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West Marine Rigging Team Wins Melges 24 World Championship

“We have a great team, a great boat, and great sponsors,” said Chris Larson as he completed his preparations for the 2009 Melges 24 World Championship, in Annapolis, MD.  Larson and his West Marine Rigging/New England Ropes team walked away from the rest of the 51-boat fleet during the six-day regatta.  Without sailing the final race, they were crowned the 2009 World Champions with a 25-point margin over second place.


Larson approached the World Championship with the goal of winning it.  After placing 5th in the 2008 North Americans in Annapolis, Larson and his core crew, which included long-time teammate and experienced bowman, Curtis Florence and Olympic Medalist, Mike Wolfs, knew what they had to work on.  They recruited Richard Clarke, the winning tactician for the 2003 Melges 24 World Championship, as their tactician.  The team also sailed the Melges 24 Worlds Tuning Regatta, the Pre-Worlds and additional practice days to give them the time on the water they needed to peak at the Worlds.

Larson credits his sponsors, West Marine Rigging, New England Ropes, McLube, Harken, and the City of Annapolis/Downtown Annapolis Partnership for supporting the campaign.  Said Larson, “Our campaign is totally dependent upon them and it is great to have behind us 100%.”

Larson and West Marine Rigging’s relationship dates back a handful of years and was cemented in 2007 when Larson’s West Marine Rigging Team won the Melges 24 Pre-Worlds in Santa Cruz.

Said Larson, “I was flattered when West Marine Rigging agreed to sponsor my team and introduced me to their supplier, New England Ropes.  They have been supportive in providing standing and running rigging through their Rock Hill, SC facility.  As the Melges 24 and 32 OEM rigging supplier, West Marine Rigging is knowledgeable, helpful and eager to work with us to enhance their product. They helped us replace rigging that showed signs of wear and tear before our first Annapolis training session and we have collaborated with them on modifications to the Smart Rigging backstays and other upgrades.”

West Marine Rigging provides OEM standing and running rigging for all Melges 32’s and for the more recently built Melges 24’s.  Said Julian Richards, Manager of the satellite rigging shop within West Marine’s Store 41 in Annapolis; “We knew that we had a competitive team when we began our arrangement with Chris.  He has an excellent track record here in Annapolis.  He is also thorough when it comes to boat maintenance.  We replaced all of the running rigging in preparation for last year’s North Americans and were exceedingly pleased with the team’s performance.  Leaving no margin for error, we replaced all of the running rigging before this year’s Worlds and also replaced the boat’s turnbuckles.”

In anticipation of the walk-in traffic for the regatta, Richards and Store 41 prepared a number of Melges 24 running rigging packages.  Said Richards, “Our Rock Hill, SC warehouse supplies us with standing rigging and fittings for all types of sailboats.  The cruising one-design sailboats such as the J 30’s, Cal 25’s, Catalina 27’s and Pearson 30’s represent a good portion of our business, and it was a pleasure to accommodate the racing sailors who were here for the Melges 24 Worlds and other regattas last week.”

“West Marine Rigging congratulates all the competitors at the 2009 Melges 24 World Championship on an outstanding regatta. Special congratulations to Chris Larson and his championship-winning crew; Richard Clarke, Curtis Florence and Mike Wolfs, on their tremendous performance aboard the West Marine Rigging/New England Ropes boat. We’re proud to be the rigging supplier for the Melges 24 class,” said Matt Wise, West Marine Rigging’s Senior Director of Rigging Services.

“We have had an outstanding relationship with West Marine Rigging pre-dating our introduction of the Melges 32 in 2005.  Once West Marine Rigging started to supply the OEM rigging for the Melges 32, it was a natural to have them supply the rigging for the Melges 24.  Their warehouse and manufacturing facility can even supply us with unique fittings and parts for our other clients.”
Andy Burdick
President, Melges Performance Sailboats


“West Marine is convenient, helpful and dependable.  They may not have all of the specialty parts that you need in their store, but they have everything in their warehouse and can deliver it quickly.  I attend numerous regattas in Miami every year and West has helped me out a number of times.”Mike Wolfs
Olympic Medalist & World Champion


