In the last couple of weeks, I’ve started wearing a red impact vest during some sessions. Since I never ride a twin tip, the perceived benefit to me isn’t so much protection from crashes and tumbles, but rather the extra buoyancy and warmth the impact vest brings.
Now, the vest I’m using doesn’t have a CE rating to classify it as a buoyancy aid, although it does clearly give me extra float. If your primary requirement of an impact vest is flotation, then you need to look for a vest with a CE rating of 50N, which would give you an upward force against sinking of 50 Newtons. A vest with a rating of 50 Newtons would need about 5kg to sink it, so you get an idea of the buoyancy there.
A 50N rated vest according to SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) is only good for calm, inshore waters and clearly not the sort of conditions you’d find yourself in if the merd hit the fan half a mile out to sea in a raging storm – thusly an impact vest can never be relied upon as a life saving device. Instead, I like to think of it as something that will get me back to the surface a bit quicker, help me float a bit better in the foam, and will take some of the pressure off when I’m bobbing around and trying to relaunch a kite and sorting stuff out, or perhaps swimming in without my kit. So yes, it just buys you a bit more time with your head above the surface.
Well I’ve been wearing an over head stretchy (non fastening) one that has a non-padded area that fits seamlessly under a waist harness. I can detect no loss of mobility and really in water temps of 13 degrees and cooler, I can think of no reason not to wear it.
In fact if I remember, the only reason I’ve heard not to wear an impact vest is because it sends out a signal to other riders that you are a ‘kook’ or a ‘numpty’ and therefore not ‘cool’.
And that brings us into an argument based on ‘what other people think of us’. My counter to the belief that impact vests make you look like a kook is that only the people who do not know you would think that, as clearly your regular riding buddies will already be aware of your abilities: if you rip, they’ll know that and their opinion won’t change because you’ve slipped on a new vest. Likewise, if you are a bit of a stinker with the kite then they’ll already know that anyway and they’ll enjoy riding with you because you’re fun to be around, so there’s nothing to lose there.
Furthermore, if you regularly put yourself in precarious situations in a cold, dark sea then every now and then someone who knows you very well may feel some anxiety regarding your well being. The addition of an impact vest to your kit bag could do a lot to ease their concerns.
So who do you want to impress most? The stranger who will judge you and five seconds later forget you exist, or the people that genuinely give a hoot if you make it back home for dinner for the rest of your life?