Adding Overhead Stowage for Life Jackets

Make life jackets quickly accessible with an overhead pouch.

Adding Overhead Stowage for Life Jackets
Adding Overhead Stowage for Life JacketsTim Barker

Stuffing life jackets deep into a dank locker, tossing them inside a head compartment, jamming them under cushions in the cabin, or stowing them in any area that’s tough to reach in the harrowing moments of a dire situation is one of the worst things a boater can do.

Overhead storage bags resolve this dilemma. They stow life jackets out of the way, yet with just a pull of a zipper, the jackets are immediately accessible. Many new boats feature overhead canvas stowage for life jackets, but if you have an older boat with a hardtop, fabric T-top or Bimini top, you can add overhead storage.

Both the C.E. Smith T-top/Bimini storage bag and Kwik Tek PFD-T4 T-Bag hold four Type II life jackets. The Kwik Tek PFD-T6 T-Bag stows six Type II jackets. Made with durable nylon, these easy-to-install bags feature breathable mesh panels to vent moisture and inhibit mildew. Plus, there are pockets for stowing light items, such as charts, sunglasses and flashlights. Here’s how to install one.

Adding Overhead Stowage for Life Jackets
1. Measure First
Before you buy anything, measure the room you have available under your top. On hardtops and fabric T-tops, these pouches are usually installed over or slightly aft of the helm, though some are installed forward of the windshield. The C.E. Smith and Kwik Tek PFD-T4 pouches measure 25 inches wide by 20 inches long and 6 inches deep. For wider tops and Biminis, the Kwik Tek PFD-T6 measures 37 inches wide and may also fit. Make sure there's enough clearance under the top so you're not bumping your head on the bag once it's in place.
Tim Barker
Adding Overhead Stowage for Life Jackets
2. Install the Straps
Undo the snap-on buckles, hold the canvas bag to the underside of the top, and feed the upper portions of the four straps outward between any longitudinal frame members and the top (this may not be possible on hardtops). Snap the buckles together at the outermost frame members and pull the straps as tightly as possible. Kwik Tek supplies Velcro wraps that let you bundle any excess strapping. Otherwise, cut off any excess web straps and melt the edges with a lighter to keep them from fraying.
Tim Barker
Adding Overhead Stowage for Life Jackets
3. Additional Support
The bag might tend to sag, particularly on tops with pronounced side-to-side curvatures or domes. To support the pouch in the center, Kwik Tek provides Velcro straps fore and aft on top of the bag. Wrap and tighten these around a central frame member to pull the pouch tight against the underside of the top. On hardtops where you cannot fit a strap between the top and a frame member, install two pad eyes above the attachment points and use the supplied carabiners to draw them tightly against the top.
Tim Barker
Adding Overhead Stowage for Life Jackets
4. Bimini Installation
To install a Kwik Tek model under a Bimini top, first erect the top, making sure it is as tight as possible. Position the bag directly under the center support bow with the straps extending fore and aft (not side to side like on a T-top) to the front and back bows. The straps have snap-on hooks that clip into the pad eyes that install on the bows. Mark the locations for the four pad eyes on the fore and aft bows, then drill 3/32-inch holes for the supplied screws — two for each pad eye — and screw each into place.
Tim Barker
Adding Overhead Stowage for Life Jackets
5. Bimini Support System
Clip the snap hooks into place and tighten the four web straps. Then wrap the two Velcro straps around the center bow to prevent the pouch from sagging in the middle. The bows on some Bimini tops run through canvas sleeves, making them impossible to wrap a Velcro strap around. In these cases, install two of the supplied pad eyes through the canvas and into the bottom of the bow above the attachment points. Clip the supplied carabiners to the pad eyes to support the pouch in the middle.
Tim Barker
Adding Overhead Stowage for Life Jackets
Quick Tip: A throwable flotation device, like a Type IV boat cushion, needs to be immediately available in a man-overboard situation. I like to attach mine under the hardtop by running Velcro straps through the cushion's web handles and around two frame members. That way, I can rip it loose and toss it at a moment's notice.Tim Barker