Foundation staff gathered over 30 life jackets and grouped them into six categories for evaluation: inflatables, paddlesports, dinghy sailing, watersports, fishing, and clothing-style. A standard Coast Guard-approved Type I, Type II and Type III jacket were used as a control. Some jackets were inherently buoyant with typical foam flotation and some inflated with CO2 cylinders. Some were approved by the US Coast Guard and some had ISO designation and carried the CE (Conformite Europeene) stamp of approval. We also evaluated some buoyancy aids that had no official approval.
Tests were performed in an indoor swimming pool to provide the controlled setting necessary for data collection and recording in winter weather. The Foundation's approach to testing began with fitting a life jacket on a tester while out of the water. Most jackets were simple to fit, but some, especially those with internal harnesses and crotch straps, required us to tinker a bit to obtain a proper fit. Then we had testers do a series of sits and squats, twists and broad arm movements to gauge the overall comfort level.
We then asked the volunteers to jump into the pool and evaluate the jacket on fit and maneuverability. We also measured the freeboard (how high the tester floated) and the face angle to determine the positioning of the head in a static state. Our observations and measurements allowed us to make comparisons between jackets in the same category, and allowed us to draw broader conclusions across a range of jackets, such as between European and US designs and our control jackets.