sailors and water sports enthusiasts: A high wave, a storm, a mistake at the wheel or you lose your footing when docking and suddenly you're in the water. A life jacket can save lives in such cases. For this reason, every boat should carry an adequate number of life jackets for the entire crew. But which life jacket is the best to choose from the wide range of models on offer? What differentiates a good life jacket from a bad one and how should it fit? Find out everything there is to know about choosing a life jacket in our life jacket guide.

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What should I keep in mind before buying a life jacket?

The range of life jackets on the market is huge. SEATEC, Secumar, Marinepool, Kadematic and Spinlock have developed various life jackets in different shapes, sizes, weights and prices. Choosing is difficult. Whether you buy your lifejacket online or in a local shop, you should ask yourself the following questions before buying:

  • Will the life jacket only be used by just one person or by different people (e.g. on charter boats)?
  • What are the sailing conditions or activities during which the life jacket will be worn (inland or coastal areas, high seas, dinghy or regatta sailing, rowing, fishing or canoeing​)?
  • What clothing will be worn under the life jacket?
  • Will the life jacket be worn for a long time or only occasionally, depending on the situation?

Buoyancy classes of life jackets

The buoyancy strength of a life jacket is calculated in Newtons (N). A Newton is the physical unit for force. Referring to the DIN EN ISO 12402 standard, life jackets are classified according to their buoyancy force in four different classes: 50 N, 100 N, 150 N and 275 N.

In order to find a life jacket with a suitable buoyancy strength, the body weight of the wearer plays virtually no role. This is because a life jacket should primarily keep the wearer's head above the water, keeping the face and respiratory tract clear and open, even if the wearer is unconscious. Everybody's head weighs about the same. A much more important factor in choosing the right life jacket is the clothing worn under the life jacket. When wearing many layers or heavy offshore clothing, a lot of air can be trapped in the material, making it difficult or even impossible to turn an unconscious person to a safe position. It is important for the life jacket to have a higher volume than the air that can be trapped in the clothing.

Buoyancy aids with 50 N buoyancy

Life jackets with a buoyancy strength of 50 N are classed as buoyancy aids. Buoyancy aids have no collar and do not have sufficient buoyancy strength to keep the wearer or his head above the water on its own, they simply provide support. 50 N buoyancy aids are foam life jackets. These buoyancy aids should only be used by strong swimmers, close to the shore or coast, or when quick help and rescue is required, such as a regatta jacket for dinghy sailors, water skiing, canoeing or kayaking. In these cases, a buoyancy aid provides gentle, comfortable support for the capsized person as he swims back to the dinghy or boat. For beginners and those who like to do sports on an occasional basis, a buoyancy aid made of solid material is a good and inexpensive way of providing protection.

Life Jackets with 100 N buoyancy

Life Jackets with 100 N buoyancy have a collar and are ideal for use by adults of average size and average weight in inland areas and sheltered waters without swell or spray. 100 N life jackets are mostly foam life jackets, children's life jackets or life jackets that can be activated manually, in some cases. These jackets have a foam body that warms the wearer as well as providing buoyancy. They do not have to be inflated in an emergency, and are ready for immediate use. Life Jackets made of foam are therefore particularly suitable for use when they do not need to be worn permanently on board, but only as the situation requires. Because they are so easy to use, they are perfect for non-professionals. A 100 N foam life jacket is a good and inexpensive option for beginners sailing on a dinghy. These life jackets are not suitable when sailing in difficult conditions. The material is hard-wearing and robust, but the foam buoyancy aid (primarily polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride) can be damaged by sunlight and salt water, reducing the buoyancy strength of the life jacket. Foam life jackets are much cheaper than inflatable life jackets and do not require any maintenance.