AboutWest Marine RiggingWest Marine Rigging is a specialty service of West Marine.  The central production and distribution facility is located in Rock Hill, South Carolina.  West Marine Rigging supplies OEM rigging for numerous one-design racing and cruising sailboat manufacturers throughout North America.  Its five satellite rigging locations are located in West Marine stores in San Diego, Seattle, Annapolis, Alameda and Fort Lauderdale. West Marine Rigging supplies standard and exotic cordage, fittings, hardware and complete rigging packages through the West Marine and Port Supply retail and Internet network.  For all of your parts and rigging needs, contact West Marine Rigging, we’re more than a store.

Lowering Your Fuel Cost

Higher fuel prices are taking a bigger bite out of everyone’s boating budget. Grousing won’t help, but here are some take-control measures that will lower your fuel consumption and measurably reduce the cost of every single outing.

  • Keep the bottom clean. A fouled bottom has about the same effect on fuel consumption as towing a room-sized carpet. Moored and slipped boats in salt water require the protection of fresh antifouling paint. Be careful about leaving your normally dry-stored boat in the water for more than a few days as drag producing fouling occurs in an astonishingly short time on an unprotected hull. Keep your running gear free of barnacles.
  • Tune your engine. Gasoline engines deliver their best economy and their best performance only when they are in good tune. Diesel engines are less tune-sensitive, but having the injectors serviced and cleaning or replacing the air filter is likely to boost fuel economy. Changing engine oil every 100 hours increases fuel economy as well as engine life.
  • Drive smart. Handle throttles smoothly, applying only as much power as circumstances require. Don’t be too tentative—getting up on plane quickly actually saves fuel—but pushing the throttle control to the stop almost certainly wastes fuel. Learn to cruise at your boat’s most economical speed.
  • Don’t push water. Proper trim is essential to good fuel economy. Plowing, kiting and porpoising all result in higher fuel consumption. If your boat does not trim properly, invest in trim tabs. Outboard-powered boats can benefit from bolt-on hydrofoils.
  • Check your prop. Unless the blades are perfectly true, the prop will fail to provide maximum thrust. Blades with nicks and dings create power-robbing turbulence. Have the prop reconditioned. Make a test run with your boat loaded the way you use it to be sure the fitted prop doesn’t allow your engine to exceed the recommended wide open throttle (WOT) rpm. From the perspective of fuel economy, a bit too much pitch is usually preferable to a bit too little. If you need to change props, consider a cupped or a four blade wheel for more efficient mid-range performance.
  • Lighten the boat. Hauling around stuff that doesn’t need to be aboard burns extra fuel, so do some earnest housecleaning. Take aboard only enough fuel to provide a comfortable margin of safety for your planned outing, not as much fuel as the boat can carry. This not only lightens the boat and improves fuel economy, but your engine benefits from a steady diet of fresh fuel. You will also get better mileage with lighter fishing buddies, but maybe that is over the top.
  • Install a fuel flow meter. A flow meter tells you in real time exactly how much fuel your engine is consuming. This information allows you to accurately adjust both throttles and trim for maximum economy even as wind and sea conditions change. A flow meter also keeps up with total fuel consumed and it has the added value of providing early warning of developing engine and running gear problems or fouling.
  • Repower. When it comes time to repower, oil supply realities make it prudent to pay attention to the fuel efficiency of the motors you are considering. Do not underpower; a too-small engine works harder and burns more fuel. 4-stroke outboards are generally more economical, but direct-injection combined with lighter weight keeps the current generation of 2-stroke engines competitive.
  • Buy a sailboat. The wind is free.

SPOT Satellite Beacon

What is SPOT?
A relatively new entry into the emergency beacon market is the SPOT Satellite Personal Beacon from GlobalStar. We have to admit that this product is just being introduced as we write this West Advisor, so we’re relying on what we believe is accurate marketing information. The SPOT operates similarly to a GPS-enabled PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), with some important differences:

It uses the GlobalStar satellite network, but doesn’t use the portion of the satellites which have been subject to consistency issues in recent years. We are told that the reliability should be very good with the current generation of satellites, and will remain so with the generation of the satellites over the next few years.

