Lifejacket safety clinic reveals concerning shortcomings

Lifeboats News Release

Special safety checks the day before the Round the Island Race, indicated that many lifejackets aboard yachts may not be as effective as their crews assumed.

Group of those assessing the lifejackets.

RNLI/George Chastney

The clinic team: (left to right) Tony Reeve, Emma Davies, Helly Hansen Cowes Store Manager, Graham White, CSA Cowes, and Richard Nichols, Helly Hansen Marketing Co-Ordinator

On Friday 6 July Cowes RNLI Lifeboat Station teamed up with sports gear manufacturers Helly Hansen to provide a free lifejacket clinic at the company’s marquee on Cowes Yacht Haven. It was found that of the 32 lifejackets examined no fewer than 75 percent failed safety tests.

“Maybe the take up was low because little wind was forecast for the race,” said the lifeboat station’s Community Safety Officer, Tony Reeve. “Then there was world cup football.

“Those who did attend, however, were rather surprised at what was revealed behind the never-opened fastenings on their lifejackets. Out of the 32, two were condemned outright, with one having a rusted and corroded Co2 cylinder, barely able to inflate the jacket’s buoyancy bladder.

“Fourteen had out-of-date inflation systems, the worst having expired in March, 2008. Six jackets were missing crotch straps and two had no saddle clips.”

So the final count was that of the 32 examined, 24 were deficient in some way.

“Some may not appreciate that fabric is significantly affected by salt water,” added Tony. “Any defects in life jackets can be revealed by them being regularly opened and inspected, and through manual inflation. Our hope is that this vital message reaches everyone who use lifejackets.”

By way of an incentive to submit their lifejackets for inspection at the event, the first 30 were given a free coastal lifejacket by Helly Hanson. Local chandlers were also subsequently visited by yachtsmen to seek out replacement parts.

Despite the relatively small number taking advantage of the lifejacket examination, Tony still firmly believed the exercise was well worthwhile, and was very grateful for the assistance of Helly Hansen. More clinics are planned for Cowes Classic Week on 23-29 July and Cowes Week between 4–11 August. “There will be an increased uptake as the message gets around,” he predicted.

Station Operations Officer Mark Southwell said: "Life jackets are now well designed and comfortable to wear and their use is increasing. Tony's team are all volunteers, giving up their time to help the wider boating public understand why maintenance is so important.

“It can be all to easy to assume lifejackets are always up to the job, but just like smoke alarms in our homes, they need to be regularly checked. Someone’s life could well depend on it!”

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The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

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