Inflatable life jacket

I bought a Mustang Survival MD 3085 Manual Inflatable Life vest. I got a really good deal on it. I’m wondering if it was a good buy. My philosophy on life vests is: if it’s worth wearing one, it’s worth wearing one that will function properly.

I wonder how reliable the inflatables are. I’ve heard them referred to as “glorified balloons”. Any thoughts? thanks.

Swimming for your life ….
My experience is you want to know that a PFD fits and supports you in a position that you can swim and control your breathing in heavy waves and aerated water. You might want to test your inflatable and see how it holds you up, does it ride up, above your head etc in waves.

I’ve worn one of these in heavy seas in Denmark and New Zealand on sail boats, but never went in the water with it. Biggest advantage is they are not bulky when not needed. Hope it inflates when really needed. Would suck to have a malfunction.

I have one
that I wear in calm protected waters only. Personally I would not use it in white water or unprotected waters.

I have one
You can manually inflate them to see how you like it. Very nice in hot weather and it’s not bulky.

Personal opinion…
“Glorified balloon” seems a fitting description.

What if it malfunctions when needed?

What if it get cut/holed accidentally?

That’s 2 too many what ifs for me.

Your option of course…


What if
"Glorified balloon" seems a fitting description.

What if it malfunctions when needed? Can be manually inflated.

What if it get cut/holed accidentally? Your screwed!

What if you have a medical emergency. Could be a problem.

That’s 2 too many what ifs for me.

Your option of course…


Check regularly for leaks
We have some for our Fire Department. The big thing is to check them regularly for leaks. Personally I don’t car much for them.

I have a Hobie vest…
…that is very similar to the Mustang.

On hot days on shallow flat water, I think it’s fine.

For anything else I wear a much bulkier, but really well fitting Kokatat.

What ifs aside these things are great

– Last Updated: Apr-23-14 10:34 AM EST –

I have manual SOSPENDERS inflatable as well as a conventional Extrasport PFD. Both are 10 or 12 years old now, but in excellent shape. They do work when needed, but the inflatable needs annual maintenance and frequent inspection to ensure that it is OK when needed. Inflatables offer significantly more buoyancy than do conventional PFDs. In a self rescue in the surf, trust me, from personal experience, the inflatable buoyancy advantage is a significant bonus. Calm water indeed. Can the inflatable fail to inflate when needed or leak? Not likely if properly maintained. That is why they have Coast Guard approval. At least in hot weather, I see an awful lot of PFDs in the boat, but not being worn. Inflatables, because of their greater comfort, get worn. To each his own, but just for fun the next time you see the Coast Guard, or Police, or a Tow Rescue boat on the water, take a look at what they are wearing. At least here in South Florida, inflatables are in.

Just for fun…
Compare boats used by Coast Guard/Police/Tow Rescue boats to canoe or kayak.

Also compare training/experience of typical personnel using Coast Guard/Police/Tow Rescue boats to the typical canoe or kayak user.

If/when Coast Guard/Police/Tow Rescue personnel go into the water; they typically have other trained personnel “right there”, readily available to assist them.

They will typically have the necessary rescue equipment, readily available to use.

Will the average canoe or kayak paddler?

Probably not.

Lots of things to consider in choice of pfd.

Not sure that comfort & ease of wear is the most important consideration.

I do believe adults should have the option of choosing for themselves, and also for dealing with possible natural consequences of their decision making.


They’re great for the right purpose
I think harness-style inflatables are great for yachties and power boaters, and I’ve used them a lot on larger boats. They’ve been around a long time, and they’ve proven reliable and popular. Uninflated they’re easy to wear and out of the way, and inflated they perform way better than anything you’d be willing to wear all the time. They’ll turn you over, hold your face above waves, etc. Much better performance than a type 3 if you’re stuck bobbing offshore, waiting for rescue.

However, that’s not really how paddlers use their vests, in my opinion. A paddler needs something that helps them float, but allows them to self rescue, since most swims are followed by getting yourself back in your boat. That’s really hard with a very bulky inflatable on your chest and shoulders. And deflating it so you can paddle takes both hands and a few minutes. Not a good match for paddlers, in my opinion. Better to find a nice low profile foam vest, with good ventilation. Or get a hybrid vest like the Kokatat Sea02.