Types of Messages
There are various levels of severity of the SPOT messages. One message is to assure your family and friends that you’re OK, which will send your position and a short message to up to 10 recipients by telephone or email. A second message will request HELP, but only from your contact list. Let’s say you’re riding your bike across country, and you need to summon your sag wagon. This allows you to get help without alerting the world’s rescue services. NOTE: Both of these types of messages are sent by computer, with no operator intervention. A predetermined brief message is sent to everyone on your list.

The most severe level is 911, which is effectively the same as pressing the activation button on an EPIRB or PLB, since it will pass a message to GEOS Alliance, a firm specializing in the security of high-profile people around the world. (See http://www.geosalliance.com.) GEOS Alliance is then responsible for contacting the appropriate Public Service Access Point (like 911 service) that is appropriate for your location, or other rescue services as appropriate. This is entirely separate from the SARSAT Mission Control Center that is the “brains” of the EPRIB network in the U.S., but GEOS Alliance may end up using the same assets (Coast Guard, Air Force Rescue Coordination Center) as appropriate for the nature of the emergency. Incidentally, we’re very comfortable with the people behind GEOS, as they deal with terrorism, kidnapping, and other heavy issues on a daily basis.

SPOT Coverage
The coverage of the SPOT Personal Beacon is very large, but not worldwide. Certain areas are not covered, or have coverage with less certainty based on the satellite orbits and ground stations. In particular, many open ocean areas and much of the Southern Hemisphere are not covered, and if you’re traveling to those places, an EPIRB or PLB might be a better solution. See http://www.geosalliance.com/SPOT_coverage.html for a current coverage map.

Finally, and we don’t yet know how to weigh the pros and cons, there’s the issue of Public vs. Private. The COSPAS/SARSAT system is a result of international cooperation with an established network of satellites, ground stations, rescue agencies, etc. The system works, and has been proven during countless rescues. The SPOT system is currently in its infancy, and while it offers some additional features, you’re also reliant on the companies behind SPOT to continue to be in operation and to uphold their end of the bargain.

Subscription Costs
What about cost? No question, the SPOT option is cheaper at the cash register, with a retail price of about $150 compared to $500 to $600 for a PLB. However the SPOT beacon requires an annual fee of $100 for basic services, and an additional $50 if you want the premium “Tracker” service. Finally, for $7 per year, you can get insurance through GEOS which provides up to $100,000 in extraction coverage, which sounds like an awesome deal to us.

For additional information on the SPOT beacon, Doug Ritter has some thoughts at http://www.equipped.org. For more on Satellite Communications, see the West Advisor on High Seas Communications. For additional info on EPIRBs and Personal Locator Beacons, see the EPIRB West Advisor.

Selecting a Life Raft


What they do
A life raft is designed to keep the crew of a boat alive until they can be rescued. Life rafts provide minimal environmental protection and create a larger visual and radar target for rescuers.

How they work
Life rafts are inflated by compressed gas, usually nitrogen and CO2, stored in a high-pressure cylinder. When the inflation lanyard is pulled, a valve releases the gas into the inflatable chambers, which takes about 20 seconds. The resulting inflated shape may be square, pentagonal, hexagonal, octagonal, elongated octagonal, etc.

Most have a protective canopy, supported by one or more inflatable tubes. Doors or openings allow occupants to board using an attached ladder, and to alter the amount of ventilation and storm protection according to the conditions.

The floor of the raft may be a single layer of fabric, a double layer inflated with air to provide insulation, a three-tiered laminate or a separate inflatable floor tied in place. Insulated floors greatly reduce heat loss and hypothermia, making the “raft experience” a little less grim.

Who needs a life raft?
There is little need for a life raft where rescue would be quickly forthcoming due to boating traffic and/or rescue agencies in your boating vicinity. Warm water extends survival time and reduces the need to get out of the water quickly to protect against hypothermia.

Inland, warm waters: You probably don’t need a raft, but you might consider having an inflatable or rigid dinghy available for rapid deployment.

