1. What is it for?
Life jackets are designed to keep you afloat in water. They will automatically turn you into a face-up position, keeping your mouth and nostrils clear of the water to prevent the risk of drowning. This is particularly important if, for any reason, you are unconscious when you fall into the water.
Remember: they are not designed to keep you warm. If there is a risk of falling into cold water, wear appropriate warm/protective clothing.
2. What types are available?
There are many different types of life jacket, each of which is suitable for a particular situation. Whichever type you use, it must comply with national standards or the European norm.
Two Examples are:
Single-chamber life jackets
A polyurethane-coated nylon jacket which automatically inflates within four seconds of immersion in water. It can also be inflated by hand by pulling the lanyard attached to it. It incorporates a mouth tube for oral topping-up, a whistle and a lifting loop. It is fitted with nylon tapes and a buckle to secure it to the wearer.
A safety light can be attached if desired (see below). It has a cover which is permanently attached to the neck of the jacket. This lamp unit is designed to activate automatically when the battery unit is immersed in salt water (it will also work in fresh water, but less effectively). The light is visible for up to 1.2 km, (or over 3 km if fitted with a high intensity LED light) and will function for a minimum of 8 hours, depending on the type of bulb and battery fitted.
Twin-chamber life jackets
A polyurethane-coated nylon jacket with two operating heads which automatically activate in water, inflating the jacket within four seconds. It includes mouth tubes, a whistle and a lifting strap and is fitted with a water-activated safety light (as above).
3. How do I use them?
Life jackets: All life jackets are designed to operate automatically when you fall into water. Single-chamber jackets can also be inflated manually by pulling on the lanyard attached to them. Both types of jacket are fitted with mouth tubes to enable you to inflate them orally.
Life jacket safety light: The safety light is a sealed water-activated battery unit. It operates the light bulb when a ripcord is pulled to remove the seals and the operating cell becomes immersed in water.
4. When must I wear a life jacket?
Anyone working close to water should wear a life jacket — your health and safety risk assessment will determine where this is necessary.
People working on small boats and other vessels are recommended to wear a twin-chamber life jacket at all times — as must anyone who has to travel in a vessel of any type, e.g. as a passenger on a pilot boat to board ships at anchor. You should wear a safety light with the life jacket wherever visibility is likely to be poor.
5. What should I do with them after use?
Life jackets: As soon as possible after use, deflate the life jacket and prepare it for its next user. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure you do this correctly.
Life jacket safety lights: You must replace the safety light battery units after they have been activated by immersion in water, or if the seals have broken for any other reason.
6. How do I look after them?
Life jackets should be stored in a dry place when not in use. If the outside becomes wet, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, remove the firing head (if necessary) and hang the jacket up to dry.
All life jackets must be inspected and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. As a general guide:
- Every month remove the jacket from its cover and inspect it visually for obvious signs of damage. Make sure that all parts are clean and dry before repacking;
- Every six months give the jacket a more thorough examination for deterioration and damage and make sure the valves are still in serviceable condition; and
- Every 12 months return the jacket to your supplier for a complete overhaul.
A record must be kept of all inspections.
Life jacket safety lights,
if unused, should need no maintenance and can be stored indefinitely.