OK. OK. I know it's not exactly earth-shattering or new news. Most small boat sailors know that they should wear a "life jacket" or as they are known these days a Personal Flotation Device (or PFD). But there are two questions that merit further discussion...
- What kind of PFD should you wear?
- When should you wear it?
It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am quite anal about both these issues...
What kind of PFD should you wear?
In the US, the Coast Guard approves various "types" of PFD. The most popular and appropriate for Laser sailing is the Type III. These are intended for use "in calm water where there is good chance of fast rescue." They must provide at least 15.5 pounds of buoyancy but will generally not turn an unconscious person face-up.
Hmmm. Calm water? I don't always sail in calm water. Good chance of fast rescue? Not much chance of that if I'm off practicing on my own.
Anyway, for better or worse, that's what I choose. For the last three years I've been using a Lotus Lola which one of my sons bought me for Xmas in 2006 after some blogger dropped hints on the subject.
Some US Laser sailors wear PFD's that are not US Coast Guard approved. They may be somewhat less bulky than the USCG Type III PFDs; they may be more comfortable; they almost certainly provide less than the 15.5 lbs of buoyancy called for in the Type III spec. So why do I stick to Coast Guard approved jackets?
The reason is that some regattas in the US mandate USCG approved PFDs in the Sailing Instructions. I would always comply with such a rule. Those "other" Laser sailors who use non-USCG-approved PFDs don't always comply. I do because I feel that to blatantly ignore a requirement in the SIs is cheating. Call me anal if you like, but that's the way I am.
And if I'm going to have to wear a USCG-approved PFD in some regattas then I feel that I might as well wear the same PFD all the time, so that I become comfortable with it.
When should you wear a PFD?
Only in regattas? Only when sailing alone? Only in heavy winds?
This is another subject I'm pretty anal about. I wear it all the time I'm on the water, no exceptions.
Why is that?
Two reasons I guess.
The first is akin to the reason why I use a Type III PFD. If I'm going to have to wear some kind of PFD when I'm racing (almost always mandated by the SIs these days) then I figure I should wear it all the time even when I'm just practicing.
Only 4-5 knots of wind on a little puddle of lake in the middle of summer? Sure. I will wear my PFD in those conditions because I might be sailing a regatta in such a situation one day. If I wear the PFD when I'm practicing I might actually win such a regatta.
The second reason I got into the habit of always wearing my PFD on the water goes back to the days when I worked as a sailing instructor. One of the clubs at which I worked had a rule that all junior sailors had to wear life-jackets when sailing; but it was optional for adults. I always thought this was totally ridiculous. Many of the kids were better swimmers than the adults. And I thought it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to insist that my students had to wear PFDs if I didn't wear one myself. That's when I started wearing a PFD all the time on the water, even on a little puddle with no wind in the height of summer. To set a good example for the kids.
So that's my personal philosophy on PFDs. Pretty anal I know.
So how about you? What kind of PFD do you prefer? What's your personal policy of when you wear it and when you don't?