Choosing the right lifejacket for your child this summer is important.
The first of a three-part series on safety at sea, from lifejackets for kids and adults to safety equipment you should have on your boat.
KIDS WHO FLOAT
In Part One, we look at kids who float. When it comes to messing about in boats, there is an ever-present danger of drowning and yet it is probably the easiest thing to avoid. Making the right choice of a lifejacket for your child, could just about be the best present they get this summer.
There are several key points when purchasing a lifejacket for a child. Firstly, the garment must be a good fit and be the correct size for the body weight. This is perhaps the single most important consideration when buying and jacket, be it a full lifejacket, buoyancy vest or inflatable jacket. Never buy a jacket that your child will grow into. It MUST fit now!
There are documented cases where children have died because the jackets they were wearing were too large and they simply slipped out of them and drowned.
Because children vary in their shape, they can be thin, short or tall and yet still weigh the same, so it is vital that time is spent trying on different brands and types. The garment must also suit the activity the child will be doing and above all must be comfortable. For example, a canoeing jacket has a shorter waist and a water skiing jacket has stronger reinforcing for protection in a fall.
Comfort is an important consideration, because if the jacket isn’t comfortable the child will not want to wear it. If it fits snugly, then often you’ll find yourself reminding your child to take it off as they walk away up the beach from the boat. It should also be easy to get on and off and allow freedom of movement both in and out of the water.
It should also fit so snugly that it does not have a tendency to “ride-up” when in the water. Fastenings should be durable and not prone to corrosion, with zips made of plastic and not metal. Colour choice is also something to consider as bright contrasting colours aid location during a rescue. The most effective colours are orange and yellow. Retro-reflective tape can aid nighttime searches. Carrying a waterproof strobelight or torch is even better. Jackets should also be able to dry quickly and be covered with a UV-resistant material that willwithstand the harsh environment of New Zealand’s coastline.
The only acceptable material to provide the actual buoyancy for non-inflatable lifejackets is closed cell buoyancy foam. If you are offered an old second-hand jacket with kapok or ‘bean-bag’ type buoyancy, accept it graciously and put it in the rubbish bin. If you have any like this still hanging in the shed or tucked away under the forward squabs of the boat, get rid of them. Age and neglect are their worst enemies and within time the kapok type will become water logged and could act more like a sea anchor than a floater!
The S Mark
You will notice that most jackets carry the S Mark, which means that the jacket has passed all the requirements to meet a predetermined standards approval, as set down by Standards New Zealand and carried out by an official testing body. This body has been given the task to test thoroughly buoyancy aids to a set Standard and issue (or not) the S mark. If you see this, then you can be assured that the jacket in question has been given the best possible test and passed all necessary requirements to meet the purpose for which it was designed.
However, many of the inflatable lifejackets were ‘accepted’ by Maritime NZ as meeting the requirements of NZ55823:2001, based on international Standards certification, so in this case they will not have an S mark, but will still be accepted.
The Standard sets out general and specific requirements for most types of buoyancy aids for boating and water skiing, but not for lifejackets, buoyancy vests and buoyancygarments for persons under 10 kg.
Lifejackets mean any device designed to assist a person to remain afloat in water until rescue is effected. These are classified into a number of different designations, but for the purpose of this article we will look at three – in-shore waters lifejackets, buoyancy vests and inflatable jackets. Standards approved lifejackets are classified according to the wearer’s body weight, with children’s sizes divided into three size categories: Child Extra Small (10 kg to 15 kg / 2-5 years old), Child Small (12 kg to 25 kg / 4-8 years old) and Child Medium (22 kg to 40 kg / 6-12 years old).
As there is no lifejacket Standard for children under 10 kg, due to difficulties in testing, but some manufacturers offerInfants (3-18 months) and Toddler (1-3 years) sizes which are tested in accordance with the performance criteria of the Standard but cannot carry certification.
