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One blog I read on a regular basis is Boat Bits. I guess I like the author’s frequently contrarian philosophy and the fact that he always shares good info. The following is from a private email conversation that I had with him (shared with permission of course) after his post about changing back to foam PFDs from inflatable ones.

We had a pair of Crewsaver PFD’s, top of the line and we had them for three years (they replaced another set by Crewsaver). When it came time to do their yearly “inspection,” I blew up the first one (orally) and as much as I blew in, air seemed to blow out. I then looked at it and it seemed about 50% of the seams were no longer… well seams… if you know what I mean. I then did the same for the second one and it was not exactly a surprise when the same thing happened.

Since both PFD’s were toast I then tried the CO2 inflation and while one worked, the other did not (rusted shut… but in such a way that visual inspection simply did not offer a clue that something was amiss).

If you are not aware of Crewsaver, they are the number one brand in the UK who has the most strict rules concerning PFDs… The Mustang of Europe if you will.

We replaced our Crewsavers with Plastimos and they still seem OK but I now have this nagging distrust for things inflatable that are glued or welded together as I have seen so many fabric glue weld joins fail. Throw in the fact that CO2 is really really cold (like freezing and that would pay hell with any dodgy seams).

Anyway, the decision to go back with a foam PFD is all about the thought that when sailing over to Europe, further afield, or further than I care to swim, if shit happens and I fall overboard, my last thoughts will not be f%#$&g stupid seams. As it happens, I speak from some experience as sailing to Hawaii once we screwed up a spinnaker launch which left me swimming in the Pacific, 600 miles from San Francisco, watching my boat sail over the horizon. In spite of a crew of twelve very exceptional sailors (it was the Transpac), who all saw me hit the water, it still took them over six hours to find me. Trust me, this is a long time to tread water! So, I have a certain aversion to the idea that a perfectly good looking PFD might not actually work when push comes to shove.

My advice with your Mustangs is blow them up every three months orally and let them sit inflated for 24 hours as the yearly inspection simply does not cut it.

So, following that advice…

Yes, we got some strange looks, and comments, from our neighbors!

We inflated these and took the photos just before this was posted. I’ll post the photo tomorrow of what they look like after 24 hours.


  1. Wow, scary to think of those PFD’s not working! With the price of inflatable vs. foam PFDs, you got me thinking about what to buy in the future. I don’t wanna tread water for 6 hours! Great post!

  2. Good stuff from Bob and you guys. I’ll stick with foam, cause I’m cheap like Bob. ha ha

  3. Looking forward to tomorrow’s posted results. On a related, note, it seems to be common practice for many to attach a strobe light to their vest. Unfortunately some attach it in a way (like a strap around the uninflated pfd) which, when inflated, the strobe would most likely pop off and become separated from the user. For those who follow is practice, it would be wise to tether it to the pfd in some fashion.

  4. As you know, we use harnesses a lot. That said, I can see using a combo unit. That said….

    * I don’t understand folks that use inflatables in the tender. On-off-on-off, and then they are dumped in the bottom and occastionally stepped on. That most certainly would lead to the situation Boat-bits describes. We use old beat-up PFDs in the tender. If they get stollen, well, they came from the thrift store (we cherry pick the good stuff–it’s a game of ours). I also can’t see wearing them in the tender; it can’t sink, won’t flip, and MOB risk is trivial, IF you use the dead-man switch. I’ll add I swim like a fish; non-swimmers are a different matter.

    * A dock-mate had the same expereince. After reading my post about testing the Lifesling, they did a test, and 3 of 5 inflatables failed, in addition to the failure of the inflatable Lifesling. He was ANGRY!

    * I would certainly keep regular foam inflatables for potencial sinkings. Based upon all of this, I would NOT go in the water on purpose wearing an inflatable. They should ONLY be for MOB situations, never sinkings.


    • Down here we don’t wear PFDs in the tender, nor do we generally even carry them in the tender. In US waters, of course we did, plus all the other mandated safety stuff. When we did use PFDs in the tender, we never used our inflatable ones. I didn’t want to risk wasting an 80.00 cartridge in case I fell out!

    • Just to set the record straight our inflatable PFDs that failed had never been thrown in the dinghy or otherwise abused and had always been stored in the boat away from sunlight . When they did fail they still looked nearly new with no fading, scuffs, or other signs of abuse.

      The seam failure was caused by the adhesive drying out and the inflation system by some very small scale rusting in the firing mechanism (quite a mix of dissimilar metals the likely culprit)… As it happens neither of the two PFDs had ever been immersed in salt water or worn in the water and while they had got wet from spray, rain, etc they had always been rinsed and dried before being put away.

  5. Being a dinghy sailor, as well as a cruiser, I find the type III vests to be very comfortable. They are not proper in heavy seas, as the they will not keep an unconscious person face up, but I feel more secure in wearing this, versus the inflatable. Offshore in rough seas, the type I is the only jacket for me. We have inflatables, but I find them heavier than the type III vests, and we tend not to wear them. Both of us being engineers, we are aware that nothing is infallible, but it’s pretty tough for a foam core to fail.

    Good post.

  6. I have never been able to bring myself to trust inflatables.

    And I don’t buy the usual argument about foam PFDs being bulky or getting in the way. That was true when I was five years old and wore the self-righting kind with the huge collar behind the head. It doesn’t apply to a well-designed adult size PFD.

    The foam PFDs made for canoes and small powerboats may not meet all the “offshore” specs, but they have nothing to go wrong, and- most importantly- they’re as comfortable as a shirt or coat, so you actually wear them instead of leaving them in a locker.

    We carry three styles of them in several sizes in all our boats, and everyone wears them when we’re underway- only one or two guests have ever complained. Those folks were easily put in line as follows: “This thing cruises at twenty or thirty knots. If something goes wrong, you’ll be catapulted into the water at the speed of a car in the city before you even notice that there’s a problem.”

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