PFDs [Life Vests and related survival gear; Updated Jan-2018]

This is part of a series describing some of our common boat gear choices.

We refer to these often not only for our own use, but also when asked specific questions about systems on Denali Rose, and when participating in discussions on various forums.

We aren't implying our choices are the best or only way to go; they just happen to be the decisions we made.

And since we mention electronics attached to our PFDs, in the future our choices in this post may become dated and/or obsolete, so we will endeavor to keep this information current regarding what we have and use, and what we are researching/considering for the future.


––––––––– Updated 6-Jan-2018 [by Bill] –––––––––
[Updated the list of items each person has with them when wearing PFD.]

In late 2013 we evaluated inflatable PFD/harness combinations and decided the Spinlock Deckvest Pro 5D PFDs met our needs best [and are very comfortable to wear for long periods of time.] 

And as of Jan 2018, these are still our first choice after reviewing other available options.




You have a choice of two different auto-inflation mechanisms; Pro and Hammer:

  • Hammer is a hydrostatic release for extreme conditions. [Like on a life raft or auto deploying EPIRB.] The vest is inflated when submerged in 10cm of water for a few seconds. 
  • Pro is the type of activation most of us are familiar with: a pellet quickly dissolves and caused the vest to inflate soon after hitting the water.
    • Can be converted to manual only by installing a reasonably priced kit.
  • Both have manual rip cord inflation, and oral inflation.

We chose the Pro sensor type for convenience [quick change outs] and [to a lesser extent] because re-arm kits are half the price of the Hammer kits.

But what about the vest accidentally inflating in the rain or if struck by green water on deck?

The following video helped convinced us we would be fine with the Pro sensors, and we have been:




We also have well fitting non-inflatable PFDs and separate harnesses, so we have flexibility for different situations. 

However, our Spinlock 5D inflatables still get the most wear because: [from the Spinlock website...]
  • Very light, comfortable design for use over long periods
  • Compact and unobtrusive
  • Pylon Light™ – high intensity, water activated flashing LED Light. 23cm flexible antenna wand gives improved visibility above head & water
  • Lume-On™ - Lifejacket bladder illumination lights included
  • Deck safety harness with soft loop safety line attachment point
  • Double crotch straps
  • Sprayhood - to reduce the risk of secondary drowning
  • Quick access emergency safety line cutter
  • Toggle attachment point for Chest Pack - DW-PCC (170N only)
  • Now available in 3 colours: Black, Pacific Blue, Tropic White
  • Unique ‘Shoulder Fit System’ flexes and locates ensuring correct fit on shoulders every time
  • New back adjustment – hidden and non snag for easy, simple adjustment
  • Easily converts to ‘manual only’ firing head with a Manual Conversion Kit
  • Through Life Support (TLS) Registration extends product warranty to 5 years


Testing the PFD fit and our installation of the first generation of the Smartfind AIS POB beacon. [Yellow device with short, grey antenna. Note the built-in Pylon light above my right shoulder. Today we would buy the Oceansignal MOB1 with AIS and VHF DSC capability.]

These POB beacons auto-activate when the vest inflates. [In this case using a tire pump, not orally. We don't want to introduce moisture inside the bladder each time we test the PDFs...]


Oh, and since you are wondering; we gave ourselves these PFDs and AIS beacons for Christmas while at home that year, so these photos were shot on our 'other' deck...


Sea hood up [some would argue this is the better picture...] Yes, the hood has quarter-sized holes along the bottom and a couple up top to let air in and water out. The idea is to avoid being waterboarded if floating in inclement conditions... [Note: the AIS beacon antenna is still correctly deployed with the hood up, albeit closer to the wearer's face...]



Do we carry anything else with our PFDs besides the MOB beacon?

We also have the Spinlock Belt Packs for securely carrying additional gear on our person [independent of wearing the PFD] including: 
  • DSC VHF [floating and water activated]
  • PLB [Ours has a manually deployed antenna. We practice deploying the antenna one handed in case of injury; e.g., bite the top and pull...]
  • Aerial flairs [small; waterproof; manually deployed i.e., no gun needed...]
  • LED diving light [Uses replaceable lithium batteries; has high/low and strobe function]
  • Signaling Laser [Alternates between belt packs and ditch bags]
  • Small plastic signaling mirror
  • Inflatable marker buoy [Add reflective tape to top; this can alternatively be unrolled and folded in with the PFD bladder when repacking. Attach with short length of small line.]
    • AKA SCUBA Sausage
    • Also serves as moderate emergency flotation
    • Like a personal DanBuoy
    • Can also be used as a short streamer in the water
  • Knife of choice
  • Storm Whistle [Very loud (Your ears will ring...); even works underwater]
  • Micro survival kit [latitude dependent; firestarter, etc.]
  • Etc. 
All of these items are secured in the pouch [using various lanyards] so they cannot float away... [The VHF radio has its own holster as noted above...]

