Spend any time out on the Milford Haven Waterway and you will observe a notable safety item is being largely ignored, the humble lifejacket. Lifejacket, personal flotation device (PFD), buoyancy aid, all different names and all are life saving devices. But what’s the difference?
If you are dressed in normal clothes and aren’t planning on entering the water, then a lifejacket should be your go-to piece of safety equipment. These are mostly devices that either manually or automatically inflate to bring the person to the surface and support the head out of the water. Crucially they are designed to turn a casualty face up. There are some lifejackets on the market that have fixed buoyancy similar to a buoyancy aid but have the notable addition of a foam collar, mainly designed for children, these will also assist in turning a casualty face up in the water.
If, however, you are dressed for getting in the water for activities such as paddle boarding or kayaking, then the buoyancy aid should be the preferred piece of safety equipment. A buoyancy aid will keep you afloat but will not necessarily turn you face up.
So why should you wear a lifejacket or PFD?
Cold water is defined as 15 degrees and below, the average water temperature in Milford Haven is 12 degrees! Even in the peak of summer we only get to 15 or maybe 16 degrees for a very short period. Entering water at this temperature causes cold water shock, particularly when you are not expecting it.
Cold water shock can steal the air from your lungs, numb your limbs and leave you helpless and is the main cause of death in the marine environment. No matter how fit you think you are, you won’t beat the sea. Add alcohol into the mix as many do on a sunny summer’s day out on the water and you increase the chances of losing your life. Around half of people that drown in the UK each year never intend going in the water and around 30% of those will have consumed alcohol.
What price do you put on your safety?
From as little as £20 each you can ensure that everyone on board has this vital piece of safety equipment. No boat should head out onto the water without enough lifejackets for everyone and everyone should be wearing them.
Brian Macfarlane, the Port of Milford Haven’s Water Ranger, reports that he sometimes sees children on boats wearing a lifejacket or PFD, but not the adults. When asked ‘why not?’, the answer is invariably “I’m a good swimmer”. How often do we hear of adults going into the water to assist children wearing a PFD where the child survives, but the adult doesn’t?
Brian’s advice is to “Prepare, take care, and wear a lifejacket. Float to live!”