Gear Review: PFDs & Tethers

Alright, so the next area of major consideration for my Hawaii trip is my personal safety gear. It is your responsibility to ensure that you have adequate personal safety gear when embarking on a trip, not the boat owners. Therefore, I will need to update my PFD (personal flotation device) and safety tether. There is no cutting corners in this area for me… making it home safely to my family is priority numero uno.

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Image retrieved from Salus

For most of my Kootenay Lake sailing I prefer wearing my Salus kayaking PFD. Maybe it is from my years of dinghy sailing, but I feel most comfortable with it on. However, the more I sail out here the more I realize how hot it is in the Koots! So, I am looking to switch to something a little more heat friendly for my lake sailing which will also serve me well offshore…

Inflatable PFDs have become the norm for most boaters. Manufacturers have made some huge advancements in the area of design and reliability of these vests. I will never forget when they first came out and I watched one go off on a friend on the dock. Talk about a shock –  and pretty funny!

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Image retrieved from Mustang Survival

Mustang Survival is currently the top Canadian approved inflatable PFD. They were one of the first to market with this device and are a “household” name in the boating industry. I would recommend their entry level inflatable for general purpose boating.

Now, there is always the debate about manual inflation vs auto inflation. There are pros and cons to both. Manual inflation means that you have to pull a chord to initiate the inflation of the jacket. Therefore, you must be coherent and able bodied to do this. Auto inflation means that when the jacket is immersed in the water it will inflate on it’s own. Meaning that if you are unconscious, the jacket will inflate for you. Now, I have heard of sailors having their auto inflation jacket go off because they are hit with a big wave, so you will have to weigh your type of sailing with this particular drawback of the auto inflation model. I cannot speak to this yet, however I will let you know how my auto inflation PFD goes for the Hawaii delivery!

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Image retrieved from Spinlock

Now that I have told you that Mustang is the top Canadian approved jacket, I have to confess that I purchased a non-Canadian approved inflatable PFD. The one that I purchased is from a UK-based company, Spinlock, and I purchased their Deckvest 5D Pro Sensor PFD. Why, you ask? Well after much discussion with colleagues and fellow boaters, this PFD is a clear winner in the fit, functionality and accessories department. When I completed my Personal Offshore Survival course recently it was clear that this PFD is a favourite.

The Deckvest is a significant purchase (at over $300 Canadian), however I know that this is a vital piece of personal safety gear for me that I will be using for many years to come. The vest includes the following:

  • Light, comfortable design for use over long periods
  • Water activated flashing LED Light
  • Lifejacket bladder illumination lights included
  • Deck safety harness with soft loop safety line attachment point
  • Double crotch straps
  • Sprayhood – to reduce the risk of secondary drowning
  • Quick access emergency safety line cutter (knife)
  • Unique ‘Shoulder Fit System’ flexes and locates ensuring correct fit on shoulders every time
  • Whistle
  • New back adjustment – hidden and non snag for easy, simple adjustment
  • Manual override inflation tube

Images retrieved from Spinlock

The key pieces for me are the built in harness connector (for my safety tether… see below for my quick notes on that), the double crotch straps (see here on why it is important to have crotch straps), and then the others are all bonus items that make a big difference – cutter, light, whistle, adjustable straps and lift strap.

The downside of an inflatable PFD is that you must do some maintenance and upkeep with them to ensure that they are in good working order. You must keep a rearming kit on hand for if/when your PFD does inflate and you need to rearm it. For a checklist of what to do and when click here.

Tethers 1-0-1

Now a quick note about tethers. A tether is a line that keeps you attached to the boat. It will not stop you from falling off the boat, nor will it help you climb back up onto the boat. Most tethers have 2 lengths – short for when working on something close at hand (sitting near the bow and fiddling with a foresail sheet let’s say), and then long for when you are walking forward and aft on the boat. Most boats will have jacklines attached that run bow to stern or even tether anchor points on the boat for the crew to clip on to.

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Image retrieved from Sailing Anarchy

For your tether it is important to purchase a system that a) works with your harness or in my case inflatable PFD with built-in harness; and b) works with the boat you will be sailing on. The biggest thing with tethers is to try and get your hands on some so you can see how the clipping system works and if the carabiners will work for you. Again, when I completed my Personal Offshore Survival course I was able to get my hands on several designs. I assumed that the typical West Marine tether would work for me, but I had a heck of a time getting the carabiners open. A bit of a problem if I need to unclip quickly or move quickly. I tried the Spinlock tether and found the carabiner much easier to manipulate. I also decided to go with the 3-clip tether as I did not want to have a permanent loop attached to my vest if I needed to unclip myself from my tether in an emergency (see this video). If I had the loop I would have to cut the tether, thus making it useless afterwards.

Images retrieved from Spinlock and Binnacle.com

You’ll notice in the image above the yellow tether (the one I call the West Marine tether) has a quick release clip which would attache to your harness. This allows you to unclip the tether if you are in an emergency and you need to release yourself.

So, there is much more that I could talk about for these items, but this is an overview for now. I will try and break down this post further into smaller segments at a later date.

Fair winds,

Captain Penny

 

3 Comments on “Gear Review: PFDs & Tethers

  1. Pingback: Gearing Up! – Sail Nelson

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