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While you can still purchase lifejackets that only meet superseded standards, those that meet the latest national standards for PFDs definitely offer a safer option.

As the old saying goes, “Oils ain’t Oils” – it does not matter what we buy these days, the devil is always in the detail. If the TV does not perform or the tip snaps on your new graphite rod, you might curse and take it back to the store but, when it comes to safety equipment, and particularly PFDs or lifejackets, a correctly-fitted and fully-compliant jacket is incredibly important.

The three main national standards of PFDs are all measured on the buoyancy they offer. Each level is then paired with the undertaken activity, and the standards then have design variations to ensure they provide the best possible safety and compliance, or what is required by law.

LEVEL 50 and 50s

The level 50 jackets are typically used for water sports; eg kayaking, water skiing and jet skiing. They are typically sportier and more comfortable and can be made of material like neoprene for additional comfort and warmth in and out of the water. Level 50 must be a specific high-vis colour and is required for jet skis or kayaks in open water. The 50S can be any colour or design and is more suited to freshwater lakes and water skiing. High compliance standards ensure that buckles, zips and materials are long lasting and that buoyancy for each jacket size ensures they perform as a safety device. The fitting of these styles of jackets is important for both comfort and safety. The best possible fit is the key message here.


These jackets are always ultra-high-visibility yellow, red or orange and the material colour is tested to ensure it complies with the standard. Every state and territory has slightly different rules and regulations (check your Maritime Authority website), but these jackets are required on all boats, both inshore and offshore, and there should be one on board in the correct size for every passenger, including kids. The fit of these jackets is crucial. Every size is weight rated and the buoyancy for that weight range is carefully measured and evaluated as part of the standard. The infants and kids jackets have a crutch strap to ensure the jacket does not ride up, and kids will progress through sizes as their weight increases so check the fit every 6-12 months. An older standard is still accepted across the country; however, the newest standard will be a safer option for your family. Carefully proportioned and positioned foam pieces across all sizes of this standard ensure that, if the user is both unconscious and face down, it will roll them over (“Rollover”) to heads-up position, with the collar supporting the neck and head area, ensuring that the unconscious person is able to breath until help arrives. The newest standard requires the user to rollover in a measured period of seconds, giving them the best chance of survival.


The inflatable jackets are a popular option for all boat users because they are less bulky and more comfortable than standard foam jackets. Technology has progressed and the mechanisms that inflate the jacket have continued to improve and evolve with US companies like Halkey Roberts leading the way in this development. Halkey Roberts also makes the inflators for airline jackets. Look for original, USA-made mechanisms in jackets when purchasing your next inflatable; compromising on price may see you in a jacket with an inferior mechanism or the older less-safe standard. The latest mechanisms are mandatory in the new standard while the older standard does not have the same functionality, so it’s important that the next jacket you buy is to the latest standard. Servicing the latest standard is also easier and only requires a simple self-inspection and test every year for five years before it needs to go to a certified agent. If the jacket is inflated and needs to be re-set, the same applies and a simple bottle replacement and check can be done by the owner of the jacket with very simple self-servicing instructions available on the leading manufacturers’ websites.

One world-wide trend that Australia does not follow is the use of manual versus automatic jackets. A manual jacket requires the user to pull a cord to inflate it while an automatic recognises when the jacket is in the water and engages the mechanism to inflate it through a clever chemical reaction. This can be critically important if the user is unconscious or panics in a stressful situation. In Australia, over 90% of the jackets sold are manual due to price but the rest of the world sells mostly automatic jackets. In the new standard with the clever mechanisms brought out by Halkey Roberts, you can buy an automatic jacket which will also convert to manual through the application of a simple cap.

Although the automatics are dearer than the manuals, if you are in the water unconscious, this functionality and added safety are well worth the extra $30-$40, and may save your life.

Speaking to an experienced retailer who understands the new standards and doing your own research on your state or territory’s websites will help you understand why getting the correct jacket for you is important. Below is the link to one of the leading manufacturers should you require any technical information or help in finding an experienced retailer.


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