If one looks at the footage of men abandoning ship in the Falklands War, many of the sailors and soldiers are wearing bright yellow life jackets, as can be seen in this image of the survivors of the sinking of Sir Galahad, where the lifejacket can be seen on the soldier in the left foreground:
The lifejacket in question was the Inflatable Naval Life Jacket Mk 3. This was a development of designs first introduced in the 1950s when wartime experience had been analysed and it had become clear that men were needlessly dying at sea through a lack of a adequate life saving equipment.
The Mk 3 was carried in a dark blue heavy duty woven nylon pouch with a waist strap:
This allowed it to be worn easily and comfortably whilst on duty and again in this photograph from the Falklands War the man on the left is clearly wearing one:
The belt secures with two plastic loops, one larger than the other. You slot the smaller buckle through the larger buckle to fasten in together:
In this particular instance, the original user of this lifejacket also taped a small dressing to the waist belt with red electrical tape so it was on hand in case of emergency:
With the lifejacket worn across the belly, it is the work of moments to open the pouch and pull the lifejacket over the head. It can then be inflated using the mouth piece:
A spray hood is fitted that can be drawn over the head to keep water off the face, this secures to the front of the lifejacket with three pieces of Velcro:
As mentioned above, the lifejacket is not self inflating and requires the wearer to use his breath to blow it up and then keep the air in it topped up using a small valve:
To aid recovery from the water, as well as being bright yellow, the life jacket has a small light on it that helps the mariner to be seen in the dark:
A simple whistle is also provided to help attract attention. This is secured to a lanyard so it doesn’t go missing and has a small pocket to store it on the front of the life jacket:
The life jacket has a grab handle on it to allow someone to be extricated from the water as recalled by Seaman John Dillon who was on the HMS Ardent when it hit and was saved by Rick Jolly:
It was early evening on 21st May 1982 and little did I know that this was the day I was to come into contact with an amazing man, someone who would save my life and become a really good friend; Surgeon Commander Rick Jolly.
Uniquely, though, he didn’t save my life on the surgeon’s table, like he had done to so many of the casualties of that conflict.
Despite me being badly injured, John and I extricated ourselves out of the ship by squeezing under a winch, which got us into fresh air.
We put lifejackets on, inflated them with a few puffs of smoke inhaled air and jumped into the water.
I’d hoped that we’d have been seen by the team on the bridge and that they would haul us out of the freezing cold South Atlantic.
Not so – looking back at the ship I saw HMS Yarmouth alongside taking the crew off, as smoke and flame poured out of Ardent.
A helicopter which seemed to appear from nowhere hovered over John and swiftly deployed the flight crewman, who splashed into the water in front of John and whisked him up into the cab. I was next.
This was to be my first encounter with Rick Jolly.
In an amazing act of bravery, Rick had realised that, as the only person in the aircraft other than the winch operator, he selflessly volunteered to go down on the wire to rescue the two of us.
When he splashed down in front of me, he hooked onto the strap on my lifejacket and before I knew it I was heading upwards into the helicopter.
I was really concerned that the lifejacket strap would fail and when I saw a Surgeon Commander’s rank insignia in front of my face, I thought I was doomed!
Commanders don’t come down on wires from helicopters and clearly, this one hadn’t put the proper lifting strap around me. Nevertheless, in seconds I was in the cab.
Although the jackets were used in the Falklands War, this particular example actually dates to 1986 as seen by the stamp on the back of the lifejacket: