This article provides some useful information for life jacket users which may help you self Service your Lifejacket.
RT Supplies has put together a Lifejacket Rearming Kit Guide as many lifejacket users don’t fully understand their inflator and which kit and parts are applicable to their inflator.
This information is to help you identify your inflator, understand a little bit more about it and be able to work out your requirements to bring your device back in to use.
Click on this link or access the information through the RTS Homepage.
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.
The Flotation Device Standards appear complicated but in reality they are fairly straight forward. They are linked to a level of Buoyancy declared in Newtons and the higher the level of Newtons Buoyancy, the greater the uplift that the device will give in the water.
You may see the standards declared as EN (European Norm) ISO (International Standards and some declared with the BS (British Standards) in a combination eg BS EN 396. For the purposes of this information I will refer to them as EN.
EN Standards quoted can be either the old 3 figure standard eg EN396 or the new standard EN12402-3. A device with the old standard EN396 would be quite acceptable. The differences between the old and new standard are relatively minor technical changes. Each level declares a buoyancy eg EN396 is 150N, but that may not be the actual buoyancy. A children’s EN396 device will almost certainly give less than 150N ACTUAL buoyancy and many adult ones may give more, but they meet the testing requirements of EN396 150N.
EN393 / EN12402-5 is the 50N standard and the devices are fixed buoyancy. These devices are for use mainly in sheltered waters, where help is close at hand and the wearer should be a competent swimmer. They may also be used when a more bulky or higher buoyancy device may actually create problems for the wearer or active water sports such as Jet Skiing. These might be used by an angler or canoeist.
EN395 / EN12402-4 is the 100N standard and the devices are fixed buoyancy. They are aimed at the same user as the EN393 but due to the extra fixed buoyancy they can be more bulky but offer a more substantial option for calm waters. They can be used by non-swimmers.
EN396 / EN12402-3 is the 150N standard. These are designed for both inshore and offshore in all but the most severe conditions. They are designed to self-right the wearer in the water. They can be made out of foam such as the emergency jackets seen on ferries, but are typically the inflatable jackets. They can be supplied with manual and automatic inflation options.
EN399 / EN12402-2 is the 275N standard. These are designed for offshore and severe conditions. They are designed to self-right the wearer in the water. They can be supplied with manual and automatic inflation. They are also more appropriate for users who may be carrying extra weight, such as a tool belt.
Both the EN396/12402-3 and EN399/12402-2 are designed to self-right the wearer in the water which can be particularly important if the wearer has lost consciousness or are unable to turn themselves for any reason. HOWEVER users have to understand that this self-righting is not guaranteed and often other factors may hamper the lifejackets efforts to turn the wearer in the water such as:
- Incorrectly secured lifejacket. Is it tight enough? Is the buckle securely fastened? Yes I have seen wearers who slip on their jacket and don’t fasten it. Lifejackets need to be fastened properly.
- Wearing an additional buoyancy device. I’ve seen many 150N or 275N lifejackets worn over EN 393 fixed buoyancy clothing, sometimes a jacket only, but also a flotation suit or 2 piece option. The problem with this is that the EN393 buoyancy acts first, as soon as the wearer hits the water and then the auto inflate lifejacket acts a few seconds later. By the time the lifejacket has inflated, the wearer may be flat on the surface like a piece of driftwood. The lifejacket relies on the feet and legs dropping in the water to aid the self-righting of the wearer so additional buoyancy, particularly below the waist may hamper the turning effect.
- Heavy waterproof clothing can affect the turning mechanism. It counteracts it in a way similar to the EN393 flotation clothing mentioned above. Waterproof clothing will create it’s own buoyancy when the wearer goes in the water. Air will be trapped and this trapped air may well have an affect on the self-righting of the wearer.
Whilst resistance to the turning mechanism is something to be aware of, it is still much better to wear a lifejacket. Assess your own circumstances and decide which level is best for you before you go on to select.
SOLAS is the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea and is looked after by the IMO – International Maritime Organisation. SOLAS lifejackets have slightly different requirements to a EN lifejacket and are usually available as 275N options, although some 150N options are available.
The main difference is that a SOLAS device will have 2 chambers. So when you look at the bladder laid flat out it will have a front chamber and a back chamber. It will therefore have 2 inflators, one which is attached to the front and one to the back. So a SOLAS lifejacket is a heavier, bulkier lifejacket as it will have an inflator on both left and right hand side of the horseshoe jacket. It will also have the additional centre layer of material to separate the chambers. Both chambers would usually inflate together but that doesn’t mean 550+ N of buoyancy. Each chamber is fitted with an overpressure valve so excess CO2 escapes during inflation.
There are some other differences such as compulsory provision of a SOLAS light, a buddy line and more stringent requirements on the servicing.
The idea behind the twin chamber is that it one fails to inflate, there is a second chamber. There may also be a quicker inflation as a result of the 2nd inflator, as the water may reach that side first.
SOLAS lifejackets are mainly found in the commercial sector and with companies that are involved in International Shipping, Oil & Gas, Offshore Wind etc.
After 16 months in business as RTS as well as my previous 4 years working in the marine sector supplying specialist workwear and lifejackets, it has become clear to me that many lifejacket users have a lack of understanding of their kit, particularly the private user.
What Inflator mechanism does the jacket use? I often get advised that a customer has ordered the wrong rearming kit.
What size cylinder? Does the cylinder have an expiry date?
What type of lifejacket should I buy? 150N or 275N, Single Chamber or Twin Chamber? What do the EN numbers refer to?
So I’m going to start working my way through various topics and put out the information that I have gained in my time and would welcome contributions from others. I intend to keep it simple. For those that want more detail or depth, there are many options.