Recently in NSW (1st November 2010) new compulsory Personal Floatation Device (PFD) wearing requirements came into effect, inline with their increased availability, this has undoubtedly this has seen an increase in the use of inflatable PFD’s (manual and automatic).
An experience Chris and I had a couple of years ago when one of these inflatable PFD’s was accidently inflated, discouraged us from using them. Long story short, the PFD inflated but the Velcro which separates when the vest is inflated, did not separate on both sides. This left Chris in a vest which had inflated on one side only and placed a significant amount of pressure on his head and neck. Before I could find a sharp to puncture and deflate the PFD, Chris managed to undo the buckle and remove it. The lesson for us here was that if we needed this PFD in an emergency situation there is a fair chance that it would not have saved a life, quite possibly the opposite, only inflating on one side it may have actually forced the wearers head under the water. These days, we have reverted back to the standard PFD vest, they are bulky but aren’t uncomfortable to wear and I know that if I come out of my boat at 75mph I won’t have to worry about pulling a cord or whether the PFD will inflate.
Even though I don’t use an inflatable PFD anymore, I still own one and keep it in a serviceable condition. My advice to anybody who owns these inflatable PFD’s is to keep them serviced. In NSW “if the manufacturer doesn’t specify, you must have your lifejacket serviced at least every 12 months. Penalties apply.” For more information go to NSW Maritime or check with your local authorities.