Well this is a first, and if you’d have asked me even half way through last year whether I could imagine myself sitting down to write a blog review of a lifejacket I’d have most likely laughed at you - yet here we are. I hope that I am proof enough that leopards can indeed change their spots…….
Before we get going, you need to know a few things - as you might have guessed, I am categorically not an expert on lifejackets, indeed much of my previous experience of wearing them has been having to grab one off a rack and wear one when out on a lake photographing fly fishing. I recall not liking the experience very much because they felt like they were getting in the way and I could feel a bit of bulk around my neck area especially. I had to wear them so I did, but I can’t recall coming away and thinking wow, that was nice and easy.
And it’s thanks to my contacts at the RNLI that I have a few different lifejackets here to wear and test and see how I get on with. I have been using this Spinlock Deckvest Lite lifejacket for a while now, plus a couple of Crewsaver models (an auto-inflate and a manual-inflate version), and a modified Mullion lifejacket arrived a couple of days ago. As with testing and reviewing any of the gear on this blog, I obviously don’t get paid to do so and I will tell it how it is. I can’t control whether you believe me or not and as ever any thoughts and opinions are mine and mine only, and there’s a part of me that feels somewhat hesitant trying to review such an important, potentially life saving bit of fishing tackle such as a lifejacket. Oh, and yes, me calling a lifejacket an item of fishing tackle is entirely deliberate.
OK, so what’s this Spinlock Deckvest Lite lifejacket like? And for ease of my typing, I am going to refer to it as the Deckvest Lite for the rest of this review. Well if this is what a modern lifejacket is like then I am all over it - talk about easy to wear, and as much as one of these things could end up saving our lives one day, they sure as shit ain’t got a chance at doing just that if we aren’t wearing one in the first place. If we as anglers are incredibly resistant to this safety related stuff but for whatever reason choose to become a bit more receptive, then it isn’t going to go much further if what we need to wear is a pain in the backside. I for one am not going to yap about wearing lifejackets if I don’t find it easy to wear one myself.
And this Deckvest Lite is a breeze to wear. As I said, I don’t have much experience with lifejackets so far, but from the moment I put this thing on I was amazed at just how easy and comfortable it is, indeed my disliking older lifejackets which used to get in my way and bug the hell out of me seems like a distant memory now. My understanding is that this very much engineered to be light and comfortable Deckvest Lite is targeted towards sea users like us. I have grabbed this from the Spinlock website: “This ultra lightweight lifejacket is streamlined for ultimate comfort and agility”, and I have to agree.
When you put this Deckvest Lite on, make sure to put it on top of everything else (as per my blog post here), and then it is absolutely vital that you secure the crotch strap - take it from the back of the lifejacket, down between your legs and up your front, and then clip it into the front of the lifejacket. This is an auto-inflate lifejacket, as in if you end up in the drink then that immersion in the water will set the gas cylinder off which very quickly inflates the actual bladder/floatation part of the lifejacket which is rather cleverly folded away into the actual lifejacket itself that you can see here in the various photos and screenshots. I did jump into the RNLI tank with a Deckvest Lite lifejacket on, and like any auto-inflate lifejacket, it inflates quickly and powerfully, and if you don’t secure that crotch strap then there is every chance it will be forced up and over your head from the power of the gas powered inflation, and this of course then takes away from how a lifejacket works. Unlike a PFD or buoyancy aid, a lifejacket is designed to keep you upright and with your head out of the water - which it can’t do if you haven’t secured that crotch strap and it ends up and over your head.
Wear a lifejacket or don’t wear one, it’s entirely up to you, but at least I can tell you here that for the price of a decent spinning reel, an HTO Nebula lure rod, or about thirty DoLive Sticks (5 packets, and as much as I love ‘em, they are not going to even potentially save my life), you can buy this Deckvest Lite lifejacket which is genuinely so damn easy to wear that when I asked my mate Mark how his first experience of wearing a lifejacket for shore fishing was going last year, he had actually forgotten he was wearing it (this has to beg the obvious question - why not wear one?). Do exactly what you want, but one thing you can’t do anymore is argue that a lifejacket is a pain in the butt to wear for shore fishing because it’s so heavy and bulky and constrictive and expensive, not with how easy this Spinlock Deckvest Lite lifejacket is to wear.
And if you are thinking that an auto-inflate system might not work for you in certain situations (wading out in an estuary or on the beach perhaps?), then you can buy a Spinlock Manual Conversion Kit. I have one here but I haven’t used it yet, and what it does is essentially block water getting to the gas cylinder to set it off. If you were to end up in the drink then you pull the Manual Activation Handle which is of course part of the lifejacket, but for the most part I would suggest that the auto-inflate way is going to be the most applicable to how many of us fish from rocks etc. You can also buy add on lights and spray hoods (more to come on this). There is also a Deckvest Lite + version which I haven’t seen, but I think it adds a couple of lifting straps.
Don’t go worrying about heavy rain or a bit of spray suddenly setting off the auto-inflate mechanism, because they are designed to go off via immersion in the water. This is the info from the Spinlock website: “UML Mk5 Inflator. This is a water sensitive activation system that uses a compressed paper capsule which dissolves when wet which then releases a spring to puncture the CO2 cylinder. The cap is designed so that only water flowing upwards through the unit will cause it to activate. Water, spray and rain running down the jacket will not cause activation.” You can buy replacement cylinders and you do need to keep an eye on them and replace as needs be. When I learn more about this, you will read it on here.
The Deckvest Lite I have here provides 170N of buoyancy and weighs a measly 860g - it easily kept me afloat in a choppy RNLI tank with my chest waders on, and I am not exactly wasting away here with my relaxed muscles and a figure that was born to wear tight compression gear! Now you can pretty easily find these Spinlock Deckvest Lite lifejackets online, but I am really, really pleased to see that a specialist lure fishing shop and website has taken the plunge so to speak and are now stocking these rather outstanding items of fishing tackle - check out the Lure Heaven website here, and give them a shout if you have any questions. If we as anglers are looking to increase our own fishing safety then we can all help each other by sourcing as much of this safety gear from fishing tackle shops which will then encourage these shops to stock more of it. I would also suggest that if the lifejacket manufacturers start to see anglers buying lifejackets then we stand a better chance of getting this safety gear made even better for our specific needs.