Inland, cold waters: Strongly consider carrying a coastal life raft or large inflatable dinghy to keep you and your crew out of the water when operating in cold water. Hypothermia can kill anyone immersed in 50° water in just two hours, and quickly render you unable to function.

Coastal cruising/racing: One of the myths about boating is that coastal waters are somehow less threatening and require less rigorous safety gear than the open ocean. While it is true that your proximity to the coast may allow you to get to shelter before a storm or to get assistance more quickly than if you were further offshore, coastal sea conditions are frequently worse than those offshore, especially near points of land. Chances are you’ll spend less time in a raft when close to shore because you’ll wash ashore or be found sooner. Rafts used for coastal boating need to be seaworthy, but can include less gear for long-term survival than offshore rafts. Therefore, we recommend either premium coastal rafts or offshore rafts.

Offshore cruising/racing: Far from land, rescue agencies and safe harbors, you must have a raft in which you can survive for a week or more. Rafts for offshore use should be more commodious, and should have greater stability to survive storms at sea. SOLAS rafts, Offshore Plus and ISAF–Approved Bluewater rafts are recommended.

Raft types

Inflatable Dinghy: While not legitimate life rafts, inflatable dinghies can be pressed into service in an emergency. For coastal boating to nearby islands, or trips along the coast, a readily available dinghy is preferable to treading water while hypothermia saps your strength. The dinghy must be kept inflated and in a location where it can be launched quickly. The addition of a 3’ sea anchor for stability, a waterproof VHF radio and five gallons of water will greatly improve your crew’s survival chances.

Note:in all respects (except affordability) a dinghy is worse than our least expensive life raft, and should be considered only in coastal areas, and under the best possible conditions (which, incidentally, are not very common when you need a raft.) <a href="http://www.westmarine.com

Coastal ISO 9650 Life Raft: Coastal rafts are rated for open water, mostly protected or within 20 miles of a shoreline. Most rafts have a single buoyancy tube and either a manually–or automatically–erected canopy. Ballast systems vary, ranging from a single ballast bag about the size of a loaf of bread to the four large bags the better Coastal models have. The West Marine by Zodiac coastal raft is built with two identical stacked flotation chambers, an insulated foam floor and a self-inflating single–arch canopy. It meets the pre-2003 ORC offshore specs (see below). It is ideal for offshore fisherman and coastal cruisers who need a light, compact raft, but its equipment must be augmented with a Grab Bag.

Life Rafts: Formerly called the ORC life raft. ISAF life raft specifications were upgraded following the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race, where three sailors were killed because their life raft failed. These new requirements took effect in 2003. Rafts made to these specs are the most appropriate for boats encountering real offshore conditions for relatively short duration, but not taking a trans-oceanic voyage. The same, more stringent specs are recognized by governments around the world as ISO 9650. Two independent, stacked tubes provide redundant flotation should one chamber become damaged. The stacked tube design also provides more freeboard. Many have two entrances, and all have self-erecting canopies. Most will have deep triangular or rectangular ballast bags and a large drogue for stability.

SOLAS Trans–oceanic Life Rafts:Intended for the toughest conditions, with water temperatures below 41°F (5°C), these rafts include the most extensive list of equipment, and are the most heavily built, to allow self-sufficient survival for extended periods of time. Carried onboard boats in round–the–world races like the Volvo Ocean Race.

What to look for
Insulated floors are desirable in all rafts, even in warm water, due to the discomfort that comes from sitting on sub-body temperature surfaces. Although many record–breaking life raft survival episodes have occurred in single floor rafts, all survivors wished they had an insulated raft floor. If you use your boat in waters less than 65–70°, we strongly recommend this option.

Valise or canister storage: If you are going to store your raft on deck, you must use a canister version. We recommend that you also use a hydrostatic release, which will release your raft from its cradle and allow it to float to the surface if you can’t get to it before the boat sinks. If you store the raft below decks, make sure you can launch it in 15 seconds or less, and get a valise raft. It will be lighter, somewhat cheaper, but much less waterproof than the canister model. For offshore racers, rafts stowed below cannot be heavier than 40kg or 88lb.

