I used a Helley Hansen vest (buoyancy aid) sailing a couple of weeks ago and it worked on a couple of levels. For one, it was cold and the vest was more helpful in keeping me from freezing than an auto-inflate style that drapes around your neck. And second it looked better.
There is an aspect of sailing that has a certain style to it. Some (many) sailors have refined a look that within the small circle who might appreciate it, seems cool. Honestly, I never really paid attention until the Russian Boat Leasing guy last year (who looked cool) mentioned, casually, that not only do you want to exit the marina without hitting anyone or anything, but you want to look good doing it. Hmmm.
And now that he mentioned it, I see that some serious thought goes into ones’ “look” so to speak. And there is a wide range and certainly a country-by-country variation of what that aesthetic is, but it’s definitely there. Sure some guys toss on shorts and sandals, but I’m not talking about them. No, I’m talking about the guys who are dropping $400 bucks for Dubarry boots. Boat boots.
In any case, the Helley Hansen worked for me. It’s not an off-shore vest, and I’m sure one could easily regret purchasing a black vest if one were say over-board…at night…without a light. But during the day, while on the boat, the vest looks sharp. Problem is they don’t sell it in the USA. Not even on the eagerly anticipated Helley Hansen sale on Gilt Groupe that went off back in March. I mean that was a long shot anyway, Gilt is more of a cuff links and Euro shirt kind of proposition for the most part.
But I found something similar at Rob Perry Marine in the UK and with a few Skype calls (thanks to Andy at Rob Perry) we managed to find/deliver what a simple trip to West Marine here in the States should have in stock, but don’t.
Wouldn’t recommend form over function in most critical gear, but I trust the Brits, so even if the US Coast Guard have not (yet) approved the vest (buoyancy aid) I’m confident that it floats both on its own and with me in it. Just look forward to not ever testing the latter. And chalk up another successful search in the name of the great outdoors, you can never have too much gear…