In live bait rescues, the person in the water (with a rescue vest of course) needs to communicate their needs to the belay persons on shore. Tap your helmet with your open hand to signal "I'm OK". Wave one hand in the air to get attention - assistance is needed. Alternatively, blow your safety whistle. Act like a flight deck aircraft controller and use both hands to point in the direction you want to be pulled.
Hazards of the vest
Practice threading your quick release belt using the friction buckle. Make certain the belt isn't twisted anywhere around the vest. If you have too much belt tail extruding through the plastic quick release buckle, consider trimming so it extrudes only a couple of inches. If possible, use only a continuous metal ring that is designed for the belt. If you can't get one, use only a locking carabineer. The last thing you need is to have a non-locking carabineer latch onto to a belt loop and defeating the quick release system.
Water rescues (exactly what the rescue vest is designed for) are inherently dangerous. After practicing release techniques on dry land, find someone you trust and practice in water. Get to the point where you can release the belt underwater with your eyes closed. If simply towing kayaks, some choose to skip the friction buckle and rely only on the plastic quick release buckle. This allows the belt to release much faster and with a significantly smaller pulling load. Although this seems to be safer, it really isn't. The plastic buckle isn't made to take significant loads, make break or shatter and cause the belt to jam. Always thread at least one run through the metal friction bar. Under heavier load uses like vertical work, lowers, tethers, etc. - always use both the friction bar and plastic release buckle.
The attachment (tether or rope) to the rescue belt can be a potential hazard. I strongly recommend using the continuous steel ring provided by the PFD manufacturer rather than a carabineer of any sort. These rings are specifically designed for the PFD belt so they smoothly traverse the belt as needed. If you use a carabineer, it must be a locking carabineer and make certain it it locked. A non-locking carabineer could potentially slide along the belt and hook one of very sturdy belt loops totally defeating the release from the rope.
Let's be honest, its rough out there (sounds like Rodney Dangerfield). You will be bounced around, dunked, etc. Practice different body positions like balling up and spreading out - both are useful. Get a feel for how you float in waves and holes. By all means, practice the buckle release technique - you should be able to do this with your eyes closed.
The release belt is designed to make it easy to release in pretty forceful tensioned loads. Sometimes the belt doesn't release all that fast in lighter loads as in towing equipment - you might need to help the release manually. If the pressure gets too strong, don't take chances - pull the release. Many belts will not release on their own under very heavy loads which can harm you - don't let it get that far. Remember - your personal safety is the highest priority.
Components of the vest
As stated before, the most important feature of a rescue vest is the quick release system. A belt is sewn into the vest and passes through very sturdy sewn in belt loops. The belt is typically threaded through a metal friction buckle that takes stress off of the plastic quick release buckle. The belt finally passes through the plastic quick release buckle which has a large plastic ball attached making it easy to grab without seeing and pulled for fast escape. A sturdy ring is placed in the middle of the belt behind the PFD. You can attach a tether or rope to this ring. In a release, the belt slips through the belt loops and the floating ring and just the ring falls off (attached to the rope or tether). This way to don't have to cut yourself free of the rope (always carry a rescue knife anywhere that is easy to get to). Here is a short video from Zorn Outdoors describing the quick release system: Rescue Vest.
The above video covers the typical way to thread the buckle. I would call this the fully loaded option. Depending on the jacket, some may experience release challenges under lighter loads like towing a boat for instance. An alternative is threading through just one opening of the metal friction bar. This method provides far less friction than the double thread and still ensures a nice parallel entry to the plastic buckle. Unfortunately, some instructors will recommend skipping the metal friction bar altogether when towing boats. I strongly advise not doing this. For one thing, the plastic buckle isn't designed for heavy loads and may break and jam. Also, the friction bar helps to prevent a pull on an angle which can also cause a jam.
Multi-use rescue tool
Rescue techniques often rely on ropes. Many involve being attached to a rope. The only safe way to do this is attaching to a quick release system. Here is a sampling of just some of the uses for a rescue vest:
- Anchor and belay - Here is a demonstration of this technique: Rescue Vest Belay
- Towing boats or gear (with tether) - Besides towing a boat on a tether, many tethers come with a really large carabineer that can clip around a paddle shaft. It is so much easier towing a paddle than paddling with two paddles placed together.
- Personal extrication - If you need extrication, you can hook a line to your tether and toss the rope to someone on shore so they can pull you in. Some PFDs also come with a Spectra loop that can be attached to for vertical extraction.
- V-Lowers and Direct Lowers - Both are real handy for fishing a rescuer to the victim. This technique can be used for pins and to recover an unconscious boater.
- Live Bait (preset and "on the fly") - This technique can be real handy for grabbing an unconcious swimmer
- Tensioned Zip line traverses
- Dragging gear which keeps your hands free
Here is a short video on rescue vest uses: Rescue Vest Uses.
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