Canopy Design: We strongly believe that self-inflating and self-erecting canopies are a necessity, not an option. This requires that some of the inflation gas be directed through a one–way valve to the arch tube(s). This is more expensive and more complicated than some of the other (bogus!) ways of doing it like using two paddles end to end as a tent pole, or using the heads of the occupants as the support.

Ballast Bags:Ballast bags keep the raft from blowing over before you board it, and keep the raft from being capsized by unruly waves. More ballast (more water volume) is generally better, especially when it is located along the perimeter of the buoyancy tubes. Interestingly, the drogue included with most rafts is critical in keeping the windward edge of the raft down on the water so that wind cannot get under the raft and blow it over. All drogues should be attached with large line, and should have a swivel (like those on the West Marine rafts.)

Ease of Boarding: Rafts are devilishly hard to board from the water, especially when cold and wearing soaked clothing. Most rafts have either one or two webbing ladders, which are a pain to climb. Other products may have a stirrup, while the best will have a boarding ramp. Ask yourself whether you could pull yourself up out of the cold water and into the relative security of the raft using the boarding methods provided. ISO rafts feature boarding ladders rated so a person wearing an inflated life jacket and heavy clothing can climb inside.

Emergency Equipment: Rafts do not come with lots of survival gear for economic and volumetric reasons. It is up to you to supply EPIRBs, water makers, extra flares, prescription medicine, radar reflectors, handheld VHF radios, etc. Raft manufacturers work at keeping the purchase price of rafts low, but they also realize that you will want to augment basic inventories with your own gear. An Abandon Ship Bag is vital to your survival. Standard raft equipment inventories generally include only those products that pertain to repairing the raft, while ISAF specification rafts may contain those items required for sailboat ocean racing like flares, paddles, bailers, and a flashlight. Regardless of the make or model, you will need to augment the standard inventory with your own gear.

Recommended minimum inventory items for Abandon Ship Bags:

  • 406 MHz EPIRB with or without GPS positioning
  • Katadyn Survivor 06 watermaker. Several solar stills would be a distant second choice.
  • Ship’s inventory of flares and other emergency signaling devices
  • Waterproof VHF radio with long shelf life batteries and replacement batteries
  • Ship’s medical kit including prescription medicine and reading glasses

Repacking your Raft
Generally, life rafts must be repacked each year to keep your warranty in effect. This is done for three reasons:

  • To replace dated items like flares, food, and water
  • To inspect for water damage and to make sure the cylinder is full
  • To fold the raft differently so it doesn’t wear through in folded areas

Life raft repackers should be licensed or approved by the raft manufacturer. Just because a guy hangs out a shingle that says Life Raft Repacking, don’t assume he is qualified for your Switlik, Avon, West Marine, Zodiac or whatever raft you have. Authorized repackers have the correct parts and have an inventory card with your own gear.

Some rafts, especially canister rafts packed in a vacuum inner-pack, can extend their first repack date for several years. Inside every West Marine raft, for example, is a piece of water-sensitive paper that shows through the inner vinyl bag. If this paper shows that no moisture is present, the repacker can seal the raft back up for the first and second scheduled repacks. This can save $300 in the first three years of ownership.


Understanding Personal Flotation Devices


Many boaters and West Marine associates are confused by the Coast Guard’s traditional system of categorizing life jackets, also called Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs), by a system of types (I, II, III IV and V) that emphasizes the life jacket’s specifications rather than its application and function. We feel Comfort Series™ Automatic Inflatable Life Vestthat grouping the various types by their intended use and then outlining each type’s features, advantages and disadvantages is more helpful. Hopefully you can then make sense of our extensive product selection and buy just what you need for your style of boating and your physique. To do justice to the letter of the law, we’ll repeat the Federal requirements regarding life jackets on recreational boats, since you have to meet this standard regardless of what you end up selecting. You should also be aware of the state regulations in effect in your boating area, since they may vary from and supercede the federal requirements. As a special customer service, all of our stores display signs that clearly explain the current PFD requirements in the states of each geographical region in the U.S.

