Life Jackets and Buoyancy Aids

The revised Rowing Ireland Water Safety Code requires all coxswains, umpires, coaches and launch personnel to wear life-jackets or buoyancy aids when afloat. The new Code was published on December 1st 2001 and became compulsory from January 1st 2002.

What is the difference between a Life-jacket and a Buoyancy aid?

Life-jackets when fully inflated contain sufficient buoyancy to turn even an unconscious person into a safe, face upwards position within five seconds. This test is carried out wearing swimming trunks in calm water. (As recommended by BSI) The body will be inclined backwards facing the waves, with the head supported and the mouth and nostrils well clear of the water surface. A life-jacket must have a minimum of 150N.

A Buoyancy Aid is worn to provide extra buoyancy to assist a conscious person to keep afloat. It is designed to give as good a flotation position as possible, but it cannot be guaranteed to turn the body over from a face down position, because the buoyancy is almost half that of a life-jacket and is distributed in a different way.

Air-only, Automatic or Manual Gas

Air-Only Life-jackets and Buoyancy Aids rely on inflation to provide buoyancy. They have no permanent built-in buoyancy. This makes them compact and comfortable to wear. Air-only Life-jackets are classed by the method used to inflate them. Oral inflation is provided by blowing into a tube. In rough weather or if the wearer is unfit this may be difficult.

Manual Gas inflation occurs when the user pulls a short cord which fires C02 gas from a cylinder into the jacket.

Automatic Gas inflation is automatically triggered on entering the water without the wearer having to take any action. This is not recommended for coxes. It is recommended for poor swimmers and those with a medical condition that may render them unconscious before entering the water, eg. epilepsy.

Gas operated life-jackets can be inflated orally and the automatic version can be fired manually.

Air-Foam filled Buoyancy Aids

For young children and those who prefer to have inherent buoyancy, there is a choice of air-foam filled appliances. One with a collar is best as it supports the head. These products have the disadvantage of being bulkier, but the advantage of being much cheaper.

What is a Newton (N)?

A Newton is a measure unit of force. 10 Newtons are approximately equivalent to 1 kilo (2.21bs) of buoyancy. The new European Standard covers four levels of minimum buoyancy performance. The higher the Newton number the higher the buoyancy rating. The buoyancy rating quoted is for adult sizes only. Smaller sizes will have proportionally less buoyancy.

  • 50 Newton – Buoyancy Aid – (11 lbs buoyancy)
  • 100 Newton – Buoyancy Aid – (23 Ibs buoyancy)
  • 50 Newton – Life-jacket – (331bs buoyancy)
  • 275 Newton – Life-Jacket – (621bs buoyancy)

What Guidance is given regarding purchase of lifejackets and buoyancy Aids?

Safety equipment should always be purchased from a recognised and reputable manufacturer and retailer. This is the best assurance of quality. Our references are to products produced by Crewsaver, but there are many other satisfactory suppliers.

Good manufacturers will supply full instructions for use with each item, and will give full details of how to get the product serviced, and how to obtain spare parts (e.g. replacement gas bottles).

There are a number of independent authorities who provide approval for these products, and any one of these is an indication of quality. However as each model has to be separately tested to receive approval, manufacturers only tend to submit their most popular model for approval. Approving bodies include:

  • BSI – British Standards Institute
  • Department of Transport
  • British Marine Industries Federation
  • British Canoe Union

The CE Mark of Approval (the European Commission) is currently being introduced and in future a manufacturer will only be able to sell products that have been tested and carry this approval. There will however be a transitional period when retailers can sell existing stocks, and there is no requirement to replace serviceable lifejackets or buoyancy aids.


CE: By law a manufacturer can only sell Lifejackets, Buoyancy Aids and Safety Harnesses that have been tested to the latest European specifications and carry the CE Mark of Approval. All Crewsaver Lifejackets, Buoyancy Aids, Harnesses and Safety Lines are fully approved and CE Marked.

Safety Harnesses EN 1095                                              

The CEN Standard is based on three main reasons for wearing a deck safety harness, i.e. to secure the wearer on deck. They are not intended to prevent falls from a height. The Standard also states that in the case of the combined lifejacket and safety harness, both elements must be tested and have separate CE approval.

MED Directive

Is the equivalent of the CE Standard for life-jackets, which must be applied to all SOLAS equipment for use on commercial vessels.

Life-jackets and Buoyancy Aids

The four CE categories

275 Newton Life-jacket

(62 lbs / 28kg buoyancy)

EN 399

  • Suitable for swimmers and non-swimmers.
  • A high performance device for offshore and severe conditions, when maximum protection is required or where heavy waterproof clothing is worn.
  • They give improved assurance of safety from drowning to people who     are not able to help themselves.
  • While they cannot be guaranteed to self-right an unconscious user, wearing heavy waterproofs, the buoyancy they provide should ensure they will in the great majority of cases.

