Your #1 source for kayaking and canoeing information.               FREE Newsletter!
my Profile

Advice, Suggestions and General Help New Topic Printer Friendly Version

  Inflatable life jacket
  Posted by: music321 on Apr-19-14 12:02 AM (EST)
   Category: unassigned 

I bought a Mustang Survival MD 3085 Manual Inflatable Life vest. I got a really good deal on it. I'm wondering if it was a good buy. My philosophy on life vests is: if it's worth wearing one, it's worth wearing one that will function properly.

I wonder how reliable the inflatables are. I've heard them referred to as "glorified balloons". Any thoughts? thanks.

 Great Products from the Buyers' Guide:

Dry Tops

Dry Bags

Rescue / Throw Bags

Canoe / Kayak Anchors

Kayak Sak

Table of Contents

Messages in this Topic


  Swimming for your life ….
  Posted by: seadart on Apr-19-14 1:33 AM (EST)
My experience is you want to know that a PFD fits and supports you in a position that you can swim and control your breathing in heavy waves and aerated water. You might want to test your inflatable and see how it holds you up, does it ride up, above your head etc in waves.

I've worn one of these in heavy seas in Denmark and New Zealand on sail boats, but never went in the water with it. Biggest advantage is they are not bulky when not needed. Hope it inflates when really needed. Would suck to have a malfunction.
  I have one
  Posted by: rpg51 on Apr-19-14 8:03 AM (EST)
that I wear in calm protected waters only. Personally I would not use it in white water or unprotected waters.
  I have one
  Posted by: shiraz627 on Apr-19-14 9:25 AM (EST)
You can manually inflate them to see how you like it. Very nice in hot weather and it's not bulky.
  Personal opinion..............
  Posted by: on Apr-19-14 11:47 AM (EST)
"Glorified balloon" seems a fitting description.

What if it malfunctions when needed?
What if it get cut/holed accidentally?
That's 2 too many what ifs for me.
Your option of course...........


  What if
  Posted by: shiraz627 on Apr-20-14 8:35 AM (EST)
"Glorified balloon" seems a fitting description.

What if it malfunctions when needed? Can be manually inflated.

What if it get cut/holed accidentally? Your screwed!

What if you have a medical emergency. Could be a problem.

That's 2 too many what ifs for me.
Your option of course...........

  Check regularly for leaks
  Posted by: QCHiker on Apr-20-14 8:53 AM (EST)
We have some for our Fire Department. The big thing is to check them regularly for leaks. Personally I don't car much for them.
  I have a Hobie vest...
  Posted by: kfbrady on Apr-20-14 10:58 AM (EST)
...that is very similar to the Mustang.

On hot days on shallow flat water, I think it's fine.

For anything else I wear a much bulkier, but really well fitting Kokatat.
  What ifs aside these things are great
  Posted by: Bill_Stevenson on Apr-23-14 10:29 AM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Apr-23-14 10:34 AM EST --

I have manual SOSPENDERS inflatable as well as a conventional Extrasport PFD. Both are 10 or 12 years old now, but in excellent shape. They do work when needed, but the inflatable needs annual maintenance and frequent inspection to ensure that it is OK when needed. Inflatables offer significantly more buoyancy than do conventional PFDs. In a self rescue in the surf, trust me, from personal experience, the inflatable buoyancy advantage is a significant bonus. Calm water indeed. Can the inflatable fail to inflate when needed or leak? Not likely if properly maintained. That is why they have Coast Guard approval. At least in hot weather, I see an awful lot of PFDs in the boat, but not being worn. Inflatables, because of their greater comfort, get worn. To each his own, but just for fun the next time you see the Coast Guard, or Police, or a Tow Rescue boat on the water, take a look at what they are wearing. At least here in South Florida, inflatables are in.

  Just for fun..............
  Posted by: on Apr-23-14 2:21 PM (EST)
Compare boats used by Coast Guard/Police/Tow Rescue boats to canoe or kayak.
Also compare training/experience of typical personnel using Coast Guard/Police/Tow Rescue boats to the typical canoe or kayak user.

If/when Coast Guard/Police/Tow Rescue personnel go into the water; they typically have other trained personnel "right there", readily available to assist them.
They will typically have the necessary rescue equipment, readily available to use.

Will the average canoe or kayak paddler?
Probably not.