The Federal Regulations
PFDs are divided into five categories; Type I through Type V. The U.S. Coast Guard regulations concerning life jackets on recreational boats are pretty simple:

  • All recreational boats must carry one wearable PFD (Type I, II, III or Type V) for each person aboard.
  • Any boat 16′ and longer (except sailboards, racing shells, rowing sculls, racing canoes, and racing kayaks) must also carry one throwable PFD (Type IV).
  • Type I, II and III PFDs must be readily accessible and wearable by the intended user, while Type IV PFDs must be immediately available.
  • Type V hybrid PFDs and some inflatables must be worn to be counted in the vessel’s PFD inventory. Inflatable PFDs must have a full cylinder, and all status indicators on the inflator must be green, or the device is NOT serviceable, and does NOT satisfy the requirement. Coast Guard Approved inflatable PFDs are authorized for use on recreational boats by persons at least 16 years of age and there may be weight minimums as well.
  • Children under 13 years are required to wear a correctly sized Coast Guard Approved life jacket when underway on a recreational vessel, unless they are in an enclosed cabin or below decks. Some states have lower age limits, which take precedence over the

Federal rules (however, we strongly encourage you to have your kids wear a PFD, regardless of your state’s law). Child PFD approvals are based on the child’s weight. Check the “User Weight” on the label, or the Approval Statement that will read something like “Approved for use on recreational boats and uninspected commercial vessels not carrying passengers for hire, by persons weighing __ lbs”. They can be marked “less than 30”, “30 to 50”, “less than 50”, or “50 to 90”.

  • PFDs must be Coast Guard Approved, in good and serviceable condition, and the appropriate size for the intended user.

The Coast Guard recommends and many states require wearing PFDs:

  • For water skiing and other towed activities (use a PFD marked for water skiing).
  • While operating personal watercraft (PWC) (use a PFD marked for water skiing or PWC use).
  • During whitewater boating activities.
  • While sailboarding (under Federal law, sailboards are not “boats”).

Types of Boating and Recommended Life Jackets
To select the correct life jacket for you and your family, start by identifying the type of boating you do:

This type is recommended for powerboats or sailboats in relatively calm, warm water, where comfort and freedom of movement are important. Choose from either a belted or day sailing vest, or an inshore inflatable. The choices are many, since this is the most popular type of boating, but demands are not very rigorous. Owners of small powerboats often choose belted vests, which

Runabout life vest

Runabout life vest

can be adjusted for a comfortable fit depending on the conditions, while sailors will select a more flexible vest or an inflatable.

Our Comfort Series Inflatable Vests, with 22.5lb. of buoyancy, are easy to wear, don’t restrict your movement, and are available in automatic, manual and belt pack manual designs. They fit adult boaters over 80lb. with 30″ to 52″ chest sizes.

We also sell a remarkable number of economical Type II vests, but we don’t recommend them as primary PFDs since they are unattractive and uncomfortable to wear. View Type IIs as extra vests for unexpected guests, or consider stocking up with some relatively low–priced Type III vests of different sizes and designs, which tend to fit better and are more likely to be worn.

Activities like wakeboarding, water skiing, being towed on an inflatable tube

Watersports Life Vests

Watersports Life Vests

and riding a personal watercraft include a risk of hitting the water at high speed. PFDs for watersports must withstand these impacts and stay intact and attached to your body. Belted vests with three or four strong belts encircling your torso work best because they won’t get torn off easily, even when you crash and burn at high speed. Look for vests that have Watersports marked on the label, and ensure that they can be adjusted to a snug fit.

Day Sailing
Small boat sailing requires freedom of movement and flexibility, yet a good PFD has to fit snugly and hug the upper body. The preferred style has a zippered closure and is made from soft, pliable foam. To increase the vest’s flexibility, thin strips of foam are inserted into “channels” so the foam wraps comfortably around your chest. Deep armholes offer additional freedom of movement, but may allow the vest to “ride up” when in the water, so a good, snug fit is important. If you sail a dinghy or beach catamaran your PFD may have to be worn with a trapeze harness, so take the harness with you when you go shopping for a new life jacket. Many customers will find that Day Sailing vests are a good choice for a variety of boating styles except for high–speed watersports.

