A question we are often asked! The short answer is “it depends!”. Not very helpful we know.
Many training providers and hire companies will tell you that waders are dangerous and that they will fill with water and you will sink. This is nonsense, water has the same density inside the waders as the water outside. Waders full of water are largely neutral when it comes to the buoyancy of the swimmer. You won’t sink just because your waders fill with water. So what’s the issue?
Chest wader and leg wader buoyancy. If the wearer falls in past the horizontal, there is a potential to trap air in the bottom of the waders, this makes the legs very buoyant and a swimmer can struggle to keep their head above the water. The solution used by the Environment Agency who probably have more water workers that anyone else in the UK is to insist that waders must always be worn in conjunction with a life jacket. This counters the head down issue and helps the wearer to keep their head out of the water, however it must be the right life jacket!
Unfortunately, not all life jackets are the same. The old standard EN 366 – which is a 150N life jacket, will sometimes fail to turn over an unconscious casualty with air trapped in their lower legs – not great. EN399 – the 275N life jacket standard is a better option, but you have to off set this against the risk posed by a larger bladder which will make it harder to swim and climb out. As we said not simple. The new standard is BS EN ISO 12402 part 3 for 150N or part 2 for the 275N is largely the same so don’t worry if your kit is to the old standards.
What experienced have you had with lifejackets? We’d be interested to hear from you.
Spartan are experts in water safety. We are the Environment Agency’s sole provider of all water safety courses and have held this national contract for several years . We are also specialist water and flood rescue trainers to the emergency services and the UK rescue community through the Rescue 3 scheme.