Life Jackets with 150 N buoyancy

Life Jackets with 150 N buoyancy are suitable for coastal areas and are very popular with motorboaters. When wearing "normal" everyday clothes, they are safe in the event of unconsciousness, as they keep the wearer on the back and ensure that mouth and nose remain above water. Life Jackets with 150 N buoyancy are inflatable life jackets. In an emergency, inflatable life jackets are filled with CO2 either manually or automatically when they come into contact with water. A manual or semi-automatic lifejacket may be the right choice for you if you want to make sure that the life jacket is not accidentally activated in the event of splashing water. Thanks to the comfort of movement and their light weight, automatic or semi-automatic life jackets are the best solution for continuous wearing on board and for experienced dinghy sailors. If the wearer is unconscious or severely distressed when falling into the water, a life jacket that can be released manually does not provide adequate protection. All automatic life jackets can be converted into semi-automatic life jackets. For example, you can use an automatic life jacket manually when paddling and convert it back to automatic mode when sailing.

275 N Life Jackets

Automatic life jackets with 275 N buoyancy are the right choice for the high seas and extreme weather conditions. When wearing offshore clothing or heavy protective gear in particular, a 275 N class life jacket should be chosen to compensate for the volume of air trapped in the clothing in an emergency. Life Jackets with 275 N and 150 N are usually worn as a preventative measure, i.e. permanently on board, and must therefore offer the greatest possible freedom of movement and be very comfortable as well as capable of withstanding mechanical demands. These benefits make an automatic jacket much more expensive than a foam life jacket. Automatic life jackets must also be serviced every 2 years.

Many life jackets have a greater buoyancy force than their classification suggests. For example, many 275 N life jackets actually have 300 N of buoyancy force and thus offer a greater degree of safety.

Accessories for Automatic-Life Jackets

For added safety, an inflatable life jacket can be fitted with various accessories. When choosing accessories, it is important that they have been approved by the manufacturer of the life jacket for the corresponding model. Accessories not approved will not have been tested with the life jacket and compatibility cannot be guaranteed. The life jacket will no longer conform to the standard and loses its CE approval. In this case, the manufacturer no longer provides any warranty for the product. Non-approved accessories are removed during life jacket maintenance. If this is not possible, maintenance will be refused.

Spray cap for life Jackets

A spray cap or spray hood works in a similar way to a hood. In an emergency it can be pulled over the head and the inflated life jacket. The wearer is thus protected from waves and splashing water. A spray hood also reduces the risk of hypothermia caused by heat lost through the head. Not every splash cap fits every jacket and are specifically designed for each individual life jacket. Spray hoods can be easily fitted to a life jacket with little effort.

Crotch strap for life jackets

Some life jackets come with a crotch strap already fitted or supplied. Other life jackets can be fitted with a crotch strap afterwards. A crotch strap or harness is used to hold the life jacket to the body and prevent the jacket from slipping up, hence giving the wearer the optimal position in the water.

Distress lights for life jackets

Most automatic life jackets can be fitted with emergency lights to increase the chance of a quick rescue in poor visibility or darkness. Every manufacturer uses a slightly different lighting system. Some lights are stuck directly onto the air chamber and illuminate the whole jacket, other manufacturers use antenna-shaped lights, which are fastened to the jacket with Velcro tape and either activate automatically on water contact or when the life jacket is inflated in the event of an emergency, or can be switched on manually. The light duration of individual life jacket lights is very different and varies from between 2 and 10 hours.

Emergency transmitters for life jackets

Numerous distress transmitters are also compatible with life jackets and ensure even faster rescue from the water. Whether AIS, DSC, EPIRB or PLB or a direction-finding transmitter - it is important to note that not every distress transmitter is compatible with every life jacket. Some combinations can even be dangerous and AIS devices or their antennas can injure either the wearer or damage the floating body of the life jacket with sharp-edged areas. Extending the antenna may also be blocked by the life jacket or life jacket and distress transmitter may block each other. A distress transmitter must have been approved for the respective life jacket in order to guarantee the functionality of the transmitter and life jacket.

Life Lines for Life Jackets

Many life jackets have the option of attaching a so-called lifeline or safety line. The other end of the lifeline is attached to the jackstay or an eyelet on board. If a person falls overboard, he is safely anchored to the boat by the safety line and can easily be brought back on board. Lifelines are available for children and adults as a solid strap or flexible stretch line. Have a look at our SEATEC life jacket sets, which are supplied with a lifeline!