Choice is important
Perhaps Bob and I can agree that having choices and making informed decisions is highly desirable. It sounds, though, like at least a few opinions on inflatable PFDs have been formed from armchairs here. Am I the only participant in this thread who has been upside down in the water when wearing an inflatable PFD? Every year when it is time for maintenance, I use mine in the water since the inflation device is replaced anyway. I use my Extrasport in the water too. It is called practicing self and assisted rescues. My paddling companions are all experienced, trained, and work together on the water. Frankly I do not go out on the water alone any more, always with others. Salt water, fresh water, open water, lakes, rivers, you name it, we use the buddy system. Safety is the guiding principle. With that said, I have done a self rescue with my inflatable in the surf off Palm Beach, FL. I found that the extra floatation provided by the inflatable was very helpful. I had no trouble getting back in my kayak and no trouble deflating it and paddling again. Admittedly I had friends right there to assist if necessary, but at least that time no help was necessary. My first choice is an inflatable, based on use, experience and training. Your results may vary.

I hate my inflatable
And yes I have worn it other than in the armchair.

Inflated it makes self rescue in the ocean a real difficult thing if I happen to swim. Once inflated in rough seas there is little chance of changing cartridges without going over again. Takes too much time to inflate manually in the ocean.

The only good thing is that it is the most comfortable PFD over several insulating layers and the drysuit… which I wear in the ocean in Maine most all of the time.

Scuba divers wear inflatable vests
Every scuba diver in the world wears an inflatable vest.

It’s not a matter of wether or not an inflatable is good or not, it’s a matter of wether yours is good for you. I’m sure it’s manufactured with good safety standards. Just try it in the water and every now and then blow it up to check for any leaks. Also just remember that you can’t blow it up if your unconscious. Some models come with CO2 inflaters as well.

Scuba divers do wear inflatables…
…but they operate, in a very controlled manner, from the scuba tank and not from CO2 cartridges, which could be very dangerous if one inflated at depth and caused an uncontrolled ascent. Divers call their jackets BCDs (buoyancy compensation devices) and not PFDs, because they use them to fine tune buoyancy. They also have these jackets professionally maintained at least annually.

While they will float a diver at the surface, that’s not really their primary purpose and therefore I don’t think it’s a good analogy to compare BCDs to PFDs.

Deep trouble book
If I remember correctly one of the stories in the book had a someone who had an inflatable and it worked ok BUT he had trouble swimming with it and he had to swim to catch his kayak. So maybe there harder to swim with once inflated?

Reusability question
Looking thru the stuff above it appears that no one has raised just this question.

My understanding is that a PFD like this inflates via a small CO2 cartridge upon immersion. It is fairly obvious it would not be the best choice for rolling practice, assuming that you got it in the first place because of how lightweight it is when uninflated.

But that means is is like our Back-Up Roll-Aid devices - you only get one shot of it functioning. After that you are paddling with a big inflated thing around you for the rest of the trip.

That is assuming it stays inflated… we found with the Roll-Aid that CO2 molecules bleed out of miniscule small opportunities in the fabric more readily than regular air. It stayed inflated better when we had blown it up by mouth than when we tested it with an actual cartridge. Obviously you could stop, take it off if needed and re-inflate it by mouth if needed - it’s gotta have a valve for that - but that could be a PITA.

So my question about an inflatable vest is how well something that can go from very lightweight to extremely inflated fits into your paddling. If you are doing something that can involve repeated immersion, like white water or surf, or multi-day trips where you would have to carry spare cartridges, it is probably not a match. If you are talking flat water and a relatively safe environment for it to be deployed in, no 3 mile swims to shore, it might be a plan.

Not “on immersion”

– Last Updated: Apr-25-14 8:50 AM EST –

The ones I have seen recommended for kayaking (and the Hobie model I have) don't automatically deploy. They have a small grab handle, that when you pull it, "fires" the CO2 cartridge. I understand that "on immersion" models are more designed for ocean sailors.

This of course means that should you be unconscious (not a high probability in a kayak but still a consideration) when you hit the water, the PFD won't help you.

Mine also has a inflation tube with a valve at the end, so the PFD can be orally inflated while wearing the PFD, or manually deflated. With this you could also only partially inflate/deflate although that's probably not that practical once you're in the water. But it does mean that even if you don't have a spare cartridge with you, you could - in a pinch - still inflate the PFD.

You capsize and have to grab something - OK for someone well practiced in being upside down. Not so hot for someone who is not wet a lot.

I would then move my concern to the practice part. It might be an expensive practice with the cost of the cartridges. We found that to be one potential limitation of the Roll-Aid… I found I had to practice being upside down and find the handle but not pull it to be sure I could use it in the emergency for which it was planned. That worked out a lot better once I had a solid roll on at lest one side.

I had a Scubapro vest with CO2 inflation, inflation from the tank and oral.

Any top side vest with CO2 is also going to have oral as well. Most have just oral.

We’re over analyzing here. The inflatable is fine as long as it’s checked regularly. The downside- you have to inflate it and it could leak. Windsurfers and kite board people all use them and go far off shore in rough conditions.