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Are the new style competition vests safe enough?

ScarletArrowScarletArrow Posts: 822 Crazy Baller
I'm talking about the tight fitting "competition style" non-CGA lifevests that the majority of us wear.

(Some time ago) One of my ski buddies took a major OTF. When I came back to get him his life vest had been completely torn on top of both shoulders and was partially unzipped. The life vest was literally hanging around is waist. Fortunately he was in water shallow enough that he could stand up in and was not knocked unconscious. But if that were not the case he would have been in trouble. His vest was only 2 years (3 max) old at the time.

Yesterday I took a major OTF. I had the wind knocked out of me, was concussed, and momentarily unconscious. Someone had to come into the water to get me. My life vest came completely unzipped. I don't know how I stayed on top of the water for those first few (10-20) seconds. This is the second season of my vest.

I know these vests hold up fine in routine falls and some "non-major" (i.e. no injury) crashes.

I know major crashes are a rarity. The majority of us are on small shallow private lakes which gives the perception of safety - but in the case of a major crash that leads to a physical injury where the skier can't help themselves the life vest obviously has to stay on the skier to be of value. I've now had two experiences where this type of vest has failed and I'm wondering if anyone else has had or seen similar experiences?
Anthony Warren


  • ScarletArrowScarletArrow Posts: 822 Crazy Baller
    edited July 2017
    I understand that as a non-CGA vest it's not going to keep my face above water. I know it's not a substitute for a CGA "life jacket".

    I think the main role of an impact vest is to provide padding and minimal flotation (more than just a convenience).

    I think it's reasonable to expect it to stay on, not disintegrate or come unzipped in a catastrophic fall (assuming equipment was in good condition - which I believe ours was).

    While my head may not be above the water if I'm floating unconscious; if I'm skiing in 15 feet of water I'm counting on the vest to keep me afloat until the boat and/or safety crew responds (it only takes seconds to sink beneath the surface).

    Obviously there are risks inherent to the sport and I always have the choice to wear a CGA vest. I'm just pointing out that our impact vest have become so minimal in recent years that I'm not sure we've evaluated their effectiveness in catastrophic crashes.

    For instance, based on these experiences I would tend to think that a rear half-zip pullover design would be more effective in staying on the skier than a front zip even though it's less comfortable and convenient.

    It's sort of like the arm through the handle thing... it hardly ever happens so people tend to forget about it. But when it does it's a big deal.

    Maybe I'm overreacting to my own incident. I just want to know what I can expect from my vest, and previously I had expected it to keep me afloat. It did, just barely.
    Anthony Warren
  • Chef23Chef23 Posts: 6,061 Mega Baller
    First I am glad you are okay even if you are banged up.

    I am concerned that the vest came unzipped that is what worries me most. It seems like if it stayed on would have kept you floating until the boat got back to you.

    I have seen pullover vests pop off people if they hit the water wrong. The O'Neil pullovers have a way to tie them to your shorts which obviously helps keep them on.

    I haven't fallen that hard in a long time. My son did get concussed wearing an O'Neil but he was conscious the whole time and kept his head out of the water even though he wasn't sure what happened.
    Mark Shaffer
  • ScottScottScottScott Posts: 1,066 Mega Baller
    I have actually had my vest come unzipped a couple times. It is a high quality ski vest from a leading manufacturer, and it seems to be sized correctly. In both cases I can think of, it did stay on....just pulled the zipper loose. You are sacrificing a little with those vests. A CGA vest not only has more flotation, but most I have seen have one or 2 belts to make sure it stays on.

    I'm not sure about the whole impact thing. I don't think that most competition vests are necessarily designed for more impact protection than a CGA vest. There are likely a couple specifically designed for that, but not most. There has been some conversation here where some felt they did suffer less potential for rib injury from a competition vest, but I think that comes from maybe the lower profile/more dense flotation, and the lack of buckles.
  • SethroSethro Posts: 325 Crazy Baller
    For those that have had the vest come unzipped, does your vest have the little "loop" that the zipper pull goes in to help secure it?

    I've had some nasty falls where my vest rolled up a bit, but never has unzipped.
  • oldjeepoldjeep Posts: 3,762 ★★★Triple Panda Award Recipient ★★★
    USCG only for my kids and I. My 5 ft 2 wife is my primary driver and at her size she needs all the flotation possible to haul my 180lbs onto the platform in an emergency. As for the comp jackets I've only seen one issue personally, guy I was skiing with had one of the pullovers pulled most of the way off in a crash. Now it may have been too big, but with no straps there is no adjustability.
    Chuck P
    Not a mechanic but I play one at home
  • nam1975nam1975 Posts: 148 Baller
    As far as non cga vests go, I think buckles help, like the O'Neill outlaw.

    I've seen the pullovers get about fully peeled off.