Anglers often like to carry a collection of lures, leaders, etc. and will appreciate a vest with built–in pockets. They may also operate small and fast boats, which could lead to a high–speed water impact. Therefore, we offer two distinct types of fishing vests; those with pockets that can hold lure boxes, a sandwich or fishing tools, and those with wide encircling belts. The second style is similar to watersport PFDs and can be adjusted to a snug and secure fit, so the vest will stay on during high–speed impacts.

Offshore Sail
Offshore vests provide lots of buoyancy, freedom of movement, and commonly a safety harness that the wearer tethers onto jacklines to stay

Offshore Sailing Manual Inflatable Life Vest

Offshore Sailing Manual Inflatable Life Vest

connected to the boat. In the past, offshore sailors chose between a life jacket and a safety harness, since the two items were seen as interfering with one another. Today’s inflatable life jackets with integrated harnesses provide a high level of safety with one single product. Offshore PFDs are now available with Hammar hydrostatic inflators, so they won’t suddenly inflate due to spray, rain or humidity. West Marine/Mustang Ocean Series vests only inflate when submerged. Decide which type of inflation you prefer (manual or automatic). Virtually all models in the Offshore Sailing category will have similar buoyancy (35lb.) and a harness that complies with ISAF standards.

We recommend that offshore powerboaters also have one or two of these vests aboard, since they might face similar challenges as sailors do when they have to venture out onto a pitching, slippery deck in rough conditions to get the anchor ready or to secure a dinghy that has come loose.

Offshore Power
Passagemaking requires high buoyancy life jackets designed for rough waters. While the chances of ending up overboard are far lower on a trawler with an enclosed pilothouse, crew should always wear high buoyancy inflatable life jackets every time they go on deck. If a crewmember goes overboard the time to rescue may be long, the water may be cold and most likely the seas will be rough.

Canoeists, kayakers, and whitewater rafters need PFDs that combine freedom of movement and protection. Many specialized life jackets have been

Freestyle Vest

Freestyle Vest

developed for niche markets and different styles of paddling, so make sure you try different models that are labeled for paddle sports. But almost all will offer freedom of movement and freedom from chafe while performing repetitive motions, with large armholes and foam that is distributed away from normal arm movement. Kayakers may need vests with high–cut waists that don’t interfere with a spray skirt. Manually–operated inflatable vests with chest packs are ergonomic and convenient, but require you to slip the inflated bladder over your head.

Commercial Vessels
These vessels must have specific types of life jackets onboard to be legal. We offer a range of Type I life jackets and SOLAS–approved models but we don’t recommend their use on recreational boats, since Type I devices are virtually unwearable and they take up gobs of valuable storage space. But if you operate a commercial fishing boat that is required to have Type I vests on board, we’ve got ’em.

Other Features to Consider
Here are some other attributes or applications for life jackets that affect their performance requirements:

Dynamic Strength Testing
On the Underwriter’s Laboratory label on the inside of all approved vests is a “Dynamic Strength Testing” value, which used to be called the “Impact Rating.” This rating describes the strength of the life jacket when subjected to high–speed impacts. However, UL and the Coast Guard are quick to point out that it is unrelated to the injuries that a user might suffer during a high–speed impact; it only measures the resistance of the fabric, belts, etc. to failure. Vests with multiple encircling belts will be appropriate for high–speed water sports.

Hypothermia Protection
If you boat in cold climates you should understand the importance of hypothermia protection. Immersion in cold water rapidly reduces your core body temperature, leading to greatly impaired physical and mental capabilities. Even a five–minute immersion in 50–degree water can impair your ability to climb a ladder, catch a line, or tread water. In addition to protective clothing such as exposure coveralls, immersion suits, wet suits, and float coats, a properly fitted Type III vest also can delay the onset and lessen the effects of hypothermia. High buoyancy vests like offshore inflatables allow the wearer to assume the Heat Escape Lessening Posture (HELP), which can double survival times by reducing heat loss to the water.