Life Jackets for Children

Additional points must be considered when buying a life jacket for babies and toddlers. Toddlers have a different centre of gravity than adults because their head is very large compared to the rest of their body. This has a negative effect on life jacket's ability to turn. In addition, small children often have a high body fat percentage compared to adults, which similarly impairs the life jacket's ability to turn, especially in the arms and legs. Wearing nappies also imbalances the buoyancy of the life jacket and prevents it from working as it should. A "crawling reflex" has also frequently been observed in young children. They need to see where they are and so turn themselves onto their stomachs. In this way, without realising, they are working against the actual purpose of the life jacket. For small children, buoyancy distribution is therefore particularly important. You can best counteract this problem by using an automatic life jacket because the buoyancy is optimally distributed around the neck. For this reason, many manufacturers provide automatic life jackets for children weighing 15 kg or more, i.e. 2 years or older. Our SVB safety experts recommend buying a child life jacket with automatic activation only from around the age of 5 when the child can swim. This is because, unlike a foam jacket, an automatic children’s life jacket will allow children to sink into the water before it inflates.

Life jackets made of solid material have the advantage of offering a certain degree of protection against injury, especially for children. Foam life jackets act as padding for the child's body in the event of falls and knocks. We offer foam life jackets for babies from 3 kg body weight. As opposed to automatic life jackets, they protect your child from the moment he or she enters the water. Due to their neon colour they are also easily visible. Many children's foam life jackets have a handle or safety loop for attaching a lifeline to the back. The advantage of this is that children are not obstructed by the safety line when running around or playing on board, which they would be if it had been hooked to the front of the jacket, and it is not so easy to fall if the lifeline is stretched.

Whether you choose a children's foam life jacket or an automatic life jacket for your child - it is important that a children's life jacket always matches the size and body weight of your child exactly. Even if children grow out of a suitable life jacket quickly, you should never buy a life jacket thinking that the child "will grow into it". If a life jacket does not fit properly, this can have fatal consequences. If the children's life jacket is too small, it may not be able to produce enough buoyancy. Life jackets that are too big do not sit well and your child can slip out of the life jacket in the worst case.

Life Jackets for Dogs

Many dog owners cannot bear the thought of leaving their 'best friend' at home when they are on the boat. Even if most dogs can swim well, it can be dangerous for your four-legged friend to fall or jump into the water, as he could be dragged along by the current or caught in the sea by undercurrents. For a dog life jacket to do its job, it first needs to fit well and give your dog the comfort and freedom of movement he needs when running, swimming and playing so he can tolerate wearing it. With an adjustable belt system, a foam life jacket can be perfectly adjusted to the shape of your dog's body. Apart from having adequate buoyancy, a grip on the back is especially important for dog life jackets so that you can get your four-legged friend back on board after a jump or fall into the water. With its neon colour and reflective strips on the life jacket, your dog will be clearly visible and will be easier to see even in cloudy weather or darkness. Some dog life jackets have a D-ring so that you can secure your dog to the boat with a lifeline.

Put on your life jacket correctly

A life jacket is only as good as it fits or is adjusted. This step-by-step guide explains how to put on a life jacket correctly:

  1. If you are wearing a jacket or top with a hood or collar under the life jacket, you may want to lift the collar first or put the hood up under the life jacket. Take the hood out of jackets that have one concealed in the collar and put it on. On the one hand the life jacket sits more comfortably, on the other a hood prevents the head from cooling down too quickly in an emergency and should therefore be ready for use.
  2. Put on the life jacket with the hood/collar on.
  3. Tighten the chest strap of the life jacket so that only your fingertips fit between the strap and chest.
  1. Take the hood off (if desired) or fold the collar to the desired position.
  2. If your life jacket has a crotch strap, put it on and tighten it so that there is no play in the upright position, but you can still move comfortably. The crotch strap prevents the life jacket from sliding up towards the head in an emergency.
  3. If you have a lifeline, attach it to the jacket and secure yourself to the deck of the boat.

