Well before finding Ranger 28, we had already added “good life jackets” to our pre liveaboard shopping list. At that point, the only exposure I had to life jacket shopping was what I had done/seen in the little bit of whitewater kayaking I did during my teen years. Kayaking life jackets, as i remember them, were big in the front ant back, not too tall on the abdomen and had lots of neat pockets, straps, clips and general gizmos. Turns out that a few hours of web research during some of our “downtime” while buying the Ranger 28 gave an entirely new perspective on this area.
First things first, a life jacket is like a camera – it is only as useful as how often you have it with you. So your $3000 Canon SLR with a Nat Geo$2000 lens probably misses a lot of important photos because it is sitting at home in safety while you are out doing the exciting stuff. Similarly, life jackets suffer from the “left at home syndrome” as well – not because of value/risk, but because they can be unsightly, uncomfortable, cumbersome and just generally annoying – thereby causing them to only be worn in the most extreme situations.
This “use it when you need it” attitude actually works okay a lot of the time because most time spent around water does not end disastrously. Sailing and living aboard as a reasonably inexperienced sailing couple changes the equation a bit (lot) though. First of all, we need the option of being alone on deck – it isn’t practical/desirable to think that we will always be on deck together while underway. That said, any number of minutes in which one of us is on deck and the other is busy belowdecks is a potential disaster, if a “(wo)man overboard (MOB)) were to occur. This is the specific situation that I believe warrants a fair bit of thought, research and preparedness.
The first and most obvious precaution is simply to wear a life jacket if you are on deck alone. But that brings us all the way back to this issue of leaving the camera at home. If the life jacket is heavy, chaffing, encumbers movement, is ugly, etc. – despite good intentions – it will likely not be on all the time and as a consequence will become a chore to remember to put it on every time the other person goes belowdecks. This is where those resourceful marine safety equipment companies come in… Inflatable PFDs offer the flotation/safety benefits of there traditional counterparts, but with virtually none of the bulk. The look like big thick collars with straps and really don’t get in the way too much at all. In a perfect world, this major advance in convenience would mean that there would just be no reason at all to take your PFD off ever and thus no chance of breaking the “PFDs when alone” rule. In the real world, or at least our world, there will still be times when we aren’t wearing the jackets when under way, but my guess is that they will be unobtrusive enough that it will be rare to run into the chore situation of needing to put on a PFD just because the other person wanted to go use the head.
This was about as far as my research/theories had gotten a few days ago. I have since, picked up quite a bit more about the various options of Inflatable PFDs and the bells and whistles they include. Look for another post about choosing an Inflatable PFD in the next few days.