[Image description: man wearing lifejacket with crotch strap]
Slowly, ever so slowly, the boatie community is understanding. But I still meet people, some of them incredibly highly placed in the industry (one very close to Jessica Watson for example) who resist rules for compulsory wearing of lifejackets. The guy close to Jessica said ‘We don’t want a Nanny State’. We’re not sissies, say others. We don’t need crotch straps said the guy close to Jessica when I specifically asked him to join me on a campaign for new regs for lifejackets, aka Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs), buoyancy vests, buoyancy aids. We saw the same opposition to seat belts in petrol driven cars and to random breathtesting for alcohol.
Now the push needs to be on decent lifejackets. We also need to get rid of the BS terms. A lifejacket should be a lifejacket should be a lifejacket. There are still too many styles allowed that don’t meet any sensible definition of a lifejacket – for example, this list at Maritime NZ. The community now understands lifejackets are essential, but given that there are lifejackets and lifejackets, there is a strong case for getting it right. I’m talking about mandatory crotch straps (not crutch staps), especially for kids. Slipping out of a lifejacket is easier than you think, especially in rough seas or if you’re unconscious. Lots of people have died needlessly because they didn’t have crotch straps. So for me a lifejacket without a crotch strap is not a lifejacket. The various standards allow heaps of lifejackets without crotch straps. Maritime NZ knows about the problem, it says:
Crotch straps are recommended for lifejackets when they may be used in situations other than very calm water. Even when tightly secured, lifejackets have a tendency to ride up on the wearer if there is any wave action. Crotch straps are mandatory for all children-sized lifejackets and in some yacht racing situations
This is silly. You bump your head, you go unconscious for any reason, even in calm water, and bingo, you slip out of the device and you’re drowned.
So, Rule 1: a lifejacket shouldn’t get the name unless it has a crotch strap.
But there’s more on lifejackets and lifejackets. We are still in the infancy stage of the technology and the authorities need to do much more. I discovered that one design could leave you face down in the water, if you are unconscious. When I tried to find out which design was better, I couldn’t find the info. I now find that “they are not designed to keep an unconscious person’s head and face above water.” Yeah, right. And you call that a lifejacket???
It happened like this. I had a Burke design with Benchmark Certification ID 2975, Standard 1512. The gas cylinder had expired so we thought we’d get some experience by testing it. We put it on a crewmate who jumped into the water and pretended to be unconscious. Bingo. It inflated fine, then it left her face down in the water. Not good.
So, rule 2. If it can’t keep you upright when you’re unconscious it shouldn’t be called a lifejacket.
And people think I’m a safety nut? All I want is truth in advertising. If it says “lifejacket” it should be able to save your life. Oh yeah, that’s why the industry and the regulating authorities allow them to use the BS PFD.