100 Newton Life-jacket

(23lbs / 11kg buoyancy)

EN 395

  • Suitable for swimmers.
  • They give a reasonable assurance of safety from drowning in relatively calm waters.
  • Not guaranteed to self-right an unconscious user wearing waterproof clothing and should not be expected to protect the airway of an unconscious person in rough water.

150 Newton Life-jacket

(33lbs / 16kg buoyancy)

EN 396

  • Suitable for swimmers and non-swimmers
  • For use in all but the most severe conditions.
  • They will give reasonable assurance of the safety from drowning to a person not fully capable of helping themselves
  • May not immediately self right an unconscious user wearing heavy waterproof clothing
  • Equivalent performance to previous BSI Approved lifejackets.

50 Newton Buoyancy Aid

(11 lbs / 5.5kg buoyancy)

EN 393

  • Only suitable for competent swimmers.
  • Sheltered water use where help is close at hand.
  • Only provides support to a conscious person who can help themselves.

Technical Terms

Air Foam Life-jackets; part foam, part air buoyancy provided by oral inflation.

Air Only Life-jackets; the buoyancy is provided by air or gas.

Buoyancy Aid; a means of providing additional buoyancy to a conscious person who is able to swim and help themselves, in situations where help is close at hand. It has less buoyancy than a life-jacket.

Buoyancy by Size; the amount of buoyancy in a device will change with its size. For example a baby size 10ON life-jacket has only 30N of buoyancy. This will operate on a baby in the same way as 10ON would on an adult.

CE Mark; a sign that the life-jacket, buoyancy aid, harness and safety line has been tested and complies with the relevant European Standard. All these products must be tested and carry the CE Mark.

Crutch Straps; a method of keeping the life-jacket held down and in place, when the wearer is in the water. We recommend their use at all times.

Foam/inherent Buoyancy; buoyancy provided by closed cell foam or other similar material.

Gas Inflation; the buoyancy of the life-jacket is provided by a CO., disposable gas cylinder. Once activated the COI, cylinder must be replaced.

Harness; a system of webbing straps with metal buckles and a ‘D’ ring, used with a safety line, to prevent a person falling overboard. Us be CE approved and must have the stitching in a contrasting colour.

Hydromatic Device; this mechanism is fitted with a hydrostatic valve that automatically inflates the lifejacket when the life-jacket is below the water. It is not affected by rain or spray.

Life-jacket; a means of providing buoyancy in an emergency. A lifejacket should, when fully inflated, turn the wearer, even when unconscious, face up and keep the airway clear of the water.

Manual Inflation; a method of inflating the life-jacket by pulling on a lanyard to pierce the gas cylinder.

Mouth Inflation Tube; fitted to all Gas, Air Foam and Oral life-jackets. It is a tube which can be used to inflate any life-jacket by mouth. This tube is also used to deflate the life-jacket by depressing the non-return valve fitted in the tube.

Newtons; the level of buoyancy a device provides in the water. 10 Newtons = 1kg = 2.21bs.

Oral Inflation; the buoyancy is provided by mouth inflation.

Retro- Reflective Tape; reflects light back to its source in a similar way to a ‘cats-eye,’ assisting rescuers to locate a person in the water.

Standard Automatic Activation; a device is fitted to inflate the life-jacket automatically once the wearer is in the water. Should this fail, manual activation can be used.

The working life of the life-jacket will be prolonged if the following instructions are adhered to:

1.Most manufacturers recommend a minimum of an annual inspection as detailed in the life-jacket user manual. If the life-jacket is used frequently or for commercial purposes, a more regular inspection is recommended.

2. Always ensure the life-jacket is worn correctly

3. It is important that the life-jacket is stored in a dry, well ventilated space. If the life-jacket is excessively wet, and it is fitted with a standard automatic capsule, it is advisable to remove the capsule until the life-jacket is dry.

Caution: Ensure the standard automatic capsule is refitted before using the life-jacket.

4. Periodically rinse the jacket in fresh water, particularly if it has bee in contact with salt water. On automatic models fitted with standard heads, always remove the automatic capsule and CO2 cylinder before rinsing. Oil and similar marks should be removed.

Never: Put your life-jacket in a washing machine, spin or tumble dryer. Always allow the life-jacket to dry naturally before stowing in a dry place.

5. Do not re-fit standard automatic capsule or CO2 cylinder until the lifejacket is dry.

6. Never use the life-jacket as a cushion or in any other way likely to cause damage.

7. Do not carry the life-jacket by the oral inflation tube.

8. If you have a harness version and it has been subjected to an exceptional shock load when being worn, it should be returned to the manufacturer/distributor for inspection.

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