SCRA Life Jacket Guidance

The Scottish Coastal Rowing Association’s Rules of Racing insist that Personal Flotation Devices (eg Lifejackets) must be worn by all crew members whenever they are on the water on a race day. Most, perhaps even all, clubs also insist on the wearing of PFD during training or recreation outings in club owned boats.  They choice of PFD, fit and maintainance remain the responsibility of the individual and their club. However here are some tips which we hope you you will find useful.

Harness Style Life-Jacket

This is the most commonly used type of PFD in coastal rowing. An inflatable bladder is stored inside a cover that will pop open when the bladder is inflated. The bladder is secured to a webbing arrangement which goes over the shoulder and has a buckle around the waist. Even uninflated, this type of life jacket is useful in a rescue situation as it gives hand holds to for a rescuer to use when hauling a casualty aboard a rescue boat.

A harness style life-jacket can be either auto-inflate (a device in the firing mechanism will cause the life jacket to inflate when it is submerged in the water), or manual inflate (a toggle attached to the firing mechanism has to be pulled by the casualty before the life jacket will inflate and help at all with buoyancy. An unconscious casualty cannot manually inflate a life jacket, which is why some prefer auto-inflation. However if you are trapped under an upturned skiff you will be hampered in getting clear of the skiff if your life jacket has inflated, which is why at least one club has moved entirely from auto-inflate to manual following a broaching incident. SCRA has a video of a life jacket being deployed.

Foam cell buoyancy aid: This is a waistcoat style, which relies on the material within it to support the rower in the water. It will have less buoyancy that a full life jacket, and will not cause an unconscious casualty to float with their face above water. Particularly for the younger rower it can give a better fit, and does not rely on any other actions or parts to start working. It is easier to swim and self rescue wearing a buoyancy aid than a fully inflated life jacket.

“Bumbag” or “Pouch” or “belt pack” Lifejacket

Many rowers like these life jackets because they are less likely to get in the way of the rowing stroke. However properly worn, the pouch should be at the front and not the back. They are more complicated to deploy, at a time when complication may be the last thing that is needed.

Pouch Style Lifejacket

 It requires to be pulled over the head at the point when it is needed. It is not clear whether this must be done before or after inflation.  Users should ensure that they are clear as to how a lifejacket should be used before putting it on. The bladder of the pouch type is not strapped down to the back of the wearer’s waist belt like other lifejackets, and is held from popping off the wearer’s head only by the tightness of its fit and the the angle of the wearer’s head, although in some types ribbons may be included which need to be tied when in the water.

Wear your Life Jacket Correctly

Fit- Make sure that the straps are adjusted so that your life jacket fits well. Test this by placing your fist under the buckle. If there is a gap between your fist and your body, your life jacket is too loose. You may have to adjust your life jacket fit as you take off layers of clothing. See the RNLI video on fitting your life jacket.

Crotch Straps help keep the life jacket in the correct place to have a casualty floating safely with their head above the water. Crotch straps should be worn if fitted (although some rowers cannot tolerate wearing them whilst actively rowing). Educate yourself on why a well fitted lifejacket with crotch straps is better by watching this video.

Check and Maintain your Lifejacket

Look after your life jacket so that it will look after you. You should check fairly regularly for visual signs of damage, and also that the cannister is in good condition and has not worked loose. The RNLI had a useful film on undertaking checks. Annual professional service is also recommended, and early replacement of any life jacket that is no longer reliable.


Individual rowers should take responsibility for ensuring that the lifejacket or buoyancy aid that they wear is appropriate for the type of activity they are taking part in, is checked and maintained and is properly fitted. Clubs can of course assist with this by providing policies, information and guidance, and take responsibility for checking and servicing club owned life jackets . Clubs should formally risk assess their activities, and use the outcome of that risk assessment to inform their policies with regard to use of PFD as a part of reducing the severity of identified risks. Clubs should keep a record of the life jackets they supply, when they have been checked and serviced and any issues identified.

A life jacket is useless unless worn, but is also likely to be useless if it is poorly fitted, or has not been looked after.

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