THE BEST OF “FOUNDATION FINDINGS”
WWHILE MANYOF OUR 50“FOUNDATION FINDINGS” tests have been conducted using state-of-the-art test labs, most were conducted in unbiased field tests by our staff of knowledgeable boaters, reflecting how you’d likely use the products, and how they perform in the real world. We don’t just report on how well a product works, we dis- cuss how best to use it, and the experience you’ll have using it. Our goal is to give you
a vicarious experience, and recently we’ve
videotaped our tests and findings (check our
website to view them).
We’ve found consistent conclusions
over the years. In particular, our testers have
seen time and again that whatever piece of
gear or method we’re testing, it’s how much
we practiced using it that made the difference between success and failure. Here’s a
sampling from our conclusions.
The All-Important Life Jacket
We’ve gone through so many cartridges in
our tests of inflatable jackets that we may
have contributed to the rise in global atmo-
spheric CO! We’ve done eight tests on life
jackets — more than on any other topic. Our
tests in the 90s helped make inflatables
legal to wear, and may lead to the adoption
of new, more user-friendly USCG standards.
Here are some takeaways from our tests:
n Each child must have a properly sized and
fitted life jacket; it’s the law. In our tests,
children were more apt to wear a life jacket
if they helped pick it out in the store, if it
fit properly, and if the adult set the example
and wore one also.
n Inflatables offer superior comfort and
performance compared to most foam vests.
However, they’re harder to put on once
you’ve fallen in the water, so be sure to wear
them on the boat!
n Belt packs are more complicated to use
than other life jackets because they need an
additional step to wear them properly. This
“secondary donning” is difficult if you’re a
n Sizing guidelines that come with dog life
jackets vary with manufacturer, so take Fido
with you for a proper fitting. Pay attention
to where straps and attachments contact the
dog’s body. In the wrong spot, the pup will
try to chew them off.
A Flare For The Dramatic
When we conduct a flare test, we take
extraordinary precautions to avoid injuries
and damage to our test boats. But if someone is going to get injured, this is where it
will happen — a reminder of how dangerous
pyrotechnics can be. Firing them again and
again, in daylight and darkness, is how we
learn how these signaling devices perform.
n Handheld flares emit molten slag and
sparks that can burn you and your boat.
Many aerial flares are ear-splittingly loud
and emit a shower of sparks on launching.
It proved desirable to have eye and ear protection, as well as heavy gloves when firing
flares — easy things to add to your flare kit.
n SOLAS-approved flares burn brighter, last
longer, and go higher than USCG-approved
models. They’re more expensive than
USCG-approved models, but it’s money
well spent if you plan to venture offshore.
n For daytime, smoke flares work best to
help direct rescuers to your location. At
night, aerial flares are better at getting attention. Handheld flares are best suited for
guiding rescuers directly to you.
Burn, Baby, Burn
You’d think using a fire extinguisher, another subject of multiple tests, would be easy
enough. Think again! We were surprised at
the amount of time experienced boaters
wasted fumbling with them, trying to figure
out how to get them started. Here’s what
n Users consistently overestimated the
amount of chemicals in an extinguisher
— you only get about 10 seconds of use.
Testers also consistently underestimated
how rapidly the fire they were fighting could
spread. Only fight a fire if it’s small and confined to the area where it started, you have
a way out, and can fight the fire with your
back to the exit.
n Using an extinguisher that isn’t rated for
the fire you’re fighting usually doesn’t fully
extinguish the fire, often leading to a flare-up. Buy an ABC-rated extinguisher (good for
all occasions) in the largest size you can store
aboard within easy reach.
n We tested older fire extinguishers and
found they were still in serviceable condition (average age nearly 10 years old). Their
performance had only deteriorated slightly.
n To keep your fire extinguisher in top
condition, turn it over and shake it at the
beginning and end of each boating season to
help prevent the dry chemicals from caking
up on the bottom.
A Ladder To Success
We’ve tested many devices such as rafts,
line-launching devices, ladders, and man-overboard techniques used for rescue, and
also self-rescue. Take it from our testers, a
good way to determine how out of shape
56 | BoatU.S. Magazine
OCTOBER | NOVEMBER 2011