The anatomy of protection

Given recent piracy incidents in S.E. Asia and West Africa, this timely guide may be of interest to readers. 

Bulletproof Vest Protection for Maritime Security

By SafeGuard Armour

While maritime piracy has declined during the past year, sailors and shipping companies continue to face security risks in certain seas. In 2013, 264 acts of piracy were reported, whereas 2014 has seen only 178; attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean have dropped to a low of 10 this year, from a peak of 237 in 2011. However, shipping companies still hire experienced, highly-trained security personnel to protect their crews and cargo in risky waters: these teams are usually armed with handguns and rifles, to deter, and ultimately defend against, any attacks.

While weaponry is essential to security operatives at sea, body armour is key to ensure they remain as safe as possible, should they find themselves in a volatile situation. For example, the notorious Somalian pirate operations are tightly-structured machines, supplying crews with such weaponry as RPG-7s, AKMs, AK47, TT-30s, as well as hand grenades – security teams may face severe danger in a confrontation with such heavily-armed criminals. The specialist engineers at SafeGuard – Bullet Proof Vests explain; bulletproof vests are designed to absorb bullets’ energy on impact, and redistribute it throughout the material, flattening the round. Manufacturers produce multiple types of ballistic protection, to defend against most forms of ammunition – but how do you know which is the right vest to help keep you safe against particular risks? Whether you’re new to the security sector, or looking for a refresher, this guide will help you choose the best vest at sea.

Bulletproof Vests: Level by Level

Ballistic armours are tested and rated by the U.S.A.’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the UK’s Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB), and assigned a specific level based on the amount of protection they offer against certain bullets; most suppliers around the world follow the NIJ’s ratings. The latest standards manufacturers follow when designing bulletproof vests is the 0101.06 (fully-endorsed by the International Association of Chief of Police, and the Fraternal Order of Police, amongst other organisations), which features five levels: 2A, 2, 3A, 3, and 4. Each vest features Kevlar, with those at the higher levels incorporating multiple levels and even ballistic plates to repel rounds of a higher velocity.

To acquire a Level 2A rating, vests must stop numerous bullets, including .22 Mag 40-GR SP, 12 “00” Buck, 9mm 147-GR Subsonic, 9mm 100-Gr JHP, and more. Level 2 vests resist such rounds as .38 Spl 125-GrSJHP+P, .357 Mag 158-Grlead, and .44 Mag 240-GrleadSWC.

Vests belonging to the previous two levels are classed as ‘soft’ armours, as they feature a fairly thin Kevlar design. The final type of vest in this category is 3A, which stops bullets like 9mm 124-Gr FMJ, 10mm 175-Gr Silvertip, .41 Mag 210-Gr, .44 Mag 240-GrleadSWC, and the .45 ACP 2300Gr FMJ. These lower-level vests may be better-suited to situations in which pirates aim to kidnap individuals for ransom, in which case their firing lethal high-velocity rounds would be a mistake. The following high-level ballistic armours may be demanded by scenarios in which pirate crews just want the cargo, or the ship itself, with no hostages – in this event, they’ll be more likely to fire high-powered ammunition, with extreme prejudice. hostages – in this event, they’ll be more likely to fire high-powered ammunition, with extreme prejudice

Vests in the final two levels are thicker, designed to resist high-velocity ammo. Level 3 vests defend against the following three round-types: 7.62mm 150 Grain; 7.62mm 148 Grain N9 to FMJ; and .308 Winchester FMJ (fired by a high-powered rifle). Level 4 bulletproof vests have enough stopping power to protect against 30-06 AP 166 Grain (an armour-piercing ammo) as well as .30 Cal. 166 Grain MZ AP rounds; these vests feature ballistic plates, of steel or ceramics, and may also incorporate pockets for storing spare ammunition & accessories.

Depending on the seas you’re set to enter, you may be able to study relevant reports to help you know what the level of danger could be – this will, in turn, aid you in choosing a particular bulletproof vest. However, carrying a few armours with you may be the best choice, as you can then select a specific level as and when needed. For example, a pirate crew brandishing low-velocity 9mm handguns may require a lightweight level 2 vest, whereas a level 4 vest will be needed if boarded by attackers firing rifles. Regardless of the vest’s protection level and weight, however, bulletproof armour should always be comfortable – if not, then you may have the wrong fit (we’ll return to this later).

Waterproof Ballistic Vests

Obviously, when operating at sea, you may enter the water at one time or another: whether you fall overboard because of choppy waves, a bullet’s forceful impact, or a close-combat confrontation, some bulletproof vests may become damaged when wet. Unless a particular armour is designed to cope with moisture, the Kevlar fibres may become damaged, negating the protective capabilities.

However, some manufacturers offer bulletproof vests created primarily for use at sea, with such vital features as: detachable inflatable collars (to aid flotation); optional flame-retardant covers (in case you’re afloat amidst burning debris); and moisture-proof fibres. These are generally available with various levels of protection, to suit multiple threats.

Finding the Right Vest for your Size

Wearing the perfect fit is essential to get the most out of your bulletproof vest. As the armour’s key function is to protect the vital organs from harm, it must cover the torso whilst offering comfort and unrestricted movement: if the vest is too big, then it may push up into your throat as you walk, or gape away from the body with enough space for a bullet to pass between; if the vest is too small, it could feel too tight and restrictive, affecting your flexibility – potentially disastrous when you need to fire with the utmost accuracy, take cover, or defend yourself against physical assault.

The vest should reach no lower than your navel area, and be a comfortable fit. Measure your height and chest before ordering, and check the results against your supplier’s size chart (wear your standard uniform or civilian clothing, to ensure the best fit over or under layers). Your employers may provide bulletproof vests for you, but you may want to invest in a spare, or in additional levels to suit varying threats; this means greater expense, but when needed, these vests are invaluable.

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