Lifejacket and Recovery Trials at Venacher

On the same day as holding the Freshwater Sprints and the Association’s AGM, two brave volunteers took a tumble into Loch Venachar from a skiff in a demonstration organised by SCRA, looking at life jackets and seeing whether the volunteers could be recovered from the water by crew mates. It is important to note that the conditions were perfectly flat. Clubs should take every precaution to prevent their rowers ending up in the water in the first place!

The SCRA rules of racing 2013 Edition state that personal flotation devices (“PFDs”) must be worn by all crew members at all times. It is however the responsibility of wearers to ensure that their PFD is fit for purpose, is worn correctly and is well looked after and regularly serviced. Most clubs will also have their own rules with regard to specification of what should be worn by their crew members while using their boats (whether in competition or not).

Ensuring that PFD’s are worn in accordance with their instructions can be more important in saving a life than the type of PFD, and the Association and umpires are not in a position to enforce such matters except on very limited occasions. Clubs and their individual members require to take on the responsibility of maintaining PFDs, ensuring that they are worn properly, and determining what devices (buoyancy aids or life jackets) are suitable for the circumstances in which they are used.

That having been said, it is hoped that these videos will assist clubs in reviewing their own policies, and remind rowers and coxswains that they might need to use their PFD one day and will be grateful if they work efficiently. All rowers should think about how their PFD will work every time they put it on.

The first test was of a harness style automatically inflating life jacket. This automatically activates when the wearer goes into the water, so there is no delay in obtaining the additional buoyancy that it brings. The device does not rely upon the de-skiffed individual being conscious to activate it. Balanced against this users may wish to consider if they wish to retain the choice as to whether to inflate or not. Having an inflated lifejacket in waist high surf may restrict the wearers ability to rescue themselves.

The second test was of a pouch style lifejacket. It requires to be pulled over the head at the point when it is needed. It is not clear whether this must be done before or after inflation (in the video it is done before). Users should ensure that they are clear as to how a lifejacket should be used before putting it on.

The bladder of the pouch type is not strapped down to the back of the wearer’s waist belt like other lifejackets, and is held from popping off the wearer’s head only by the tightness of its fit and the the angle of the wearer’s head, although in some types ribbons may be included which need to be tied when in the water.

The instructions which come with the pouch life jacket used for the demonstration state that when rowing it should be worn to the front. One could imagine that if inflated at the side or at the back that it could to the wearer more harm that good. We have seen rowers wearing them to the rear, and our model enters the water with it at the rear before having the calm perseverance to swivel it to the front before inflating. Wearers should check the instructions, and ensure that they are wearing the pouch correctly.

The rather nifty recovery technique was shown to the Anstruther rowers by their local RNLI during a joint exercise. Inflated lifejackets can hamper recovery of a person from the water but do not affect this method. The rowers removed one of the kabes before carrying out the recovery….. make sure you have an unobstructed gunnel if you are going to attempt this method.