Lots of things to consider in choice of pfd.
Not sure that comfort & ease of wear is the most important consideration.
I do believe adults should have the option of choosing for themselves, and also for dealing with possible natural consequences of their decision making.

  They're great for the right purpose
  Posted by: NateHanson on Apr-23-14 2:43 PM (EST)
I think harness-style inflatables are great for yachties and power boaters, and I've used them a lot on larger boats. They've been around a long time, and they've proven reliable and popular. Uninflated they're easy to wear and out of the way, and inflated they perform way better than anything you'd be willing to wear all the time. They'll turn you over, hold your face above waves, etc. Much better performance than a type 3 if you're stuck bobbing offshore, waiting for rescue.

However, that's not really how paddlers use their vests, in my opinion. A paddler needs something that helps them float, but allows them to self rescue, since most swims are followed by getting yourself back in your boat. That's really hard with a very bulky inflatable on your chest and shoulders. And deflating it so you can paddle takes both hands and a few minutes. Not a good match for paddlers, in my opinion. Better to find a nice low profile foam vest, with good ventilation. Or get a hybrid vest like the Kokatat Sea02.
  Choice is important
  Posted by: Bill_Stevenson on Apr-23-14 3:54 PM (EST)
Perhaps Bob and I can agree that having choices and making informed decisions is highly desirable. It sounds, though, like at least a few opinions on inflatable PFDs have been formed from armchairs here. Am I the only participant in this thread who has been upside down in the water when wearing an inflatable PFD? Every year when it is time for maintenance, I use mine in the water since the inflation device is replaced anyway. I use my Extrasport in the water too. It is called practicing self and assisted rescues. My paddling companions are all experienced, trained, and work together on the water. Frankly I do not go out on the water alone any more, always with others. Salt water, fresh water, open water, lakes, rivers, you name it, we use the buddy system. Safety is the guiding principle. With that said, I have done a self rescue with my inflatable in the surf off Palm Beach, FL. I found that the extra floatation provided by the inflatable was very helpful. I had no trouble getting back in my kayak and no trouble deflating it and paddling again. Admittedly I had friends right there to assist if necessary, but at least that time no help was necessary. My first choice is an inflatable, based on use, experience and training. Your results may vary.
  I hate my inflatable
  Posted by: kayamedic on Apr-23-14 4:06 PM (EST)
And yes I have worn it other than in the armchair.

Inflated it makes self rescue in the ocean a real difficult thing if I happen to swim. Once inflated in rough seas there is little chance of changing cartridges without going over again. Takes too much time to inflate manually in the ocean.

The only good thing is that it is the most comfortable PFD over several insulating layers and the drysuit.. which I wear in the ocean in Maine most all of the time.
  Scuba divers wear inflatable vests
  Posted by: JayBabina on Apr-23-14 4:16 PM (EST)
Every scuba diver in the world wears an inflatable vest.

It's not a matter of wether or not an inflatable is good or not, it's a matter of wether yours is good for you. I'm sure it's manufactured with good safety standards. Just try it in the water and every now and then blow it up to check for any leaks. Also just remember that you can't blow it up if your unconscious. Some models come with CO2 inflaters as well.
  Scuba divers do wear inflatables...
  Posted by: kfbrady on Apr-24-14 10:00 AM (EST)
...but they operate, in a very controlled manner, from the scuba tank and not from CO2 cartridges, which could be very dangerous if one inflated at depth and caused an uncontrolled ascent. Divers call their jackets BCDs (buoyancy compensation devices) and not PFDs, because they use them to fine tune buoyancy. They also have these jackets professionally maintained at least annually.

While they will float a diver at the surface, that's not really their primary purpose and therefore I don't think it's a good analogy to compare BCDs to PFDs.
  Deep trouble book
  Posted by: dc9mm on Apr-24-14 11:45 PM (EST)
If I remember correctly one of the stories in the book had a someone who had an inflatable and it worked ok BUT he had trouble swimming with it and he had to swim to catch his kayak. So maybe there harder to swim with once inflated?
  Posted by: JayBabina on Apr-25-14 8:59 AM (EST)
I had a Scubapro vest with CO2 inflation, inflation from the tank and oral.

Any top side vest with CO2 is also going to have oral as well. Most have just oral.

