Monday, May 07, 2007

CO2 inflated lifejackets - a warning

Compass Lifejacket - can also be operated manually!

Han and Arie Kreuk sent a safety warning yesterday concerning the use of CO2 inflated lifejackets with seakayaking. Because it's of general interest, I republish it here. Han and Arie reported of an accident two weeks ago with a paddler wearing an inflatable lifejacket. As the paddler capsized, the lifejacket was immediately automatically inflated -> before the paddler was able to leave his cockpit. As a result of this, the buoyancy of the lifejacket pushed him (under water, upside down) against the rear deck of the kayak. He had a great struggle getting out. It was a narrow escape.
Han and Arie concluded that using an automatically inflatable lifejacket is potentially dangerous in kayaking.

Only a few Dutch seakayakers use an inflatable lifejacket. As a matter of fact: I never met a Dutch seakayaker using one (and I come along quit a lot in the Dutch seakayak-scene ;-). In Germany and Denmark I have seen some seakayakers using one, but still a minority. Inflatable lifejackets offer obvious pros though:
- a giant flotation capacity, it's a real lifejacket that keeps the wearer independently floating face out of the water, even if unconscious;
- comfortable and compact to wear;
- great free body movement;
- due to mass production really affordable.
(Though the CE-standards order an automatic release within 10 seconds after immersion, most inflatable Lifejackets can also be manually operated, or the automatic system can be disabled)

Yet I personally stick to my classic kayak-PFD. It's not only a flotation device but also:
- an always present body warmer (only on really hot days that's a minus);
- my personal crash zone: 3 cm of foam offers a lot of protection against the impact of seakayak-bows, paddle-tips and so on;
- the perfect place to stow away a lot of little gear (I like a lot of pockets on the PFD);
- a hydration device (with a camelback in the rear pocket);
- and it requires hardly any maintenance.

There are a lot of different kayak-PFD's on the market. But it's difficult to find one that matches all wishes (compact, not bulky ergonomic design, useable front-pockets, big rear, pocket, zipper in the front, etc.). The result is always a compromise.

Kotatat offers an interesting hybrid solution: a PFD with the extra safety of a inflatable lifejacket. Looks interesting, but lacks the minimal design of a standard inflatable lifejacket.

Kokatat Advertisement-text:
Kokatat introduces the SeaO2, the first UL approved, hybrid-inflatable life vest designed for paddlesports. The lightweight, comfortable design looks similar to many full foam life vests currently on the market; features include generous pocket capacity, 3M reflective highlights, multiple side adjustments, and an open back design accommodates the taller seat backs found in many kayaks. Unlike any other life vest, the SeaO2 incorporates a "hidden" flotation chamber within the body of the vest. In an emergency, the life vest's inherent 7.5 lbs. of flotation can be immediately boosted to 22.5 lbs. by releasing the contents of the CO2 cartridge. An oral inflate/deflate tube allows the user to adjust the amount of flotation on the fly, and the flotation chamber can be inflated, deflated and rearmed without removing the life vest. Swimming while the life vest is fully inflated is also possible. Three CO2 cylinders and three arming pins included.

Typical Dutch: I am miles behind again: Wenley reported already half a year ago about this Kokatat PFD. Btw: Lots of turtles in the kayak-blogs: Wenley, Michael, Hans.


Michael said...

Interesting post, Hans! Like you I don't know anyone who has one of these, but those who do need to be warned of the possible problem that exists. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Why would you consider to have a participant in a group with such a device? I would not have accepted this in my group.
Everybody knows the disadvantages of these PFD's.
In case of emergency, somebody has to pull the string, no insulation, no shock absorption in case of a collision etc.

Hans said...

Hi Anonymous!
You are right!
I have never had a participant in my groups with an inflatable PDF. For Arie and Han it was the first time, and that resulted in this warning. I fully agree with the disadvantages you name. I do advise any seakayaker to use a classic PDF, or even better: a hybrid solution like the Kokatat. And I will think twice (regarding the circumstances) before I accept an participant with an inflatable PDF in one of my groups.
Finally I want this subject down to consideration on this years meeting of the NKB-seakayak-coaches.