Maximum Freeboard
Crew who have gone overboard may be in the water for a long time and may lose consciousness, either through injury or exhaustion due to hypothermia. In this case, high buoyancy devices like inflatables and Type I vests help retain an open airway. Type II and Type III PFDs lack the flotation and righting force to keep wearers face–up with an unobstructed airway. This distance from the water to your mouth is called freeboard. If knocked unconscious in the water, the added freeboard offered by Type I PFDs may save your life by keeping your airway unobstructed. USCG approved Type III inflatables have to average 3″ of freeboard and Type II must average 3.75″. The Mustang Offshore Inflatable Vest with LIFT, with 40lb. of buoyancy and up to 9″ of freeboard, is in a class by itself for rough–water safety.

Infants and small children are hard to keep floating in a face–up position, and sometimes protest when wearing a PFD. Frankly, we think that boating with infants is not a very good idea if there is any likelihood of the baby ending up in the water. As kids get older and more water–savvy they become right at home onboard, because there are many choices for well–fitting PFDs that provide stability and buoyancy.

Those of us who have had to pull our children out of the drink appreciate

Lil’ Legends Kids Vests

Lil’ Legends Kids' Vests

behind–the–head flotation collars with a grab strap, which are standard, along with crotch straps, on vests for smaller kids. The Mustang Lil’ Legends vests have always been popular, since they are well made in high–visibility colors. A selection of vests from Stearns, adorned with Barbie, Spider–Man and other animated characters, appeal to your child’s sense of style. We highly recommend testing the life jacket you select for your child in a safe environment, like a pool, ahead of time, to familiarize yourself and your child with the device’s characteristics.

Classifying Inflatables by Coast Guard Types
Prior to Coast Guard–approved inflatables, you could determine a PFD’s type by sight: Type IIIs looked like vests or float coats, Type IVs were horseshoes, rings, or cushions, and so forth. The introduction of inflatables changed everything. Inflatables are given a Coast Guard type, just like non–inflatables, but they are also given a performance type and a designation as to whether they have to be worn to be counted in the vessel’s life jacket inventory. What this means is that you can’t simply say that an inflatable is a Type III and equate its characteristics to the Type III that you are familiar with. Here are some pointers on how inflatables are classified:

  • Inflatables with harnesses are, by default, Type V life jackets with instructions that you should be familiar with when wearing a harness. Their performance type is generally Type III or Type II.
  • Belt pack inflatables are Type V life jackets with Type III performance because you have to slip the inflated chamber over your head.
  • High buoyancy inflatables (150 N or 33 lbs of buoyancy) have a Type III performance rating if they are manually–activated with a ripcord, and a Type II performance rating if they are water–activated. Both products perform exactly alike once they’re inflated, since the bladder and the rest of the life jacket are identical except for the inflator. Some types, like the Offshore Life Jackets (sail and power) can be converted from automatic or manual by a simple change to their Secumar 4001 1F inflator.
  • The Coast Guard requires that water–activated “automatic” inflatables with non–1F inflators have to be worn to be counted in the vessel’s inventory of life jackets. The most recent models with 1F inflators, so–called “stowables”, don’t have to be worn to be counted as inventory. However, this misses the point of inflatable PFDs, which are so comfortable that you’ll wear them while on the water.
  • Finally, the inshore Comfort Series inflatables use a 25gr. cylinder, and provide 22.5lb. of flotation. They are only legal when worn.

Be safe on the water

  • Always have the federally required safety equipment on board, meaning Coast Guard–approved life jackets. If you select non–approved devices, make sure you back them up with what the law requires.
  • If you have an older, non–approved SOSpenders, Crewfit, or West Marine inflatable, wear it confidently until its useful life is over (around 10 years). If you have life jackets in your inventory that must be worn to be counted, back them up with Coast Guard approved life jackets so you are never caught short (and, at $500 per incident, this can get expensive).
  • Establish rules on board your boat defining when life jackets are to be worn and lead by example. Kids 13 years and younger should always wear them, and there would be far fewer boating deaths among adults if they wore them, too.


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