NB. Updated early 2021 based on changes to products.
Do you consider which lifejacket inflator is in your lifejacket when you make the purchase?
Most lifejacket brands market themselves as the best at what they do and why wouldn’t they? So how do you the user wade through all the information and decide which type of lifejacket to purchase? Lifejackets are a bit like cars. Manufacturers have several different makes and then within those makes they have subcategories with slightly different buoyancy levels, features and inflation mechanisms.
There are 3 commonly found makes of lifejacket inflator and they are used by most lifejacket manufacturers. These are
- Halkey Roberts – a US Manufacturer (HR).
- United Moulders – a UK Manufacturer (UML).
- Hammar – a Swedish Manufacturer.
All have manual options as well as automatic options.
Manual Options are straight forward as you pull the toggle and the lifejacket inflates. It has the additional backup of an oral inflation tube.
Automatic Options are also straightforward. You fall in the water and the lifejacket inflates. It has the additional backup of manual toggle and oral inflation tube.
The HR and UML Auto inflators work in a similar way. They have a capsule that dissolves on contact with water and then releases a pin to pierce the CO2 cylinder and inflate the bladder.
The Hammar is a hydrostatic device that requires water pressure to initiate inflation.
All three makes have minor pros and cons which I may deal with in a later post, but my preference is for the HR and UML method and they are the most widely used in the UK.
A few brands of lifejacket have developed their own inflators which are only available in their make of jackets. Some have versions of existing inflators that have been slightly redesigned eg. with a slightly different clip or screw thread.
So how do you pick which one and should you even consider the lifejacket inflator type?
The first consideration is whether you need manual or auto inflate. Manual inflate might be for someone who is often immersed in water and for whom an auto inflate would mean constant inflation and re-arming. You need to consider as well though that in cold water it isn’t always easy to initiate manual inflation.
Once you have decided whether auto or manual, ongoing costs are one factor you should consider as in the main all three common makes are pretty good inflators. A simple internet search will identify that you can buy unbranded re-arming kits for HR and UML inflators in many places at competitive prices. Branded re-arming kits are usually more expensive, sometimes double the price. Many branded spares are often just standard HR or UML Spares nicely packaged in a blister pack or on a header card.
My preference is for a device fitted with a Halkey Roberts such as the V90000 Apha Auto or a United Moulders device such as the UML5 or Pro Sensor Elite, unless I have a good reason not to. If I keep the lifejacket for several years it may well save me more than the original price of the lifejacket in ongoing maintenance and replacement parts.
Both makes are simple and relatively inexpensive to re-arm and very reliable systems and spares for all of these 3 inflators are widely accessible.
I would avoid devices like the Hammar and Halkey’s Pro1F. Most devices use a standard screw in CO2 cylinder. The Hammar, Pro1F and a few other devices have glued on plastic attachments which means finding spares is often quite difficult, especially if travelling overseas with your jacket.
It isn’t that there is anything specifically wrong with these inflator types, but you need to consider the options available and work out which best suits your requirements.
I would also avoid jackets that have Chinese inflators inside. Whilst they are almost certainly tested to the appropriate standards, the Chinese manufacturers tend not to have a service parts supply chain set up, so you get a nice new jacket, quite a cheap price, but if you lose a clip, or have an inflation, you might not be able to get it back in to service easily.
These inflators often crop up now as Chinese manufacturers have listings on Ebay and Alibaba, and also some European angling and fishing wholesalers are buying small quantities direct from Chinese manufacturers without having the backup service option in place.
So before buying, make sure you know what inflator is inside and you are happy that you have access to the service parts for that jacket.