PFDs [Life Vests; Updated May-2017]

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 18-May-2017 [by Bill] –––––––––


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 May 2017, 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...]

We also recommend the Spinlock Belt Packs for securely carrying additional gear. [e.g., VHF, flairs, flashlight, etc.]

We installed the first generation AIS transmitters when we received our vests. Today I wouldn't hesitate to order one with a factory installed MOB1 which is AIS and VHF DSC [DSC auto to own ship, manual to ALL ships...]

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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