Could an inflatable life jacket be the perfect PFD for you and your crew? For a long time the USCG wouldn’t approve them, but now inflatables are becoming common.
Just take a look at this one, which happens to be attached to my 11 year old son David. (Oh, and he just happens to be holding his first bluefin tuna… not that I’m super-awesome-mega proud about it or anything). The belt pack Dave is wearing is about the size of a brick, and it weighs barely a pound. He – and everyone who steps aboard my boat for a day offshore – wears one of these little gems, and never complains. I wear them myself, and can attest to the fact that you hardly even notice you have one on. In fact, more than once people have stepped off my boat at the end of the day, and forgot they even had it on until they sat down in their car.
How well does a belt pack like this work? Yank on the yellow tab, and it turns into a fully-inflated PFD in under five seconds. All you have to do is duck your head inside the collar, and boom: you’re floating. Some other models have water-activated inflation, and suspender-types don’t even require you to duck into the collar.
So back to the original question: are these things perfect PFDs? Nah – if an inflatable life jacket was “perfect,” it would cost five bucks and activate before you hit the water. Unfortunately, these little packs can be quite pricey ($60 to $120 on average) and most models do require some effort on your part to function properly. Still they’re a whole lot better than an average PFD, and about 10,000 times better than those old orange things we used to torture our kids with. So give an inflatable life jacket a try. You might just discover it’s a whole lot more comfortable and effective than you thought – and it might even help you catch a bluefin tuna.