RNLI Top Tip 1

RNLI Top Tip 1- Wear a lifejacket

Boating can be extremely unpredictable. It is vital to wear a lifejacket or buoyancy aid when on board. If you find yourself in the water, a lifejacket or buoyancy aid could save your life, but only if you ensure it is the correct size and type for you, properly fastened and that you know how to operate it. Two of our advertising slogans say it all. “Useless unless worn” and “This might save your life, but only when worn”.

A number of yachtsmen feel that lifejackets are uncomfortable. That is certainly true of older designs; none more so than the RNLI’s original cork lifebelts or the DoT pads found in commercial ship life boats. Designs have changed in the last couple of years with a number of innovative designs already on the market and on the way. Check out your local chandlers stock.

Buoyancy is measured in Newton’s (N). The Newton ratings are relative to the weight of the intended user; so a 150N jacket designed specifically for a child will not support an adult. There are four European standards for buoyancy aids and lifejackets.

  • 50 Newton buoyancy aids are recommended for dinghy sailors and personal watercraft users. They have insufficient buoyancy to protect a person who is unable to help themselves and are unlikely to turn a person from a face down position in the water.
  • 100 Newton buoyancy aids are recommended for sheltered and calm waters. They are intended for those who may have to wait for rescue. Again they have insufficient buoyancy to protect people who are unable to help themselves and may not roll an unconscious person onto their back.
  • 150 Newton lifejackets are recommended for general use on coastal and inshore waters. They are intended for general offshore and rough weather where a high standard of performance is required. They should turn an unconscious person on to their back and require no further action by the wearer to keep their face out of the water.
  • 275 Newton lifejackets are recommended for offshore and commercial users. They are intended for extreme conditions and for those wearing heavy protective clothing that might adversely affect the self righting capacity of lesser lifejackets.

There are a number of 175N jackets on the market. There is no standard for 175. They can be expected to perform a little better than a 150N jacket.

A buoyancy aid is the best choice for those who expect to go in the water, dinghy sailors, water-skiers, PWC riders, canoeists and kayakers. A lifejacket is a better choice for those who plan to stay aboard their boat such as sailing and motor cruisers, angling and sports boats.

Adult lifejackets are available with foam only buoyancy, air and foam and air only. All children’s lifejackets and buoyancy aids state a maximum weight and chest size that must not be exceeded. It equally important not to purchase a jacket that is too large. It is easy for a child to slip out of an oversized jacket and it may float high in the water leaving their mouth and nose submerged.


A jacket that lifts more than 2.5cm above the child’s shoulders once fitted and adjusted, is too large. An adult lifejacket should not lift more than 4-5cm. Crotch straps control the amount of movement. It is not necessary to have the straps so tight that the user cannot walk upright nor has a high pitch to their voice. The straps should be rove through their buckles so that pulling them tight, once in the water, will lock them and not allow them to run back. The chest fitting should not allow more than a fist to be inserted under the buckle. Ladies might need a slacker adjustment dependant on build. The chest fitting is very difficult to adjust once in the water.

So Called Optional Extras

  • Crotch straps are essential. They are not a feature associated with helicopter lifts but prevent the jacket riding up in the water and ensure the head is supported.
  • Spray hoods that cover the face help keep the nose and mouth clear of water. Some jackets now on the market have the spray hood sown into the collar making them much easier to use. Retro fit belt packs are available.
  • A light improves visibility at night. They can be added to most jackets and sit inside the lifejackets cover. They are available as lights, strobes and combined. The combined version floats.
  • Day night signal. A combined red pin point flare and orange hand held smoke can be fitted to the jacket webbing belt. The 18 to 20 second burn can draw searchers attention to the casualty.
  • Mini signal. Most suited to dinghy sailors and those who expect to end up in the water during their trip. Fits into a pocket.


What ever type of lifejacket you use it will need basic maintenance. You should have it serviced annually in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. Users should carry out their own inspections. As a general rule at least every six months it should be inflated, preferably by hand pump, to avoid moisture build up inside the bladder and left inflated for 24 hours to ensure it holds its pressure and see if there are any leaks or damage.

On a regular basis visually check for wear and tear, especially at the folds, straps, and fastenings. Check the stitching on the webbing. It should be a different colour to the webbing to make fraying easier to spot. On CO2 gas inflation lifejackets check that the gas bottle is full, fitted correctly, is tight and has no signs of corrosion. After use (activation) wash the jacket with fresh water and allow it to dry fully before repacking. Replace all of the components before repacking. It will need a CO2 cylinder and replacement bobbin capsule or cartridge. When your jacket is not in use it should be stored in a dry, well aired area. Out of season the jacket can be opened and partly inflated with a pump and stored on a non metal coat hanger.

When to wear a Life Jacket

The RYA recommends the wearing of lifejackets until it is safe for them to be taken off. This ensures that individuals try on their jackets and adjust them to the correct and comfortable fit. The initial part of a journey is often the most at risk until people find their sea legs. Once at sea and conditions are considered suitable the jackets can be taken off. We recommend you know exactly where yours is stowed so you can retrieve yours in a hurry should it ever prove necessary.

Please wear your lifejacket when using a dinghy to get to and from your vessel. Don’t come in from the sea, hang your jackets up and then climb into the dinghy for the journey ashore.



Which lifejacket do we recommend? We don’t make recommendations and the choice depends on the use expected and the wearer’s physique. What we do say is - find one that is comfortable. If it is uncomfortable we guarantee you will not wear it regularly. Once you have found a comfortable one, think of the extras, certainly crotch straps and spray hoods. 175 N jackets are more than adequate in most cases. Remember whatever our weight out of the water, in the water there is little differential. Indeed heavier people tend to have more natural buoyancy. 275 N jackets have limited value in coastal sailing. Some are more like a straight jacket once inflated, making working on board difficult.

Follow Up?

If you want to follow up any of these points or have any other sea safety issues don’t hesitate to contact the Lifeboat Sea Safety Officer at your local Lifeboat station. If there is not one appointed yet, the station can give you a contact in a nearby station who will be only to happy to help in any way. Free sea safety advice is always available.

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Thanks to the author, PT Corner, for permission to publish this article.

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