Suffolk Trading Standards were alerted to potential dangers of "life jackets" available on online selling platforms, and decided to see how widespread the problems were. We purchased 10 products described as "life jackets", all of which failed to meet requirements for buoyancy aids, let alone life jackets.
What is the difference between buoyancy aids and life jackets?
Buoyancy aids and life jackets are known as personal flotation devices.
Buoyancy aids are designed to help you swim if you capsize for example, whereas a life jacket is designed to keep a person afloat without the need to swim.
A life jacket should keep someone afloat even if they are unconscious and should have a collar designed to keep the person’s face clear of the water. It will turn an unconscious person into a safe position.
How do you know if your buoyancy aid or life jacket is safe, or appropriate?
There is a lot of confusion on the difference between a life jacket and a buoyancy aid because both exist to help you float, however most buoyancy aids are simply aids which aid and assist you in the water. Life jackets are life saving devices which fully support you in the water.
For young children, and for all non-swimmers, a life jacket should be worn.
All life jackets and buoyancy aids must be CE-marked. This shows that the product has been tested and approved to European standards.
The buoyancy of a personal flotation device is measured in Newtons (N). Ten Newtons equals 1kg of flotation. There are four main buoyancy levels: 50, 100, 150 and 275. Newton ratings are relative to the weight of the intended user. Make sure the life jacket you choose is the correct size for you and that it has the right Newton rating for your weight.
- Level 50 buoyancy aids should only be used by swimmers in sheltered waters when help is close at hand. Mainly used for active surface water sports eg: Dinghy Sailing, Canoeing, Kite Surfing. Only suitable for competent swimmers.
- Level 100 life jackets are for those who may have to wait for rescue but are likely to be in sheltered, calm water.
- Level 150 life jackets are for general use on coastal and inshore waters when sailing and fishing.
- Level 275 life jackets are recommended for offshore cruising, fishing and commercial users.
All personal flotation devices must have a warning for use, such as "Warning: Will not protect against drowning".
All personal flotation devices must be labelled with the European Standard.