Automatic or Manual Life Jacket: Which is the best choice for you?

Modern inflatable life jackets have revolutionised our capacity to be safe and comfortable on the water. Thanks to their sleek design, we can enjoy freedom of movement while doing what we love best – all with the peace of mind that we are safeguarded, should we take an unexpected dunk! If you are planning on purchasing an inflatable life jacket, you may have been left scratching your head over what many deem the great question: is an automatic or manual life jacket the right choice for you? To shed some light on the issue, allow us to break down the ins and outs of what defines each option. Fundamentally, alongside looking stylish, your life jacket is your greatest ally when it comes to safety, so let us make sure your purchase leads to a match made in heaven!

The Self Inflating Lifejacket

Where traditional foam lifejackets tended to be cumbersome and bulky, inflatable lifejackets deliver a highly wearable PFD – or personal floatation device. This is thanks to their clever design, which relies on a CO2 canister with the capacity to fill the lifejacket in an emergency situation. Air bladders featured on the lifejacket disappear neatly when it is worn, creating the experience of wearing a minimal and lightweight accessory. However, when the CO2 cartridge is activated, your inflatable lifejacket will keep you safe and afloat in the water!

Studies have revealed that the excellent wearability of inflatable lifejackets mean that sailors, and other water-faring folk, are far more likely to wear their lifejackets, rather than just stashing them onboard. The compact form of these lifejackets, when not deployed, also makes them ideal for storing when returning to dry land. Thanks to that tiny tank of CO2, you won't have to do the work of inflating your lifejacket should you find yourself in the drink. So, the decision to make is whether your ideal PFD will feature a manual release – with a pull cord that will trigger inflation – or an automatic release that will deploy upon contact with water.

The Manual Inflation Lifejacket

A manual release gives the wearer control over the decision to deploy the lifejacket. This comes in the form of a pull cord with handle, that requires a sharp tug to trigger inflation. Pulling on that cord will activate a firing pin, that in turn pierces the head of the CO2 canister. As soon as the cartridge is punctured, the vest will inflate very quickly, and the wearer will find themselves elevated in the water, staying afloat with ease.

In many situations, and for many wearers, this type of lifejacket would be suitable. However, it is vital to be aware that if the wearer were to lose consciousness, the lifejacket would not deploy. Equally, if they experienced a high level of panic, or limited mobility, they may be unable to pull the chord. In this sense, weighing up the nature of your water-based activities, and your own level of confidence in the water, will help you identify if a manual lifejacket is the right option for you.

The Automatic Inflation Lifejacket

In contrast, a lifejacket with an automatic release is designed to self-deploy. It is important to note that there are two different kinds of automatic lifejacket. However we'll begin with the most common form. In this case, the firing pin that releases the CO2 is held away from the cannister's head by a small barrier piece – often referred to as the 'pill' – which dissolves on contact with water. When the pill dissolves, the cannister is pierced, and the lifejacket inflates.

This innovative system means that the wearer does not need to worry about activating their PDF, should the unexpected occur. In the unlikely scenario that the wearer does lose consciousness when falling into the water, this type of lifejacket may well save their life. However, this type of lifejacket may not be suitable for those whose activities involve high contact with water – such as being hit by waves or being out on the water in driving rain. Although uncommon, this type of lifejacket has been known to deploy in such conditions when it was not needed.

The Hydrostatic Lifejacket

For those who want the best of both worlds, the hydrostatic release can be found on a more advanced form of automatic lifejacket, that takes high water contact into account. In this case, the lifejacket features a hydrostatic sensor that uses pressure to detect when the wearer is in the water, as opposed to simply getting wet. This type of automatic lifejacket will not go off accidentally, but will only deploy if you, as the wearer, go overboard unexpectedly. This sophisticated release mechanism represents an excellent choice for those who like to take on adventures in rough waters and want to enjoy the peace of mind that their lifejacket is ready for any scenario.

Take care of your Lifejacket, and it will take care of you

Inflatable lifejackets require regular inspection, to ensure that the CO2 cartridge, and the inflatable bladder itself, is ready for action. Without a doubt, your lifejacket will only be able to save your life if in good working order – and of course, if worn! Modern inflatable lifejackets are comfortable to wear, designed with high-visibility in mind should an emergency strike, and even designed to turn the wearer on their back – a potentially lifesaving position in the case of loss of consciousness. So, be sure to make this lifesaving accessory a constant companion when you head out on to the water. From there, you can focus on enjoying the moment!

Here at Jimmy Green Marine, we do not believe in compromising on safety. At the same time, we also know that safety and comfort can go hand in hand. We are proud to stock inflatable lifejackets from three industry leading brands – Crewsaver, Seago, and Spinlock – providing a full-spectrum selection for our customers to choose from. We also carry all the accessories that you could require to maintain your life-protecting safety equipment and make your water-faring experience one filled with confidence. We hope that our guide has helped you to identify whether a manual inflation lifejacket is for you, if an automatic inflation lifejacket is going to be the ideal choice, or if a hydrostatic lifejacket is destined to become your favourite bit of kit! If you're still unsure about any element of our range of lifejackets, check out the lifejacket selection guide on our main Lifejacket page. Alternatively, contact our sales team to further explore your options!

Published: Sep 1, 2020