Everything we mount to our belt [e.g., belt pouch and radio holster] is positioned so it can be moved [slid on belt] to be reachable with either left or right hand in case one hand/arm is injured. [Practice!]


Why carry all this? Because we play in some pretty remote areas where we might not see another person or vessel for days, even weeks at a time...

Lets walk through some scenarios where one of us becomes seperated from the mothership. [e.g., MOB, shore excursion, dinghy or kayak trip, UFO abduction, etc.]

MOB [Man(kind) Overboard] Scenario: 
Note: The following sequence of events applies from #2 on for non-MOB situations. e.g., kayakers, away teams, hikers, kidnappings, etc.
  1. Upon falling into the water, the following sequence of events all happen automatically:
    1. Our PFD inflates a few seconds after we hit the water
    2. The Pilon light deploys above the head [out of site] of the MOB and begins flashing
      1. It has an off switch so the MOB can manually turn it off if is not needed [e.g., bright daylight]
    3. The Lume-On lights automatically activate, making the bladders of the PFD glow brightly
    4. The MOB beacon automatically activates 
      1. This alerts our own, and any other boat in the area with an AIS receiver that there is a MOB [Alarms sound on modern AIS receivers and integrated chart plotters]
      2.  After ~30 seconds, the MOB beason sends the MOB GPS position so it shows on all AIS and chart plotters. 
      3. The MOB GPS position is updated every 15 seconds after that, for the duration of the time the MOB beacon is activated. [24 hour minimum battery life]  
      4. With the MOB1 beacon, a VHF DSC Individual Distress Relay call is also made to one's own ship DSC VHF radio, also sounding built-in alarms in the radio.  
        1. In the USA: [each country has it's own regulations...]  30 minutes after the initial activation of the MOB beason, a Group [i.e., all station] DSC MOB call is made alerting other vessels with DSC VHF radios turned on.
    5. The handheld VHF radio automatically turns itself on to channel 16 and activates a flashing light [to facilitate finding it if dropped overboard...]
  2. For a MOB situation, all of the above things have all happened automatically in the first few seconds after hitting the water. 
    1. Now the MOB [or kayaker/hiker, abductee, etc.] has the additional options of:
    2. Using the hand held VHF radio [which already turned itself on if in the water]
      1. This enables the MOB to hail their own boat, and any other boat within communication distance 
        1. 2-4 miles realistically since the antenna is barely above water level
        2. Possibly slightly more if at a higher elevation on land
      2. The MOB can also place VHF DSC calls to their own, or all vessels
      3. They can also activate the SOS button on the radio to broadcast an All Stations DSC SOS message which includes their GPS position
    3. Using the flashlight for signaling, etc.
    4. Using the laser signal or signaling mirror
    5. Blowing the Storm Whistle
    6. Firing off arial flairs
    7. Deploying the SCUBA Sausage buoy to further improve their visibility [land or water]
    8. Activating the PLB [e.g., in a case where the mother ship was obliterated by a meteor, is choosing to reduce the crew count, or there are no responses received/heard...]


What about flying with our PFDs and/or rearming kits?

Spinlock has a section on their site regarding Int'l flight considerations. 

We have only flown in the US with ours [so far...] and had no issues. 
For US domestic flights, we always check the MyTSA site (or app on our smartphones...) before flying... 
The "Can I bring...?" section is pretty handy for a quick sanity check. 
e.g., A quick check in June-2016 revealed we can fly with a life vest with up to 2 CO2 cartridges built-in, and 2 spare cartridges/rearming kits.
How do we like them now that we have used them a few years?

Very much. These are still our first choice, and have held up well passing all tests each year. 

These are still the most comfortable PFDs we own. [And we have some nice ones...] We wouldn't hesitate to replace them with the same thing when the time comes. [But of course we will objectively research the options first...] 

Have you found something better that you like even more? 



Similar Inflatable PFDs that you might want to consider: [All with a built-in harness]


Other POB Safety Devices We Have and Use:
Related Resources: [in no particular order...]

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