Common Sense from a PFD Poster Child

When Gill North America sent out a release promoting a new life jacket design and suggesting that these jackets be reviewed by members of the media, I “heard the call.” If anyone is a model-citizen/PFD wearer, I’m it! Over the years, Jerry and I have laughingly called ourselves “PFD poster children.” We always wear life jackets on our boat. We just do. They’re so much part of us that sometimes we forget to take them off when wandering the docks.

All these bells and whistles have found a new home in my new life jacket from Gill.

At first glance, the bright red front-zip PFD must be said to be attractive, built of good quality materials, and very well designed.

Most important to me was whether it could easily hold my gear. Since we always wear our life jackets, we have adapted them to carry a little collection of safety equipment about the boat with us. This new jacket, for example, now has in its zippered pockets a flare, a whistle (the world’s loudest by the manufacturer’s claim), a signal mirror, a flashlight, my Boye knife, and a strobe. It even has an inside D-ring, presumably for car keys although parts of my safety collection are now anchored to this ring instead. If I were a dinghy sailor, that ring would be perfect for my keys. But as a cruiser, I figure the last thing I would need (for several reasons) if I were to fall overboard would be my set of electronic car keys!

You’ve gotta admit that it’s a fistful of noise-making and light-producing and rope-cutting gizmos!

The only adaptation I had to make was the attachment of a harness that will be used with a tether and could be used for hauling my hyperthermic body out of the lake if I accidentally fall in. I sewed a couple of loops of nylon webbing to the sides and transferred all gear and allegiances to my new life jacket.

Gill says this type III USCG-approved vest is styled to coordinate with the full Gill dinghy and technical clothing range. You would want to match, I suppose. But what really interested me was whether I could wear this jacket all day long onboard and still call it comfortable at day’s end. Would it fit well? I wore it for a whole day aboard on what was possibly the hottest day of the year on Lake Superior during the heat wave of July. It passed the wear-ability test.

Now there’s just one more test a life jacket should pass. Will it float? I wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice in the interests of science. Let’s just say that if it is rated as a type III PFD, surely it will float me in the water. A type III PFD is categorized as a “flotation aid,” just one level up from at throwable device (type IV). If that’s not enough to make you think, the labeling, written by lawyers no doubt, states: “This is a Front Zip Type III PFD designed to support a conscious person in the water in an upright position. It is not a guaranteed Lifesaver.”

That just about covers it: God and PFDs help those who help themselves. Your job is a) to refrain from falling in, b) to stay conscious if at all possible if you do fall in (the shock of hitting Lake Superior will almost certainly assist in rendering an unconscious person conscious), and c) to start making all the noise and light signals within your capabilities so those on the boat can locate and come back for you.

All things said, it is a good thing to wear a life jacket to keep the odds on your side. And the new PFDs by Gill pass all my tests.


One Response

  1. Karen, there is one other really important feature a pfd should have; the ability to keep its wearer afloat without rising up about the ears. If it doesn’t stay in position you can’t swim or haul yourself back aboard because the bulk of flotation will get in the way.

    I understand your reluctance to test this in Lake Superior, but consider this – there may be several pfds that pass all your other tests but won’t pass the ‘float the wearer correctly’ test. So a float test is vital before trusting your life to any particular pfd.

    At my sailing club (in the warm waters of north Queensland) we have had members buy beautifully comfortable pfds, only to find them unwearable in the water because they ride up above the chest. I’ve experienced the energy sapping frustration of an incorrectly fitted pfd preventing me from re-boarding my Laser because it bunched up against my chin; the diffculty would be magnified with more freeboard to deal with.

    If the Lake is a tad cool, perhaps there is a heated swimming pool or spa where you could test out some pfds. It would make for some interesting comparisons.

    Petrea McCarthy
    Freelance Writer
    Yungaburra FNQ

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