Are you thinking of taking up kayaking this summer? Maybe you have decided to start a water skiing course, or you just want to stay safe on your very first canoeing holiday. Whatever your plan for the aquatic realm might be, you will need a reliable way to stay afloat in case you tip over somewhere. To that end, you have likely already made the smart decision to get yourself a life vest, and you probably already have some idea of what to look for in it.
But how much do you really know? Do you understand the different materials? Would you know how to ascertain whether that stylish vest is the right one for your particular needs? Do you know how to take care of it? We put together a handy guide on the most important things you need to know before you buy a life vest. Jump right in!
What are life vests made out of?
Not all life vests are made the same, and we are not just talking about the style here. Depending on the manufacturer, their personal policies, and specific purposes of the product, you will find vests made of different materials. The three most common ones are Kapok, PVC, and the GaiaTMFoam.
Kapok is named after the tree from where it is derived, and this material has gained high renown for being significantly eco-friendly. It has a fibrous structure, which lends it more buoyancy than traditional foam materials, and is appreciated for its light weight and notable durability.
Perhaps its most popular characteristic is that it does a great job of keeping water out of your vest, which is a huge bonus for people who forget, or just have trouble finding time, to properly dry their floatation aides.
PVC is by far the most commonly employed material. This is what is known as “traditional foam” and has an insanely wide array of applications, which you can read more about at this web page.
This substance is valued for its high durability and low price but has received a fair amount of backlash in the recent times, due to containing chlorine and certain oils, which make it not as environmentally friendly as the modern trends are increasingly demanding.
Finally, there is the Gaia foam. This is a relatively new material on the market, based on organic compounds of nitrile, and highly regarded for being free of halogens, CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), and PVC components.
In addition to being so environmentally friendly, it is also resistant to heat and cold, and rather lighter than most other materials. Vests made of this are much less dense overall, meaning less heavy-feeling.
How can you check the buoyancy of your vest?
Not everyone will need the same degree of buoyancy ability in their vest, and this is expected. The best inflatable life vests will be available in enough different varieties to account for all of the different needs out there. Some of the factors that determine how much buoyancy you will need are your clothing, the size and working capacity of your lungs, as well as the percentage of your body fat. It is all highly individual, but there can be said to be this one general guideline to follow: the more fit you are, the stronger your vest has to be, because muscle tissue is by far more dense than fat or anything else.
Now, different life vest types will have different buoyancy levels, although in general they will always offer slightly more than you need. Always check the label on the vest you are considering for this information – the manufacturer is obliged to list it. Having said that, there is a fairly simple and straightforward way to test your potential new vest and see whether it will actually keep you afloat as well as it is supposed to.
Inflate the vest and put it on properly. Make sure to follow all the instructions for that step – mistaking the basic precautions is the very first thing that might lead you to drowning somewhere out in the wild water. Once you have your “test vest” on, get into a body of water, lay on your back, and tilt your head back as well. If the vest has the right level of buoyancy for your needs, your chin and mouth will be comfortably above the water. If either one is dipping in, you need a stronger vest, i.e. one with a higher buoyancy level.
Does the life vest’s buoyancy ever change over time?
Yes, it does, although typically not of its own accord. One critical thing to keep in mind is that there are, in fact, ways in which you yourself can lower the efficacy of your floatation device. The two biggest dangers you face are pressure and leftover moisture. If you kneel against your vest at any point, r decide to sit on it for whatever possible reason, you will press the material together which will increase its density in that spot and throw it off balance everywhere else, and by consequence lower the floating ability of the life vest.
The second problem we mentioned is leftover moisture. Now, no matter what it is made of and how hard you try to prevent it, your vest will inevitably pick up some water over the course of its usage. This is natural and perfectly okay, so long as you handle it right. If you put your life vest into storage while it is still wet, the water will get stuck and you will likely find aggressive mold growing all over the next time you pick the floater up. therefore, make sure that you dry it off thoroughly before storing it away.
You may want to read up a little more on things like the physics of buoyancy, if you want a deeper understanding of your life vest’s mechanics, but you are covered for the basics! Stay safe and have fun!