Life Jacket Maintenance

The life expectancy of an automatic life jacket is 10 years. During this period the life jacket should be serviced every 2 years. Regular life jacket maintenance ensures that it is ready for use in an emergency and functions as intended. Children's life jackets with automatic activation must also be serviced every two years! A manufacturer authorized service station in your area can be found on the life jacket manufacturer's website.

When servicing an automatic life jacket, the automatic seals are replaced, the activation power is checked, and the CO2 cartridge is inspected for fine hairline cracks. The buoyancy chamber is also closely examined and checked for leaks and damage. The seams in particular are carefully inspected here.

If your life jacket is still usable after 10 years, it must be serviced annually to detect signs of ageing in good time. After 15 years the lifetime of a life jacket has expired and maintenance is no longer carried out. While life jackets are not required by law to be maintained, if an accident occurs due to a non-standard life jacket, the boat owner is responsible.

Spare Parts Sets for Automatic Life Jackets

Once an automatic life jacket has been activated, the trigger must then be replaced to make the life jacket operational again. The CO2 cartridges in life jackets from different manufacturers can be very different. There are cartridges with screw thread or bayonet lock and different weights. The correct CO2 cartridge can be found in the operating instructions for your life jacket. The required weight of the CO2 cartridge can also be found on a sew-in inside the jacket or printed on the buoyancy chamber (inside the protective cover). If you know the type of inflation device and the filling quantity of the CO2 cartridge, you can quickly and easily find the right spare parts set consisting of CO2 cartridges, salt tablets and holders for the brand of your jacket in our online shop.

Find the right replacement cartridge for your life jacket now! »

Guidelines and Regulations for Life Jackets

In order to ensure that a life jacket offers the protection it claims to offer in an emergency, it must meet certain requirements in Europe. The PSA regulation stipulates a detailed EU type inspection as well as production monitoring by an official institution. The technical design of a PPE (personal protective equipment) is compared with the requirements of this directive or regulation. Europe-wide, uniform standards such as DIN EN ISO 12402 for buoyancy aids and life jackets and DIN EN ISO 12401 for safety lines and safety straps are available for this purpose. The CE labelling of a life jacket confirms its compliance with these requirements. Not only the life jacket, but all its components, such as foils, materials, straps and fittings, are subject to standardisation. Accessories such as spray caps, life jacket lights and crotch straps must be explicitly approved by the manufacturer for the respective life jacket, otherwise the life jacket may lose its CE approval.

Older life jackets may still have BG approval. This stands for approval by the Berufsgenossenschaft (SeeBG or BSBG), the German Accident Prevention & Insurance Association, which has since been replaced by CE approval.

In commercial shipping, a so-called SOLAS wheel identifies the life jacket as a tested model. The term SOLAS stands for "International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea" and refers to a UN convention on ship safety. Life jackets that are certified according to SOLAS must, for example, be equipped with a sea emergency light.

In Germany, the similar legal requirements of the EU are implemented via the Production Safety Act (ProdSG), which comprises regulations on the safety requirements of consumer products and technical aids.

FAQ

The automatic triggering device of life jackets available on the market today is so sophisticated that they do not trigger unintentionally when it rains or splashes. If the jacket is used in an environment with high humidity for a long period of time, the automatic trigger may be affected and the life jacket may accidentally be activated.
When the life jacket is not in use, it should be stored in a dry, dark place that is neither too warm nor too cold. It is important to allow the life jacket and any salt tablets contained in it to dry thoroughly after a journey in high humidity or heavy rain or splashing water. To do this, we recommend that you hang the jacket in the cockpit or under a tarpaulin. The life jacket should never be dried in direct sunlight or heated cabin.
A life jacket consists mainly of composite materials and can easily be disposed of as non-recyclable waste. With automatic life jackets, CO2 cartridges and other metal parts should be disposed of separately in used metal waste. Any distress lights or emergency transmitters can be disposed of as electrical equipment. Take care to remove batteries and rechargeable batteries from electronic devices and dispose of them separately.

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