Episode #042: Your Pocket Sailing Instructor Podcast PFDs, life jackets & tethers… what you need to know!

This week we are talking about safety (no surprise there!), but more specifically Personal Floatation Devices, Life Jackets and Tethers! What are they? What are the differences? Which one should you purchase? Where do you purchase them? When do you replace them? So many questions!

Listen to this episode: Episode #042: Your Pocket Sailing Instructor Podcast PFDs, life jackets & tethers… what you need to know!

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Here are my most recent episodes:

#59: Sails – Prevention & Basic Maintenance Your Pocket Sailing Instructor Podcast

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PFDs vs Life jackets

Here is a post I wrote up a few years ago when I was deciding on my safety gear for my Vic-Maui boat delivery. There is a lot of great info in here that compliments this podcast episode… Enjoy!

A personal floatation device (PFD) will help you float. It will not, however, flip you over if you land unconscious face down in the water. A life jacket, on the other hand, should…



Image retrieved from Salus

My preferred type of PFD is a Salus Eddy kayak PFD. I find them comfortable, easy to wear, easy to put on and take off, good value for the money and they have some good accessories like the mesh pockets. However, the more I sail in Nelson, the more I realize how hot it is in the BC Interior! So, I have been toying with the idea of getting an inflatable life jacket as my daily driver instead. Something to be considered as PFDs can get a bit hot.

Life Jackets

Inflatable life jackets 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 VERY funny!


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 have an auto inflating model and have not had it go off unexpectedly on me (yet!).


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 life jacket. The one that I purchased is from a UK-based company, Spinlock, and I purchased their Deckvest 5D Pro Sensor life jacket. Why, you ask? Well after much discussion with colleagues and fellow boaters, this life jacket 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 life jacket is a favourite.

My Choice

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 life jacket 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 life jacket 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.


Image retrieved from Sailing Anarchy

More on tethers…

For your tether it is important to purchase a system that a) works with your harness or in my case inflatable life jacket 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,

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