We're over analyzing here. The inflatable is fine as long as it's checked regularly. The downside- you have to inflate it and it could leak. Windsurfers and kite board people all use them and go far off shore in rough conditions.
  Reusability question
  Posted by: Celia on Apr-25-14 7:33 AM (EST)
Looking thru the stuff above it appears that no one has raised just this question.

My understanding is that a PFD like this inflates via a small CO2 cartridge upon immersion. It is fairly obvious it would not be the best choice for rolling practice, assuming that you got it in the first place because of how lightweight it is when uninflated.

But that means is is like our Back-Up Roll-Aid devices - you only get one shot of it functioning. After that you are paddling with a big inflated thing around you for the rest of the trip.

That is assuming it stays inflated.... we found with the Roll-Aid that CO2 molecules bleed out of miniscule small opportunities in the fabric more readily than regular air. It stayed inflated better when we had blown it up by mouth than when we tested it with an actual cartridge. Obviously you could stop, take it off if needed and re-inflate it by mouth if needed - it's gotta have a valve for that - but that could be a PITA.

So my question about an inflatable vest is how well something that can go from very lightweight to extremely inflated fits into your paddling. If you are doing something that can involve repeated immersion, like white water or surf, or multi-day trips where you would have to carry spare cartridges, it is probably not a match. If you are talking flat water and a relatively safe environment for it to be deployed in, no 3 mile swims to shore, it might be a plan.
  Not "on immersion"
  Posted by: kfbrady on Apr-25-14 8:49 AM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Apr-25-14 8:50 AM EST --

The ones I have seen recommended for kayaking (and the Hobie model I have) don't automatically deploy. They have a small grab handle, that when you pull it, "fires" the CO2 cartridge. I understand that "on immersion" models are more designed for ocean sailors.

This of course means that should you be unconscious (not a high probability in a kayak but still a consideration) when you hit the water, the PFD won't help you.

Mine also has a inflation tube with a valve at the end, so the PFD can be orally inflated while wearing the PFD, or manually deflated. With this you could also only partially inflate/deflate although that's probably not that practical once you're in the water. But it does mean that even if you don't have a spare cartridge with you, you could - in a pinch - still inflate the PFD.

  Posted by: Celia on Apr-25-14 8:58 AM (EST)
You capsize and have to grab something - OK for someone well practiced in being upside down. Not so hot for someone who is not wet a lot.

I would then move my concern to the practice part. It might be an expensive practice with the cost of the cartridges. We found that to be one potential limitation of the Roll-Aid... I found I had to practice being upside down and find the handle but not pull it to be sure I could use it in the emergency for which it was planned. That worked out a lot better once I had a solid roll on at lest one side.
  Several good points
  Posted by: Bill_Stevenson on Apr-25-14 10:52 AM (EST)
An inflatable PFD for small craft like kayaks and canoes and Sunfish and the like, should definitely be the type that activates manually, not the automatic ones. Yes that is a compromise and if you are unconscious when you go under they won't work. The probability for that to happen depends on the type of paddling you are doing. When paddling shallow water such as rivers, I use a conventional PFD for this reason. These things do require routine inspection and servicing, which must be done annually at the very least. It is something the owner can do. The replacement inflation cartridges cost $15 or $20 apiece. Practice is a good idea. I use mine once a year at cartridge replacement time and that gives me the confidence of knowing how my inflatable PFD works and what to expect. Most importantly, these things are comfortable and unobtrusive, therefore, they are much more likely to get worn. To each his own and thank God we have choices.
  Noticing Bill is from the South
  Posted by: kayamedic on Apr-25-14 11:07 AM (EST)
One reason I think that we rarely see inflatables here is that the water is cold. Whitewater runs are often with water temps in the 40's and that insulation from a traditional PFD is very useful.

For about two months each year water temps sometimes go above 60..but often there is a severe thermocline.
Right now our water temp is 37. I'll stick to traditional.
  I agree 100%
  Posted by: kfbrady on Apr-25-14 11:16 AM (EST)
I think that's why they are best suited to SOTs and maybe rec boats with large open cockpits, where the chances of you being caught upside down in the water are extremely small.

On a hot summer day they are certainly comfortable though.


Follow us on:
Free Newsletter | About Us | Site Map | Advertising Info | Contact Us


©2015 Inc.