For those doing offshore racing, comes the requirement to have life jackets equipped with sprayhoods on board. As of May 2, the new World Sailing Offshore Special Regulations came into effect, which require the mandatory provision of a cap on the life jacket: an understandable choice because in high winds it is easier for water to mist over sea level, making breathing arduous without adequate protection. The regulations apply to offshore classes 0 to 3, so, to understand, from those who do the Vendée Globe to those who launch in the Giraglia.
Usually, the full hood is made of soft, transparent material, is attached to the jacket and is able to maintain a higher temperature inside than outside, maximizing the chances of survival in the water.
ABOUT AUTO INFLATABLES
By the way, whether you have yet to buy a self-inflating model or already own one, here is everything you need to know. In Italy, compared to countries characterized by a more developed seafaring culture such as France and England, the yachtsman often underestimates some details that are at first glance insignificant, but in extreme conditions could prove decisive. How to choose one’s jacket correctly so as to maximize one’s chances of survival in the midst of the sea?
CHOOSE THE RIGHT MODEL
Italy recently introduced mandatory 150-Newton self-inflating life jackets for newly registered boats. The market for self-inflators has expanded greatly in recent years, with more varied models and prices, which is why you need to pay special attention to choosing the right one for you. When purchasing, wear it to ensure congruence with your chest capacity and that the space between your armpit and the closure strap is not too large to prevent the vest (which exerts an upward thrust opposite to that of your body) from slipping off your head once you fall into the water. Models with a built-in safety-line attachment hook and that have a collar made of neoprene or similar materials are also preferred: when you wear the vest, the collar comes into contact with the skin, which releases grease. Grease is rubber’s worst enemy (a coating of latex usually holds the inner tube in place), so if your collar has no protection, remember, when using it, to put on a turtleneck shirt.
Finally, carefully consider your sailing plans: if you face sailings outside the Mediterranean, you may need a model with a larger inflation chamber (above the “canonical” 150 N) equipped with sprayhood, because in high winds it is easier for water to mist over sea level, making breathing arduous without adequate protection. Do not be frightened if the inner tube is not regular in shape, but has one side more developed than the other: this is not a manufacturing defect, but rather facilitates straightening with face to the sky in case of falling into the sea in an unconscious state. Of particular importance is the presence or absence of a thigh strap, which is absent in the cheaper models.You can make it yourself by sewing a webbing in the back of the vest and tying it to the safety-line hook with a lover’s gash. Check that the seams of the straps are a different color than the straps themselves, so that you can nimbly check their state of wear.
WITH TABLET OR HYDROSTATIC?
Commercially, if you take away the manually inflating models (similar to those you find on airplanes), there are two types of self-inflating vests: With canister and salt tablet or hydrostatic. The former have a tablet inside them that dissolves on contact with water, acting as a “detonator” for the canister, which is usually activated after a couple of seconds. Very effective, they are sensitive to moisture so they need special maintenance: in winter remove them from board, take out canister and tablet and rinse with fresh water. You can leave them in the boat if you want, but only if unarmed. Hydrostatic-type jackets are equipped with a special slot calibrated to open to a predetermined depth (no more than 30 centimeters). They have the advantage of not swelling even if you are hit by buckets of water, but their maintenance is difficult (you are better off outsourcing it to skilled labor) and the costs are higher.
At the end of each season, it is a good idea to perform a check on the inflatable: open the jacket by acting on the Velcro closure or Velcro, take out the canister and salt tablet inside, and manually inflate the inner tube. Do this using an inflator (camping “dome” ones will do just fine) and not by mouth, because your breath contains moisture that could ruin the rubber. Once inflated, place it on a counter and make sure it stays perfectly inflated for at least 12 hours. If it loses volume during this time, smear it with soap to check that the deflation is actually caused by a leak (and not a change in air temperature): if so, do not proceed with a repair but replace the entire inner tube.