The importance of crotch straps
With spring upon us, it’s a great time to check your lifejackets before rushing into summer boating.
Safer Boating with Coastguard
Those of you with young children or grandchildren should check that the lifejacket that they used last season is still suitable. Young people not only grow out of their clothes and shoes – you may find that they can no longer fit the lifejacket they used last summer.
There are two main types of lifejackets on the market for recreational boaties: foam jackets with positive buoyancy, and inflatables that require air/co2 to provide buoyancy. Choose the type that is appropriate for the wearer and the type of boating you’re doing.
Inflatable lifejackets are wonderful pieces of kit – they’re comfortable to wear and provide plenty of buoyancy when activated. However, there are a couple of things to be aware of. First, they come in automatic and manual activation models, so you need to consider how the wearer would react to being unexpectedly in the water. Would they have the presence of mind to pull the toggle on a manual jacket?
Perhaps an auto-inflate or foam jacket might be more appropriate for younger wearers or novice boaties.
Secondly, inflatable jackets require an annual inspection to make sure that the bladder hasn’t been punctured, the gas canister hasn’t come loose, gone rusty or been accidentally activated and wrongly reassembled (as was the tragic case in the NZ military several years ago). There are some excellent youtube clips on servicing a lifejacket from New Zealand companies, but if in doubt, get your inflatable lifejacket professionally serviced.
Foam jackets should also be visually inspected to ensure they are in good condition with straps and clips in good order. Foam jackets are designed for different boating activities and provide various levels of buoyancy. Speak to your retailer or check out saferboating.org.nz to choose the right lifejacket for your boating needs.
When doing your checks, you may find that you have old, bulky lifejackets on your boat like the orange example pictured. These kapok-style jackets are UNSAFE and should not be used. With age they can absorb water and cause the wearer to sink. Cut these up and take them out of circulation, or else bring them to us and we’ll take them off your hands during our Old4new campaign kicking off in December (old4new.nz).
Which brings us to a small thing that can make a big difference: a simple crotch strap. Some lifejackets come with these as standard and others have them as an optional extra. The evidence is compelling – fitting a crotch strap will improve the performance of your lifejacket (Lunt, White & Tipton, 2014).
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission report on the Francie tragedy in November 2016 makes it clear that, “when a person wearing a lifejacket unexpectedly finds themselves in the water, their chances of surviving are significantly improved if the lifejacket is of the appropriate type for the conditions and size of the person, and is fitted with a crotch strap to prevent their losing it when it rides up and over their head.” If your lifejacket doesn’t have a crotch strap fitted, put it on your shopping list. If it’s good enough for Coastguard crew to use them, you’d be mad not to fit them to your lifejackets.
A lifejacket is an essential piece of boating safety equipment so don’t be tempted to skimp on costs and do remember to look after it. Buy a good quality jacket from a knowledgeable retailer and remember that one size doesn’t fit all, so make sure you’re getting competent advice.
Have a great build up to summer.
If your lifejacket doesn’t have a crotch strap fitted, put it on your shopping list.
ABOVE RIGHT Oldstyle kapok lifejackets are unsafe and should not be used.ABOVE An inflatable lifejacket should have a crotch strap fitted.