    I picked up en extra CGA hyperlite that was on sale.... its really pretty lite and I think I would get used to it.
  • mwetskiermwetskier Posts: 1,337 Mega Baller
    @nam1975 & @oldjeep -regarding pull over vests i've seen them get partially peeled off such that your arms are wedged upward above your shoulders and your face is buried inside the semi inside out vest. so your arms are useless for any kind of swimming and your face is jammed up against the chest area of the vest. if you found yourself face down in he water like that in you could end up in real trouble.

    the last pullover vest i had was an obrien elete from several years ago. i took it to a upholstery shop and had them add a seat belt type strap with plastic buckle to prevent this kind of potential disaster. i can't remember for sure but i think that vest is now living in a landfill.
  • ScarletArrowScarletArrow Posts: 822 Crazy Baller
    @OB1 I totally agree with you and I'm very comfortable with bailing out; however, with regards to my incident on Saturday I have no memory of what actually happened between one ball and the first wake.

    I specifically remember having a good gate and good hook-up out of one (confirmed by others). The next thing I know is Miller is in the water helping me out.

    Did I pre-release? Did I come off my edge? Did I get pulled out of my stack? Who knows?

    Freak accident.
    Anthony Warren
    [Deleted User]
  • ScottScottScottScott Posts: 1,066 Mega Baller
    edited July 2017
    Yeah, the whole letting go thing is good in concept.....but.... things happen so fast if you are even semi serious about skiing at a level to get through the course, even at slowest speed and longest lines and above. Last time my vest came unzipped was not long ago on my gate cross. I took a perfectly timed turn in for the gates, picked up great speed but didn't get into a good stack to take the cross. Next thing I know after I hit the wake I was skimming along the water on my chest toward the 1st ball. Nothing hurt, but it must have been something to bad I didn't get video.
  • LeonLLeonL Posts: 2,421 Crazy Baller
    @skibrain there you go, another devoted fan of StraightLine Ultra vest. Why someone doesn't replicate and market that vest I don't know.
    Yeah, use the little loop to stick the zipper pull in. At least on Eagle.
    Leon Leonard Stillwater Lake KY - SR Driver SR Judge
  • TELTEL Posts: 409 Crazy Baller
    I wear an O'Neal slasher it has the Velcro to hold the zipper in place never had a problem except one bad crash it pulled up under my arms. The joke with my ski buds is "at least it will bring the dead body up"
  • skialexskialex Posts: 1,164 Mega Baller
    I only wear thin tight comp impact vests like the majority here. My main concern is minimal flotation, if I'm in the water with boardshorts, vest, gloves, hardshell on, no ski no neoprene suit and I exhale the air fully from my lungs I barely float. over the years I've seen guys dive in in an OTF and had to swim to get back to the surface.
    I usually ski in murky water, visibility is zero and it is not swallow either. The thought of being unconscious and submerged scares me greatly , but I do not want to wear a bulky CGA life jacket. I know that the industry is very small but I believe that vest producers work in the direction of testing and using thin and with great floating properties materials.
    This must be one of their challenges.
  • OldboyIIOldboyII Posts: 625 Solid Baller
    edited July 2017
    @skialex flotation is a simple function from volume/weight ratio. No miracle will happen.
    Thin & highly flotable jacket is hardly possible. Unless they will develop a kind of emergency "Airbag" triggered by acceleration sensor.
  • thagerthager Posts: 5,145 Mega Baller
    As a kid I had a three buckle EP foam type III CGA ripped right off me while screwing around (extreme) tubing behind a 76 Nautique. The jacket bucketed on impact with the wake and I kept going. Belts don't necessarily mean it will stay on! Hurt like heck and I had sore ribs, scrape and bruise marks for weeks. Luckily I stayed conscious. Just a note but a Type III CGA does not guarantee you float head up either. Modern ski boat wakes are now pretty small. I have had no bad experiences with modern thin competition vests. I also don't hold on to out of control skiing situations like I used to.
    Stir vigorously then leave!
  • wski1831wski1831 Posts: 152 Baller
    Years ago I had a skier (wearing a coast guard approved proper fitting vest) experience a seizure. He rolled over and went face down till I got to him and pulled him out. If you feel your vest or your friends malfunctioned you might want to contact the manufacturer. There’s inherent risk in anything you have to weigh pros and cons and accept your own risk.
  • elrelr Posts: 328 Mega Baller
    Don't think that I would use a comp vest on anything but a ski ditch . . .
    Ed Rink - LSF Texas
  • BobFBobF Posts: 196 Solid Baller
    Regarding buckles - My experience is not the same as yours, since I wear a cga vest, but I did unbuckle a vest on an otf fall this year. Zipper held, but it goes to show you that almost anything is possible depending on the fall.
  • 6balls6balls Posts: 5,569 Mega Baller
    Good driver/crew is key. If my skier takes a driller I'm on them like stink on shit in a heartbeat. Usually unneccessary but just in case.
    Dave Ross--die cancer die
  • WayneWayne Posts: 557 Solid Baller
    edited December 2020
    @ScarletArrow you raise an interesting point with regards to the vest having a physical failure from a crash. Your post jogged my memory and I had to pull out some old life vests I keep around for odd reasons. One of them says it’s rated for up to 50 MPH impact with some additional wording hinting to the fact it will maintain its integrity in a crash up to that speed. It’s the only vest I have that states a speed rating.

    On edit: the one I mentioned above is an older O’Neill. After some more digging I found a Slippery When Wet brand life jacket that says it’s rated for 100 MPH crash integrity. Both of these vests are from about 2002-ish.

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