Jordan Spencer continues his advice on what to look for when buying dinghy gear.
This month’s feature on buoyancy vests and trapeze harnesses is probably the most important in this series. For the simple reason, that they are the only two pieces of kit that are compulsory. Everything else you wear you choose to, but you are required by law to wear a buoyancy vest and it is very hard to spend time on the wire in a trapezing class without a harness. And given that they are so important, these are probably the two items of kit that come in for the most debate.
Unfortunately, harnesses and buoyancy vests are like bike seats – getting the right one is all about personal preference and can take a long time. So I can’t tell you what is the right item for you, but I can suggest some things to look for when you are purchasing a new harness or vest. The critical thing is to take the time to get it right. If you rush it and get it wrong, you will end up going back and buying something else.
Buoyancy vests come in all shapes and sizes. The two most important elements are comfort, and compliance with Australian Standards. If it doesn’t comply, you can’t use it!Remember, a buoyancy vest not only needs to be comfortable, it needs to be functional.
In the water, all a vest wants to do is float on the surface. If it’s not a good fit on your body, it will slide up until it wedges into either your chin or your armpits. This can make it difficult to swim and can become very uncomfortable. Good vests are shaped to fit or have a tension strap to stop this occurring.
Generally, you don’t want the buoyancy vest to be too thick at the back, particularly if you are trapezing, and as we are talking dinghy sailing, you don’t need a buoyancy collar (PFD type 1). The thicker it is at the back, the more likely you are to get caught during manoeuvres. You do want a small, easily-accessed pocket for spares, and everything else becomes personal preference. Comfort, compliance and performance – simple really!
Harnesses on the other hand are not simple. You need to try them on. You need to hang from a hook in the shop and see where they push, squeeze and pinch – don’t rush this. If you wear a buoyancy vest underneath your harness when sailing, (as you should, so you can get the harness off if you ever become trapped), then wear your buoyancy vest when trying your harness.
Ask yourself what type of sailing you are doing. There are different requirements for skiff sailing compared to dinghy sailing. Skiffs are biased to agility, dinghies to hard leaning. A skiff harness tends to be lighter, more flexible. A dinghy harness more structured, with greater back support.
A good harness will have reinforcing around all the strap attachment points, great padding in the groin area and hardwearing material around the butt. Spreader bars are great for hard leaning and stopping compression on your hips. Make sure all the buckles are heavy duty and don’t slip under load and make sure the shoulder straps don’t drop off your shoulder under loose tension, (there is nothing more annoying on light wind days). Take your time get it right!
These are the two critical items in your sailing bag. The wrong buoyancy vest can be annoying, and a poor fitting harness can mean major back problems later in life. The right gear though, can improve both performance and enjoyment.
Comfort is the key in a trapeze harness, so ZHIK have created a stretch crotch with multiple layers to distribute loads. There is 25% more contact area and a 2D velcro adjustment, while the strong 316 stainless spreader is now padded for riding comfort.
The 3D contoured shape has been engineered for enhanced movement and increased strength, using heavy-duty, reinforced construction with reduced point loads and multiple layers in key areas. A fully-adjustable lumbar pad provides comfort and support to allow you to ride harder and longer.
The Slick PFD is made for racing fast, with no unnecessary straps or buckles. Once you have it set to the correct comfort tension you have just one buckle plus a zip side entry to get it on and off.
The back of PFD doesn't ride up and get caught on the boom as you duck under, which means no more capsizing between tacks because you got caught on something.
Approved to European CE standard EN 393 50 N.
The Zero was specifically designed for sportsboats, but was quickly picked up by dinghy and skiff sailors as well, because of its low profile and comfortable fit.
It is a low-bulk 50N flotation vest , with low bulk and high-stretch panelling to allow unrestricted upper body movement. Spinlock says that most flotation wear tends to block the drying and cooling effect of base layers and breathable spray tops. By using a combination of open mesh panels and a vented back, Zero effectively becomes the final layer of the breathable system, they say. Other features include a ‘Body Fit’ waistband adjuster which allows the user to tailor the vest fit to their unique size and shape, whatever other clothing they are wearing; fast-draining construction to prevent water overload; fleeced hand warmer pockets; and separate, secure pockets for essentials.
SAILING TRAPEZE HARNESS
Excellent back support and multiple adjustment options for optimum fit are features of the Ronstan range. The anatomically shaped shoulder straps have 3D mesh padding and a lower back cushion for maximum comfort and the stainless steel tube spreader bar has six fixing points.
RACING TRAPEZE HARNESS
Again, optimum fit has been the focus of this design, with multiple adjustment options. Features include articulated two-segment design to provide freedom of movement, a thermoformed, battened back shell for maximum back support, a Tough-Tech reinforced seat, anatomically-shaped shoulder straps with 3D mesh padding and a stainless steel tube spreader bar with eight fixing points.
PRO RACER BUOYANCY AID
With a CE 50 Newton approval rating, the Gill jacket features a close fit with low volume and bulk. Shoulder length is adjustable and has neoprene padding, and there is a ladder-lock side adjustment for tight fitting. Other features include a self-draining front zip pocket and reflective piping across back for low light visibility.
The Gill trapeze harness is an innovative new design for those who prefer a low-bulk, nappy-style harness. The stripped-out, elemental design has a tension lock at the waist for single-handed adjustment, a wide, load-bearing spreader bar and provides excellent back support via an adjustable and stiffened lumbar back support. The front neoprene panels help deliver a snug fit. The seat and sides are abrasion-resistant and there is a side pocket for holding small items.
This low-bulk, front zip vest is designed specifically for dinghy and sailsports. It utilises two grades of foam – hard PE foam in the back for support and soft foam in the front for comfort. It has a zipped front entry and features a pocket on front for emergency flares and other essential equipment. Made from 100% Oxford nylon, it is CE approved.
SLAM has designed a buoyancy vest that they claim you won't even know you are wearing. The high density foam and featherweight design provide buoyancy without restricting movement and flexibility.
The vest features adjustable hip straps, highly reflective seam tapes and two zipped pockets for keys, lip-gloss, small knife or spare shackles.
Colour: 3 Tone (White, Grey & Charcoal)
SLAM also has a trapeze harness in development and will release it in time for the next European summer. The harness will be available in Australia for the following season.
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