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Life Jackets – A guide to buying one in Ireland

When I first sat down and thought about writing this article I wondered at what level should I pitch it at? What information do most of the readers have already and what information could I give out that the average reader might find new or useful.

Among the subjects for discussion would be the difference between Life Jackets and Buoyancy Aids, the different types of Life Jackets and the new legislation concerning the carrying and wearing of Personal Flotation Devices ( PFDs) on Leisure Craft.

There is no point I thought, in explaining why people should wear Life Jackets in the first place ……..Surely every one knows at this stage????   Apparently not!  Last Summer, I was working on one of the School Training Boats at Hodson Bay Pier for the afternoon.  Not counting larger boats (Cruisers etc.) I must have seen some 30 small craft ( RIBs, Speed Boats, Fishing Boats etc.) come and go at the pier. Each boat had from 2 to 6 people aboard about half of whom were children.  Approximately half of all these people were not wearing or carrying a PFD of any kind. All this within weeks of the Wexford tragedy!

I am sadly convinced that there will be a Wexford type tragedy on the Inland Waterways in the future. The simple truth is that Life Jackets save lives!  Life jackets should be worn at all times when on an open boat and when on deck on a larger boat or Cruiser. 

There has been since July 2001, an absolute legal obligation on any “skipper” (Including you, a leisure user on your 18 foot lake boat) to carry one lifejacket for every person aboard and to ensure that children under 16 are wearing them at all times!

The regulations on the wearing of lifejackets or PDFs came into force in June 2004.  Among other, it obliges:

  • the master of a non-mechanically propelled pleasure craft (e.g. a rowing boat) shall ensure the boat carries a suitable personal floatation device or lifejacket for each person on board;
  • the Master of an open non-mechanically propelled pleasure craft of less than 7.0 metres length overall, shall ensure that a suitable personal floatation device or lifejacket is worn by every person on board at all times, other than when the craft is made fast to the shore or anchored; 
  • The master of a non-mechanically propelled pleasure craft shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that a person who has not attained the age of 16 years shall, at all times, while on the deck of the craft, wear a suitable personal floatation device or lifejacket.

Putting on a lifejacket in the middle of a Marine accident is a bit like trying to fasten your seat belt in the middle of a car crash.  People say to me “ Sure, I can swim! I don’t need a Life Jacket” The fact is that if you swim, you halve your survival time in the water by burning up essential energy which could be keeping you warm, conscious and alive. If you go unconscious either from a knock or through Cold / Hypothermia, the chances are that you will lie face down in the water and drown. If you lose consciousness through Hypothermia, you may still have 30 to 60 minutes of life left in you. A life jacket will buy you that extra time.

Wearing a life jacket will keep you afloat with out having to use vital energy. It will keep your head and face out of the water so even if you do go unconscious you are not at as much risk of drowning.

What to Buy – A Rough Guide

Buoyancy Aids:

Buoyancy Aids are Not Life Jackets!!! Buoyancy aids which cost from €30 to €100 should only be worn by people taking part in water sports where part of the fun is falling in (Skiing, sailing, jet skiing, windsurfing etc.) They are designed to assist someone who is water confident in keeping afloat and swimming. Buoyancy aids have flotation padding on the front and back but do not have a neck collar. This means that the wearer has to work a little to keep their head out of the water. Some one who goes unconscious while wearing a buoyancy aid will generally float face down and will drown.

Life Jackets :

Life Jackets (cost from €100 to €200) on the other hand, have their main buoyancy at the wearer’s chest, none at the back and a collar supporting the back of the neck. Therefore, the casualty is forced into a floating position lying on their back with their head and face supported clear of the water.

Life jackets come in different shapes and sizes. They are either:

  • manually inflated;
  • automatically inflated or are;
  • made of foam.

Automatic Life jacket with a crotch strap passing between the wearer's legs - the norm for most adult  leisure users would be a European Standard or CE marked 150 Newton Automatic Life jacket.  This will deploy within 2 seconds of the wearer falling in. In the highly unlikely event of the auto system failing to deploy, the user can still pull a little toggle to manually deploy the little CO2 cylinder that inflates the jacket. Make sure that you have a spare cylinder (a re-arming kit) to replace one if it has been used.

You should check your life jacket regularly for faults - a quick visual inspection for cuts or nicks and check that the cylinder is full and has not rusted into its socket! Blow up the jacket using the mouthpiece to check for leaks or damage especially along the seams, deflate the jacket and repack carefully. 


After using your life jacket on a wet day don’t leave it on its side in the boot of your car for a few days as it will deploy in the boot as you are doing 70 on the M50! (Bad for the nerves!!!).  When you get home, open it up, remove the cylinder and hang it up to dry naturally.  We strongly recommend you view:

See Also:

Inflated Opinion - article by John Leech on the merits or otherwise of auto-inflating life jackets - from IWN Winter 2004.

Irish Water Safety Association 

Safety on the water 

A large number of pamphlets are available from   (in PDF format) including:

  • Safe Canoeing
  • Lifejacket Safety
  • Jet Ski Guidelines
  • Yacht Safety
  • Dinghy Safety
  • Boating on the waterways
  • Safe Windsurfing
  • Safe Diving
  • Machinery Breakdowns
  • Man Overbaord Fishing Vessels
  • GMDSS for Small Craft
  • Emergency Procedures for Pleasure Craft
  • Emergency Procedures for Fishing Vessels

Manually activated Life Jackets are really only recommended for users such as rescue agencies who need the safety of a life jacket but may still need to enter the water without the jacket deploying.

Heavy Duty 275 Newton Life Jackets are really only required by users wearing heavy equipment such as Fire Brigade Personnel or who are operating off shore where extra buoyancy and security from a twin chamber life jacket is required.

The Solid Foam type (beloved of Hire Boat Firms as they are maintenance free) while effective, are bulky and uncomfortable to wear and are really only recommended for someone like a small child who would not know how to; or would be otherwise unable to pull the activation toggle on an inflatable jacket if the auto system failed.



 Safe Boating!

Stuart McNamara is Ireland’s National Motorboat and Power Boat Trainer and is also the Owner and Director of Lough Ree Power Boat School.

Lifejackets are available from all chandlers and on-line from Lough Ree Power Boat School at

© Stuart McNamara 2002-2004

Lifejacket Repairs

The following people repair lifejackets in Ireland:

  • Solas Marine Services, +353 (0)1-856-1320
  • Galway Maritime Services +353 (0)91 566568.
  • Anchor Safety Ltd +353 (0)91 -770735



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This page was last modified Saturday 09 March, 2013.