Whitewater PFD Steel O Ring

If you liked it you should have put a ring on it….. Or a steel O ring to be correct. I never though I’d get to open a post on this website with a reference to a Beyone song but hey, dreams can come true.

A Whitewater PFD ( Personal Flotation Device) is one of the first bits of kit budding whitewater weekend warriors invest in. Your PFD is not only a legal requirement here in Ireland but when it all goes wrong it could really save your life. A chest harness will feature on 99% of these PFD’s and most will include a welded steel O Ring. While almost all whitewater kayakers could tell you what a chest harness is, the reality is  fewer could tell you how to use it correctly!

In Ireland we have River Safety Rescue (RSR), the UK has White Water Safety and Rescue Training (WWSR). While different courses their structure and desired outcome of making paddler more capable in a whitewater rescue situation. Course like these are genuinely fantastic as they focus on practical skills that are applicable in real life situations. However I have noticed from observing myself and others that there are things we say / do that deserve a little scrutiny. As coaches we often teach our students things because that what we learned and why question it, I’ve been as guilty as this as much as anyone.

One principle I try encourage those I’m coaching is to question everything! Many coaches can unintentionally be dogmatic when delivering a syllabus. I tell my students if the instructor can’t explain with good reason why something is done a given way don’t be afraid to explore other options. I’m not saying you’ll find a better way but you will have a better understanding no matter what your findings are.

What I want to focus on is the welded stainless steel O Ring you see on many whitewater PFD rescue harness as standard.  There are a couple of things I’ve regularly heard and I’d like to offer  my thoughts.

Never clip into the steel ring….it’s not rated

That’s the most prevalent one and I can understand why many teach that concept. Paddlers in a whitewater environment use lots of equipment that was designed for mountaineering / climbing use, because of this we’re used to and rely on seeing the kN rating. I’ve looked online to see if I could find a exact kN rating for the common welded stainless steel  O Ring found on whitewater PFD. I’ve drawn a bit of a blank in finding anything conclusive but between 6kN – 10kN is the best guesstimate I could commit to. But lets see if we can have a bit of a reality check.

The above test is in no way scientific, but it does generate some food for thought. The rope was tested to failing point under enormous load that would be near impossible to generate by a small crew of paddlers even using mechanical advantage. The rope is rated to 10 kN (static). The ring is from a top equipment manufacturer. The ring did deform but it stayed intact beyond the point to the rope failing.

Based on the above test it’s a fair suggestion that if you are using the welded steel O Ring for an in water / live bait rescue that the other components of the system will fail before the welded steel O Ring will. These other components will include your ropes and other bits of technical kit bit also your actual chest. It’s far more likely that your ribs will break under a load far lesser than it will take to deform or damage the welded steel O Ring.

The plastic buckle with tri glide friction plate will most likely fail before either your ribs or other technical components give way. So why do some people insist on clipping directly into the strap bypassing the welded steel O Ring? Honestly I’m struggling to see very many if any valid reasons. Despite this I’ve seen some prominent paddlers proudly proclaim ‘the first thing I do with a new PFD is to take off the O ring’. Don’t be fooled by those shiny helmets and flashy gear, ask them why to advocate such actions. And if there reasoning doesn’t stack up for you then by all means tell them.

The above is my preferred examples of how I think is best to attach your Whitewater Rescue PFD to either an anchor system or throw bag for an in water rescue. In the above images you’ll see that I’ve used a screw gate locking karabiner. You can also use an auto locking karabiner if that’s what you have to hand. One of the hard and fast rules has always been that if you are connecting to an anchor or live bait system you must never use a spring gate karabiner.

The rational behind the above statement is fairly solid, if you are connecting to a system it you should always be able to escape should the need arise. There is a possibility that a spring gate karabiner can unintentionally clip its self to your pfd. This isn’t one of those anecdotes that people talk about but never happen I’ve seen it on more than one occasion. While my current PFD the 2017 Peak UK River Guide Vest is designed with an ethos to minimize snag hazards making such instances near impossible I still would not use a spin karabiner to clip in. My two previous PFD’s the Astral Green Jacket and the Kokatat Maximus Centurion both have points where it’s possible to have a spring gate crab unintentionally attach it’s self.

If you use a screw gate karabiner or auto locking karabiner correctly this isn’t an issue regardless of what PFD you own. Aside from the ‘there is no reason not to use the welded steel o ring’ on your PFD there are a a few advantages to using the welded steel o ring. If you look at the reasons we might use live bait rescues.

  • In a proactive situation where you are setting up at the bottom of a drop and you want to anchor yourself to something. If you have a small crew or space it tight it’s very possible that you’ll need to clip yourself in, the steel O Rign just makes this easier. If your chest harness is correctly fitted it should be quiet snug, all bar the vary supple and yoga masters out there will find trying to reach around their back and clip a krab tricky. The ring just makes this easier.
  • In a reactive situation where it’s all gone to hell and we need to help someone who possibly can’t help themselves. You’re friend could be injured, unconscious, etc they are in the water in a situation that’s time critical. Try running down the bank over uneven ground trying to have someone clip directly into your tightly fitted chest harness. It’s not easy, the convince of the welded steel O Ring makes life a lot easier and speeds up the set up of a generally time critical rescue.
  • It’s a visually clean system! This one is a more a personal preference than anything else, it also flies in the face that adding another component to a system makes to more complicated than clean. I like that at a glance I can clearly see that everything is as it should be. When connected to directly to the harness, under load it twists the harness belt and looks messy, the extra articulation the welded steel O ring provides helps prevent this.

Look at the end of the day it really is a personal choice who you use your own kit, I personally can’t think of any valid reasons not to use the welded steel ring on your PFD Chest harness. To me there are only advantages as to it’s use! However if you take anything from this post is that you should question the status quo! There will often be really good reasons as to why things are done the way they are and questioning them will leave you better informed. If you question things regularly I’ve little doubt that you’ll discover that what you are been shown isn’t necessarily the best solution, it’s doing this and trying new things as to how things progress for the better.

Over the coming months I want to cover more safety techniques and skills, if there is anything you’d like to see me cover in particular drop me a line directly or in the comments below.



Posted in Coaching & Instruction.

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