When I first began boating in the late 1950s, our family cabin cruiser, a 17ft Augustin named Jan Shiree after my sister, carried only the basic safety equipment.
This consisted of a flare pack, a fire extinguisher and a set of kapokfilled lifejackets, possibly relics from the Armed Services Surplus Store!
My dad, and his dad, were cautious boaties, so the first thing that was upgraded when they could afford it was the life jackets. These were around-the-neck jobbies with straps in the front, top and bottom, that needed to be tied. They were followed in time by more sophisticated closed-cell foam models that featured plastic clips on adjustable straps – these were far less bulky and less prone to damage, even when used as buffers around our dive bottles!
Fast-forward to the last decade and we have seen a quantum leap in the quality and style of lifejackets. Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) have become the norm and there are several sophisticated versions available.
One such PFD is the Baltic Legend 150N, a well-designed and very functional product that inflates automatically when wearers find themselves in the water.
I have been trialing one this summer on my FC 535 Centre Console Tackle Tester. I regularly launch through the surf at Waipu Cove or run the Mangawhai Bar. Wearing of a lifejacket is mandatory for me and crew – my rules, not any regulatory body’s! At other times I am a ‘Nigel No Mates’, fishing by myself, when I wear the jacket from launching to retrieval.
This jacket is so comfortable I often forget I am wearing it. It does not impede my fishing activities and sometimes only gets noticed when I need to shed a jacket as the day warms up. A fleece-lined collar adds to the PFD’s comfort quota.
Being a big boy across the shoulders, I like the wide opening of the Baltic 150N, which makes putting it on quite easy. It doesn’t ride up around your shoulders and the padded, air-mesh back keeps the air flowing, even on hot days. There is a crutch strap to ensure the jacket stays in place should you have to jump or fall overboard.
An extra safety feature, which is now fitted to all Baltic inflatable lifejackets, is a cylinder retainer, which prevents the gas cylinder working loose even under heavy vibration and temperature extremes.
The Baltic 150N is a unisex model and fits wearers in a wide weight range – from 40kg up to 120kg – thanks to an easily-adjusted waistband.
As well as the auto-inflator system, which can be viewed through a clear plastic re-arming status window in the front of the jacket, the PFD can be inflated manually.
Manufactured in Europe in the Baltic factory, the Swedish-made bladder is test-inflated before and after manufacture for every unit – even the oral inflation/deflation tube is checked and stamped.
Other features include a whistle to attract the attention of any rescuers; reflective patches and toggles to aid location in the dark; and the addition of a bracket to which a rope can be attached to secure you to an upturned hull or as a lifting attachment.
The jackets, distributed in New Zealand by Safety at Sea, come with a five-year guarantee. With a RRP of $350, these PDFs are not cheap, but you get what you pay for and it is hard to put a price on personal safety.
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