Lifejackets are the most important piece of safety equipment on any recreational vessel.
A lifejacket, also known as a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), must be carried for each person on board most vessels. It must be the correct size for the wearer and in good working condition.
Penalties may apply to the owners and masters of vessels found not carrying lifejackets, or if there are not enough lifejackets for everyone on board. Penalties may also apply if occupants are not wearing lifejackets when they are required to do so.
More importantly, if you are not wearing your lifejacket, it cannot save your life.
Between mid 1999 and December 2011, only 15 of the 221 people killed in boating accidents in NSW were wearing lifejackets. Many could have survived, had they been wearing a lifejacket.
For more information about lifejackets visit Lifejacket: Wear it on the Maritime Management Centre website.
What lifejackets must I carry on my boat?
It is a legal requirement that most recreational vessels in NSW must carry an appropriate size and type of lifejacket for each person on board. They must be stored or placed to allow quick and easy access. Lifejackets must be either visible to passengers or their location clearly marked by an unobstructed and clearly visible sign saying LIFEJACKETS (red lettering on a white background). Stickers are available free from Roads and Maritime offices.
Open (ocean) waters (including crossing ocean bars)
Unless there is a requirement that a lifejacket must be worn, a lifejacket Level 100+ must be carried for everyone on board for all vessels except outrigger canoes which are permitted to carry a lifejacket Level 100+, 50 or 50S.
Enclosed and alpine waters
Unless there is a requirement that a lifejacket must be worn, a lifejacket Level 100+, 50 or 50S must be carried.
Level 100+ inflatable lifejacket
Similar to a Type 1 lifejacket
Level 100+ lifejackets provide the highest level of buoyancy and are designed to keep the wearer’s head face-up and above the water even if unconscious. There are two options: inflatable or non-inflatable.
Inflatable lifejackets rely on CO2 for buoyancy, which means they are lighter and less cumbersome to wear than the equivalent 100+ foam lifejackets. Once inflated, these lifejackets display high-visibility colours.
Generally, adult inflatable lifejackets are rated at 150+.
There are two kinds of Level 100+ inflatable lifejackets, those that are inflated by manual activation or those that inflate automatically when the lifejacket comes in contact with water.
Level 100+ jackets are required in certain situations, for example when boating on open (ocean) waters.
The inflatable types are becoming more popular because they are comfortable to wear, but boaters must be aware of the added maintenance requirements that come with this style of lifejacket, and the need for detailed crew and passenger briefing on their operation.
Level 100+ lifejacket
Similar to a Type 1 lifejacket
Level 100+ lifejackets are also available as non-inflatable garments with in-built foam buoyancy, including neck support designed to keep the wearer’s head face-up and above the water even if unconscious.
These lifejackets must be high-visibility colour and are heavier and bulkier to wear than the inflatable equivalent. However, they do not require the additional operation and servicing of the equivalent inflatable lifejackets.
Level 50 lifejacket
Similar to a Type 2 lifejacket
These are buoyancy vests designed to support the wearer in the water, but without the neck support required to keep the wearer's head face-up and above the water if unconscious.
They are made using high-visibility colours and in comfortable styles. They are mainly used when boating in more sheltered areas such as enclosed or inland waters.
Level 50S lifejacket
Similar to a Type 3 lifejacket
These are buoyancy vests with the same overall buoyancy as a Level 50 lifejacket, however they are not required to be made in high-visibility colours. This makes them popular for use in aquatic sports such as wakeboarding and water-skiing, where comfort and style are important.
Note: A text-only description of this table is available.
There are now many different brands on the market so it is important to choose one that suits your needs. Whether it is a jacket or vest, a yoke or a belt bag inflatable style, ensure you read and understand all the instructions. Familiarise yourself with the inflation procedures and the care required for your jacket while not in use.
Manual or automatic inflation?
This will depend of what you are most comfortable with and in what circumstances the jacket is being used. The benefit of an auto inflating jacket is that as soon as the inflation mechanism gets wet the jacket will inflate, whereas a manual jacket’s CO2 inflation is only activated by hand.
Poor swimmers may be more comfortable with an auto jacket, but remember a large amount of spray may activate the jacket while on deck.
What if my inflatable has been activated?
Once activated, the CO2 cylinder is pierced and cannot be used again. On an auto jacket, auto components may also need to be replaced. Cylinders and auto components are available from dealers, but it is wise to have spares on the boat or in the garage just in case.
Servicing inflatable lifejackets
The emergence of affordable, comfortable and stylish lifejackets is a major step forward in boating safety. Inflatable lifejackets are growing rapidly in popularity because of their convenience and affordability.
As lifejackets spend much time in a harsh boating environment where they are often exposed to heat, sun and salt, they are subject to damage. One aspect of inflatables that boaters are often unaware of is that Roads and Maritime requires inflatable lifejackets to be serviced at least annually, unless the manufacturer specifies and permits a longer period.
Some manufacturers require you to have your lifejacket serviced by them or by an authorised agent. This will ensure that the jacket is in good working order and functions properly.
When the lifejacket is serviced, checks will be carried out to ensure the bladder, reflective tapes, buckles and straps are in working order and that the inflation system and oral inflation tube are operating correctly. Contact the manufacturer or the place of purchase for further details.
Some manufacturers allow you to ‘self service’ your lifejacket, provided you do so in accordance with their instructions.
If the manufacturer allows self servicing you should be competent to do so. Otherwise you should get it serviced professionally, which is a higher level of inspection and replacement of parts than ‘self service’.
If you are self servicing, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and make sure the recharge kit matches your jacket. If there is a service record in the inside of the jacket, sign and date the service record with a permanent marker. If not, make a paper record of your own and keep a copy handy on board the vessel.
Keep all servicing receipts and certificates of servicing as documentary evidence of the service occurring. Failure to do so makes verifying servicing impossible and you could be in breach of the safety equipment requirements.
Keeping a safety equipment log for your vessel is a good way to record replacement. You can also register for a free email alert service reminding you when your safety gear needs to be serviced or replaced.
How to self check your inflatable lifejacket step by step guide
Self checking a lifejacket can be done at any time to ensure the jacket is functioning properly. If you want to ‘self service’ your lifejacket, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific lifejacket model.
Check for visible signs of wear and damage. Ensure all fastenings and buckles are in good working order.
Following manufacturer’s instructions, reveal the inflation system and oral inflation tube. Inflate bladder using the oral tube and leave overnight in a room with constant temperature. If the bladder loses pressure, immediately take jacket to an accredited service agent for further tests. Do not attempt to repair jacket yourself.
Use cap attached to the oral inflation tube to deflate bladder. Invert cap and press down on valve at the top of the oral tube. Do not insert other objects into top of tube as they may damage the valve. Roll or press jacket to deflate fully.
Remove CO2 cylinder and inspect. The cylinder should be intact with no rust or corrosion. Weigh cylinder on kitchen or letter scales, ensure weight corresponds to the minimum gross weight engraved on cylinder +/– 2g. If cylinder is rusted, corroded, has been pierced or is not the correct weight it should be replaced immediately. On auto inflation jackets also ensure auto components are armed and in date. Refit cylinder to inflation system, tightening it by hand until firm. Do not over tighten.
Repack jacket as per manufacturer’s instructions. Ensure manual inflation toggle is accessible and unlikely to be caught when being worn.