"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."
Thank you for posting that. I agree wholeheartingly...I have seen the inflatables inflate in wet conditions, and the wearers not have recharge kits (this on a commerical vessel), and recently had one float by the boat that I picked out of the water with a boat hook, uninflated. Why? because even though the date indicated it was 6 years old, the co2 cannister had never been screwed in! It takes a whole other level of involvment and maintenence to keep inflatables working, and many people just don't do it, so I agree with having a foam CG approved flotation device along with the more comfortable, and vulnerable, inflatable floatation that most people now perfer.
One thing about inflatables is that you want to manually blow it up and then adjust the fit. If you adjust deflated, you will almost certainly overtighten and it's possible to thus constrict the breathing. A conscious casualty in the water might or might not have the wit to loosen the straps but an unconscious casualty won't and the self-inflating PFD then becomes simply an aid to body recovery.
A friend was bringing his new boat back in ratty conditions - this was maybe a hundred miles out - and turned in to sleep in the fo'c'stle all standing with even his nice auto-Mustang PFD on. He was sound asleep and dreaming when he dreamt that an anaconda was strangling him and he awoke in terror.
To discover that the PFD was choking him.
The wet from his oilies had pooled just right to slowly disolve the lozange (old trigger, new hydrostatics are better) and fired it off.
Beware the off-shore anaconda.
From what little research I've done it is fair to conclude that the inflatables have improved significantly. The convenience is undeniable. But I'm concerned that it might be tempting to err too far on the side of convenience. When you need a PFD, it must work, without fail. The complexity of the inflatable would, to some hard-to-define extent, run counter to that idea.
Reading the linked article, I can agree with their point that inflatables should not be the only PFDs available on board. But in my fatalistic mind the only PFD that matters is the one you are wearing.
Or am I just a Luddite?
Not exactly a Luddite. With inflatables, the trigger matters. The newer triggers don't need replacement from several years while the older lozange type needs renewal annually. It's well to check how the tube is periodically - blow it up manually or with the CO2 mannually triggered - to be sure it's intact. The modern inflatable PFDs of the real quality brands - I can vouch for Mustang and Stormy Seas enjoys a good rep - are terrific. But they are less tolorant of negligence and abuse than solid foam units.
I am not big on the inflatables you wear on your belt, but many like them to meet a boat race requirement without getting too hot wearing anything. Those do not auto inflate. Just as well since once you're in the water you have to take the PFD out of its belt case, flip it over your head, and then inflate. If you inflate before getting it on, it will be too tight to get over your head. So, not a good choise for an unconscious person but still better than nothing and, since it's attached to you, better than the best PFD in the world that's stuck in a locker that's already under water.
The company I work for mandates wearing a PFD when in any open boat. I follow the same practice when sailing on my own boat. I view wearing a PFD as similar to wearing a seat belt when in a car - you hope that you never NEED the thing, but it's probably too late to put it on if you do need it. A lot of people I know wear an inflatable PFD because they claim it's cooler than an inherently buoyant one, and that's a legitimate concern during our Texas summers. But I favor an inherently buoyant PFD with a mesh upper, and even in August it's not uncomfortable when worn over a cotton t-shirt. My personal opinion, I'm not fond of the inflatables - if I go overboard, I want something that I know will work automatically, and I know myself well enough to recognize that I may not perform proper maintenance on an inflatable as required. In this instance, I want something as idiot-proof as possible.
I have two inflatables (Mustang and SOS with harness). I generally wear the Mustang. It is a manual inflate which I prefer. The SOS is an autoinflate, but after it inflated once in my duffle bag on the way to a delivery I stopped using it aa an autoinflate and now simply use it as manual. I test both annually in the spring by pulling the lanyard and both are fine despite the Mustang being 15 years old. I do think that the only test that matters is inflating the vest using the CO2 cartridge rather than blowing it up by mouth since that tests the seams and will let you know right away if you have a problem. I also carry type I foam PFDs for everyone on board, but they seldom see the light of day.
I wear an inflatable when sailing and kayaking and after testing I find it good enough to work in the water without being a hindrance in reboarding. Not a self inflatable. But I wouldn't want to rely on it solely for long term immersion or if I had to swim for the shore. If the sea conditions are iffy and I insist on going out I also wear an older floatation vest and carry something more substantial in the boat. I have already had a situation where I could not right the boat and swum to shore. As it happened I managed to retrieve the boat whilst about it.
I wear an inflatable on the keel boat when it's rough and a standard foam vest in dinghy's and now my Flying fifteen. I like the foam one for the extra warmth, the padding for lying on things when racing and you need to sit still and centered in light conditions. It also acts to keep my sailing jacket in tight against my body and stops it from flapping and catching on things in the cockpit when it gets rougher.