Researchers led by Wade Sinclair from JCU’s department of Sport and Exercise Science were given a clear brief – the vests must return an unconscious swimmer to the surface and not inhibit lifesaver tasks such as diving and swimming.
The testing found that full-sized lifejackets compliant with Standards Australia’s rigorous Level 50 standard were unusable in heavy surf. Their buoyancy and impact levels from waves were too high, making their use by lifesavers exhausting.
The JCU team tested low buoyancy devices and found they could be used more comfortably in the surf, but still reliably return a swimmer to the surface.
With no Australian Standard in place for low buoyancy devices, the JCU team conducted research, trials and analysis around Australia and then wrote a report for the SLSA and Standards Australia.
The low-buoyancy, high performance vests are designated as Standards Australia Level 25 – suitable for users such as wakeboarders and surfers who need to remain agile but also face the risk of becoming disabled in the water.
Manufacturers have used the new standard to produce ten prototype life vests. JCU is now testing them in different conditions around the country.
Anthony Bradstreet from SLSA said the organisation’s board will receive the final report on the JCU trials in May. “We need to be sensible and take a risk-based approach,” he said. “I don’t think it is going to be necessary for competitors to wear these vests in flat conditions, but their potential use in rougher conditions will still be a fairly large cultural shift.”
Mr Bradstreet said SLSA wanted JCU to produce a specification, rather than choose a specific product, as that approach would ensure multiple suppliers and encourage ongoing innovation.
He said JCU won the contract to do the testing over bigger organisations for a number of reasons. “We were aware of Wade Sinclair’s work in surf sports and he had gathered a group of very keen and eager research assistants around him. There is a lot of respect for JCU’s Sport and Exercise Science department,” he said.
*SLSA has more than 160,000 members
*About 60,000 are ‘nippers’ – children aged 5 to 13-years-old.
*The vests are expected to cost between $150 – $200