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Auto-Inflatable PFDs

Testing the speed of deployment and ownership obligations of auto-inflatable life jackets.
Boating Safety

West Marine Coastal

West Marine
Coastal Comfort Max

Design: Thinner, narrower webbing and a smaller buckle gave this a lighter but less substantial feel, perhaps assisting in its low price point.

Snag Test: It lacked a sail harness, which reduced snag points, and the waist belt attached to collar bottoms, keeping them tucked in.

Top Line: Good protection at a low price. It is properly designated a “coastal” model by West Marine and for inshore use. When rescue is likely nearby, it could be a good choice.

West Marine Coastal


Auto/Manual No. 1443

Design: SOSpenders is the first to provide inflatable protection to recreational boaters. Velcro collar fasteners speeded rearm times.

Snag Test: Sail harness rings snagged stiffly and the pointed collar back caught.  But collar ends sprang loose on their own.

Top Line: Sturdy construction gives confidence in ownership, and the easy rearm process makes it easy to own and maintain. Best suited to dry weather use.



1439 Inflatable PFD

Design: Both Stearns and SOSpenders could be rigged in auto or manual deploy mode. A blazing yellow tab is visible in the inspection window, reminding users of manual status. Velcro closures ease maintenance time.

Snag Test: Attaching lapel bottoms to waist strap kept it trim and more snag free than all other models tested.

Top Line: It offers reliable protection at a reasonable price. It’s easy to rearm. Best suited to dry weather use.


Making Sense
Test Notes: Purchase identical inflatable PFDs to simplify maintenance and rearming efforts. Also, rearming kits have a limited shelf life of two to four years. Mark expiration dates on the PFD where visible. Hydrostatic devices have the longest shelf life.

Auto or Manual: When choosing an auto device, confirm it with the packaging, and then mark it indelibly somewhere on the unit so you can tell at a glance.

Auto and Manual: Stearns and SOSpenders supply a manual trigger clearly visible in the inspection window — smart!

Beware: Type V PFDs qualify for U.S. Coast Guard carriage rules only when worn by adults — kids can’t use them.

* * * * *

The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit

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