The Right Support
These jackets have buoyancy foam concentrated in front of the jacket to support the child in the water, but shaped away from the neck area for the infant’s comfort. A small amount of buoyancy is provided at the top of the back also and they usually come with additional adjustment and crotch straps.
In-shore lifejackets are singularly the biggest and most popular category with a wide range to choose from. An in-shore lifejacket is described as a lifejacket worn on the body, which is intended to maintain the wearer in a safe floating position and for use in in-shore waters where early rescue may be anticipated.
An approved lifejacket should support your child in a head-up position with the nose and mouth well clear of the water. A Standards approved jacket will have a highly visible exterior coloured fabric and all the shrink-resistant webbing (straps) is designed to resist rolling and twisting when in use. The webbing tapes and cords also have to be securely fastened to or incorporated in the lifejacket.
A buoyancy vest or garment has less buoyancy than a lifejacket, is less bulky and offers greater freedom of movement for active watersports. The wearer generally floats lower in the water, in a near-vertical position, without any significant head support. They are not designed to turn the wearer to a safe floating position. They also carry similar requirements as the lifejacket in regards to materials, webbing, buckles, etc.
An inflatable lifejacket is just what it says, it inflates and in the case of children should do it automatically on immersion in the water. An acceptable rate of full inflation is within 5 seconds of submersion in water. While being the most expensive option they are the least cumbersome and offer the most buoyancy. In fact when inflated they provide around twice as much buoyancy as that of a conventional lifejacket.
However an inflatable jacket will not work if the buoyancy bladder is punctured, or the gas bottle is empty, so it is important that you have it serviced on a regular basis.
Care & Attention
When not being worn or in use, lifejackets should be ready at hand. It is a recommendation by Coastguard and Water Safety New Zealand that lifejackets not only be carried aboard the boat at all times, but they should also be worn. Most local bodies have bylaws requiring lifejackets to be worn at all times on a boat 6m or less. Adults should set a good example by doing the same all of the time. Today’s lifejackets are comfortable and stylish, so there is no excuse not to wear them.
When the vessel is not in use, buoyancy aids should be stored out of the weather, in a dry, well-ventilated position, not in direct sunlight and away from any direct heat source. They should be stowed away from harmful chemicals such as battery acid, fuels and oils. They should also not be subject to misuse by floating in bilges and if wet they should be dried before being stowed away.
If they do get dirty just use warm soapy water to clean them, or if you need to use a solvent check first with the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the use of solvents as some can have an adverse effect on the garment’s materials.
Making the right choice may not always be as simple as you think, especially if you are not buying the jacket from a reputable and knowledgeable retailer. Most marine shops have staff who are trained to help you make that right choice, and their advice should be followed.
However, today lifejackets are also sold throughout other outlets and invariably it’s a case of making your choice. While the jackets more often than not carry full Standards approval or are the same reputable brands as you would purchase from a marine retailer, it’s a case of buyer beware!
Try It At Home
Once you have chosen the jacket and got it home, at the first possible occasion, get your child to try it out in the water. Bernard Orme of Hutchwilco, says “This not only benefits everyday activity in the water, but will prepare the child should an emergency ever arise. It is our recommendation that you try to get your child to wear the lifejacket while in the water as often as possible, maybe in place of pool toys likewater wings that are commonplace nowadays. We haven’t got anything against them. It’s just that by wearing the lifejacket more frequently, the child becomes more confident with one on. This develops a responsible attitude to the wearing of lifejackets as they grow up.”
In choosing any life jacket, you should always consider that there is enough buoyancy to float your child with their head and shoulders out of the water. It must not have a tendency to turn and hold your child in a face down position in the water.
Also, lifejackets should not have a tendency to turn people back onto their faces, which is something that can happen with toddlers and infants, especially as often their length to weight ratio makes them too buoyant above the waist.
Choosing the right lifejacket for your child this summer is important, so make certain you make the right choice and not one that you may live to regret!
In part two of our three-part series on Safety Essentials, we look at the many styles of adult lifejackets and buoyancy aids.