Lifejackets are personal flotation devices. They can be worn to keep a person afloat. Lifejackets have helped save thousands of lives over the years.
Lifejackets are usually made of polyester and filled with foam cubes, they also have reflective patches on the front and back. They are usually bright coloured- orange or yellow, to be spotted easily from a distance, but also come in other colours such as blue, red or even black.
How do they work?
Lifejackets work with buoyancy -which is the amount of water displaced by an object and it's equal to its weight. This means that when a person is in the water, the buoyancy of the person is equal to the weight of the person. A lifejacket is made of lightweight type of foam that weighs much less than the average human being. As a result, a person wearing a lifejacket, displaces less water than the person alone, and so therefore-the person floats.
It is important to wear a jacket that fits well as the wrong size will increase the amount of displaced water and not allow the person to float as well.
Is there a difference between a lifejacket and a buoyancy aid?
Both are personal flotation devices but what is the difference? A lifejacket supports the wearer in the water and helps keep their face above the water. A buoyancy aid does not fully support the wearer in the water or specifically keep their face above the water, but it will help support the wearer and reduce fatigue while in use. Lifejackets are designed for both swimmers and non-swimmers, but buoyancy aids must only be used by swimmers and where help is easily accessed as they are not designed to safeguard lives in the water, hence the term 'aid'.
How do lifejackets keep you safe?
The first priority of a lifejacket is to keep the face (airway) clear of the water. This is achived by the placement and shape of the foam inside the lifejacket as well as how it sits on the persons' body. The second priority is to ensure the person is visible in the water (for most lifejackets). This is done by sewing dayglow patches or reflective tape into the jacket at the places that should be able to be above the water line when in use. Lifejackets are designed to fit snug against your torso and chest to keep your upper body floating, this will also keep you from sinking under the water should you be knocked unconscious. Most lifejackets work the same way, but some are even specially tailored and designed for certain activities or conditions for example, some are designed to roll you onto your back in rough water, others are designed to keep the wearer warm or protected from the sun.
To some people, lifejackets are an unnecessary piece of safety equipment as 'Only the kids need them' or 'I know how to swim' is apparently sufficient enough to keep them safe...Well it's not! Lifejackets are crucial for any water activity, accidents can happen to anyone and very quickly, being an experienced swimmer won't necessarily help when you've been knocked unconscious or fallen overboard in rough water. At least 90% of downing victims (boating, water sports and activities) were found to not be wearing their lifejackets.
Lifejackets and the law...
Most areas have laws or regulations in place that require you to use lifejackets (or at least have them available). Some aquatic places may have their own rules on top of the legal regulations regarding lifejackets. For example, the South African Marine Safety Authority (SAMSA) has a set of life jacket requirements... A lifejacket is required for extreme water conditions, for general seagoing applications and instances, close to shore, in calm or sheltered waters, for limited use in inland water (must be used by competent swimmers)- for water-skiing, jet-skiing, yachting, canoeing, etc. It is always a good idea to familiarise yourself with the facility rules as well as the legal regulations when participating in water activities.
Common objections to wearing lifejackets
Lifejackets are uncomfortable. -Yes, they can be scratchy and bulky and may be in the way while swimming but there are a variety of types and one of them may just be the perfect one for you. But if not, temporary discomfort is way better than risking your life for some fun.
I’m a good swimmer. - Even if you are an Olympic swimmer, it will not exclude you from being able to drown-anyone can drown, especially if you aren't close to shore and currents and waves are moving you around. You could easily become disorientated and fatigued. Not only will the lifejacket help you in the water, but it could drastically increase your odds of getting help quickly as you're more visible.
It’s not illegal to not wear a lifejacket. -In some areas and for certain activities, yes, it's not a legal requirement. But that doesn't mean it is unnecessary or unimportant. You're not legally required to wear oven mitts when taking your dinner out the oven, but you still do in order to protect yourself - same applies with the lifejackets.
I’ve never fallen overboard. -Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, freak waves can strike even in calm waters, sudden bursts of wind, slight over correction when steering can change the angle of the boat and you could fall or slip off without any warning. Historical precedent means nothing.