By Rich Ciolino – at Isthmus Cove, Catalina Island August 2017
Inflatable life jackets provide safety, comfort, and convenience for their users. They are much less bulky than the older “stuffed with a flotation material” type, a feature that encourages boaters to wear them. All life jackets require some amount of maintenance and back in July it was reported in this space that the inflatable type requires more extensive attention than others.
One of the main requirements is to periodically replace the CO2 gas cartridge and the water sensing trigger device. This device could be a simple pellet that dissolves in water thereby triggering the CO2 piercing, or as complex as a water pressure detector and trigger that pierces the CO2 cartridge. We have a mixture of types including two with the pressure detection triggers. One of the unexpected “features” of the simple pellet type was that it could go off if it simply got wet from water spray or rain without being in the water. The pressure type requires the sensor to be at least 4 inches under water to activate the trigger. Our particular life jackets require that the entire trigger and inflation sensor be replaced every five years (they are date marked as to when to replace them), and of course the replacements parts are available through West Marine, at no small cost – but it’s all for safety and convenience.
It was time to replace the sensors and we decided to wait until we got to Catalina on a recent trip where we could have two “test dummies” (sorry, daughter and son-in-law) demonstrate the life jacket while being safely moored in Isthmus Cove. They graciously, in the name of science and with some urging, agreed to each don a life jacket and jump into the chilly water to see how the life jackets worked. They worked fine and we then deflated the life jackets, removed the used trigger devices, installed new ones, and refolded them to put them back into ready condition.
In the video we see test subject #1 (son-in-law) entering the water after jumping from the boat and then emerging from underwater after about 3 seconds (deep emersion) with a fully inflated life jacket.
Test subject #2 (daughter) entered the water from the steps so she wouldn’t go very deep underwater and out of view.
Videos of these demonstrations can be seen at https://youtu.be/gHTP1prpXcg
A frame by frame look at the video showed a progression from the right-side inflating, then the neck support, and finally the left side (as viewed in the pictures). The entire process took about one second. They both demonstrated the life jacket’s ability to float them on their backs with their heads out of the water, and to also turn them over from a face down position to their backs. We were impressed with the life jacket’s performance, their ease to re-arm them, and the test subject’s enthusiasm.